On Wednesday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will attend the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s National Convention in Houston, Texas. There, he will give an address to a group that represents voters who overwhelmingly supported his Democratic opponent, President Barack Obama. The tension will be palpable and the hurdle, convincing NAACP leadership to back Romney’s bid or at least remain neutral, will be too high for Romney to overcome. But the speech is honest. Furthermore, it is powerful, humble and absolutely necessary effort for someone who wants to be president of all Americans to make.
Romney begins by noting that, as the governor of the Bay State, a Republican gubernatorial candidate must make good faith outreach efforts to voters that have little to no history of supporting Republicans.
“In a state with 11 percent Republican registration, you don’t get there by just talking to Republicans,” says Romney of his path to the governorship. “We have to make our case to every voter. We don’t count anybody out, and we sure don’t make a habit of presuming anyone’s support. Support is asked for and earned – and that’s why I’m here today.”
Perhaps the strongest part of Romney’s speech is one that may rankle some base GOP voters, but it is a critical and pitch-perfect reflection of his understanding of the issues that matter to African-Americans. Romney acknowledges, as many Republicans are loath to do, that there are many pervasive issues of inequality which black Americans deal with every day.
If someone had told us in the 1950s or 60s that a black citizen would serve as the forty-fourth president, we would have been proud and many would have been surprised. Picturing that day, we might have assumed that the American presidency would be the very last door of opportunity to be opened. Before that came to pass, every other barrier on the path to equal opportunity would surely have to come down.
Of course, it hasn’t happened quite that way. Many barriers remain. Old inequities persist. In some ways, the challenges are even more complicated than before. And across America — and even within your own ranks — there are serious, honest debates about the way forward.
Romney notes that black unemployment is markedly higher than other demographics and rose in June from 13.6 to 14.4 percent. “Americans of every background are asking when this economy will finally recover – and you, in particular, are entitled to an answer,” Romney will say.
In terms of policy, Romney spends most of his address discussing education reform – focusing on linking educational funding to individual students and championing school choice.
But Romney also issues a challenge to NAACP leadership. He tells them that “he has made his choice” to stand with the welfare of students over the remunerative priorities of the teacher’s unions. He says it is a choice that will polarize many, but it was an important choice to be made and it is one that the NAACP will also have to make this year.
When it comes to education reform, candidates cannot have it both ways – talking up education reform, while indulging the same groups that are blocking reform. You can be the voice of disadvantaged public-school students, or you can be the protector of special interests like the teachers unions, but you can’t be both. I have made my choice: As president, I will be a champion of real education reform in America, and I won’t let any special interest get in the way.
I will give the parents of every low-income and special needs student the chance to choose where their child goes to school. For the first time in history, federal education funds will be linked to a student, so that parents can send their child to any public or charter school, or to a private school, where permitted. And I will make that a true choice by ensuring there are good options available to all.
Romney’s effort is not to win the support of the NAACP or a majority of African-American voters. But his outreach effort speaks to his desire to be the president of the nation and not a disparate series of voting blocs. It is an important speech and it is one that will not go unnoticed.
Watch a segment of Mitt Romney’s speech to the NAACP below via MSNBC:
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