Politically, I get why Mitt Romney spoke to the boisterous crowd at the NAACP convention in Houston yesterday. The presumptive Republican nominee showed respect to the nation’s most influential civil rights organization. First, by showing up. Second, by delivering the same stump speech to President Obama’s most ardent supporters as he does to the Republican Party faithful. And even though he was booed several times, that group returned the respect with a standing ovation at the end of his speech. But Romney was speaking to three audiences — and the one in the room was secondary. I know I said yesterday that I respected Romney’s tactic. Yet, the more I think about Romney’s speech, the more hollow I think it was.
There were two moments in the 25-minute address that bore this out. In one, Romney seemed to be trying to cement the view among conservatives that he’s a man of bedrock principles. In the other, he revealed a glaring hole in his own record in an apparent appeal to independent and moderate voters who might be impressed.
I believe that if you understood who I truly am in my heart, and if it were possible to fully communicate what I believe is in the real, enduring best interest of African American families, you would vote for me for president.
After Romney’s assertion that he would be better for African Americans than the African American sitting in the White House with 95 percent of the African American vote in 2008 and a 90 percent approval rating among African Americans today, this was the gasp-worthy comment in Romney’s speech. Romney’s problem within the Republican Party all along has been the concern among conservatives that they don’t actually know who he truly is in his heart. And with good reason.
The former Massachusetts governor has been on every side of just about every issue they care about. On abortion, gay rights and gun rights, Romney has changed positions. Now, it’s not unusual for anyone to change their minds or have a change of heart on one of these bedrock issues. But all three?! This is why Romney saying “If you understood who I truly am in my heart” was as hollow as it was desperate.
You know, the Republican Party’s record, by the measures you rightly apply, is not perfect. Any party that claims a perfect record doesn’t know history the way you know it.
Yet always, in both parties, there have been men and women of integrity, decency, and humility who called injustice by its name. For every one of us a particular person comes to mind, someone who set a standard of conduct and made us better by their example. For me, that man is my father, George Romney.
It wasn’t just that my Dad helped write the civil rights provision for the … Michigan Constitution, though he did. It wasn’t just that he helped create Michigan’s first civil rights commission, or that as governor he marched for civil rights on the streets of Detroit — though he did those things, too.
More than these acts, it was the kind of man he was, and the way he dealt with every person, black or white. He was a man of the fairest instincts, and a man of faith who knew that every person was a child of God.
This surely might help Romney with moderate voters who are repelled by intolerance. But what struck me about this passage at the end of his speech was how Romney extolled his father’s civil-rights virtues without highlighting any of his own. That’s probably because he doesn’t have much of a record to stand on.
The folks at the pro-Obama American Bridge 21st Century PAC compiled “Romney’s Record on Issues Impacting the African American Community” when he was governor. From the dearth of diversity in his administration to doing away with the commonwealth’s affirmative action policies and the hate-crimes task force, Romney’s record ought to give those independent voters pause. After all, past is prologue, so they say. But even Romney makes this maxim ring hollow.