by: MATT NEGRIN
Mitt Romney was booed in grand fashion at the NAACP today as he tried to explain how the nation’s first black president has failed the country and how he’d do better.
The first and loudest objection erupted as Romney told a two-thirds-full room that he would repeal President Obama’s signature health care law if he’s elected.
Romney told the country’s most visible black group that he would cut spending by cutting “nonessential programs,” and he said “that includes Obamacare.”
The boos rang out for several seconds and echoed in the large ballroom in Houston. Romney paused and tried to recover by citing a Chamber of Commerce study that said most people surveyed said the health law makes them less likely to hire people. He awkwardly continued to talk about Medicare and Social Security, and eventually earned minimal applause by talking about benefits for poor people.
“I believe he included that part of the speech intentionally,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said. “And I think the audience responded appropriately.”
Reed, on a conference call organized by the Democratic National Committee after Romney’s speech, accused Romney of staging a “political stunt” and that was aimed more at Republicans who weren’t in the room.
“He wasn’t speaking to the NAACP audience at all,” Reed said. “To his base it will make him look strong, but he never stands up to anybody else.”
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter added that “black folks are not going to sit there and listen to some of that nonsense” and said that the episode was comparable to the optics of a video showing Romney speaking to black schoolchildren in Philadelphia.
“He’s going through the motions. He’s doing the things he thinks he needs to do. He’s in a campaign. He’s doing all kinds of stuff. You can’t take any of this stuff seriously,” Nutter said. “The guy is a joke. He’s not for real. He’s a character playing a role and virtually perpetrating fraud on the American public with a lot of this stuff.”
Romney was booed another time in his speech as he derided Obama on energy, trade, the size of government, education and the economy. “The president will say he will do those things, but he will not, he cannot, and his record of the last four years proves it,” Romney said as the crowd jeered.
It was also awkward as Romney told the NAACP, “If you want a president who will make things better in the African American community, you are looking at him.” Some people clapped and some objected verbally. “You take a look,” he added.
Tara Wall, a policy adviser to Romney, argued to reporters after the speech that Romney “received more applause than boos,” including a standing ovation when the speech ended.
“If you want to count the handful of boos there were, I think we saw much more acceptance and applause of his speech a number of times,” she said. “There was much more agreement over all from what I saw and heard.”
Romney, a white Mormon whose father ran for president when blacks weren’t even allowed to join the priesthood, told Obama’s most reliable supporters that they have been let down by the country’s first black president.
He pitched his candidacy to the NAACP in a speech sprinkled with admiration for Obama’s accomplishments, reminders of his own cooperation with Democrats during his time as governor in liberal Massachusetts, and promises to lead on civil rights if elected. He even bragged about getting a call from Obama to congratulate him on winning the nomination. It was a speech he never could have delivered during the radical GOP primary, when the mere mention of bipartisanship was all but a disqualifier.
He quoted Frederick Douglas, former NAACP head Benjamin Hooks, and Martin Luther King Jr., and he cited a study by the liberal Brookings Institution.
“If someone had told us in the 1950s or ’60s that a black citizen would serve as the 44th president, we would have been proud and many would have been surprised,” Romney planned to say, according to the speech released by his campaign. “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.”
Lurking in the background of Romney’s speech was a Los Angeles Times story comparing Romney’s bare record on civil rights with that of his father, George, who ran for president in 1968 and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with rights leaders in that decade. The paper noted that Romney has campaigned in front of mostly white crowds, that he rarely mentions his father’s civil rights record, and that he declined to be interviewed about the issue.
“He has no record on civil rights,” Leonard Alkins, a former president of the NAACP’s Boston chapter who was on a panel advising Romney in Massachusetts, told The Times.
Black voters appear to have made up their mind about the presidential election, and Romney trails about as much as he can. Combining the last two ABC News polls to account for an adequate sample size of voters, blacks who are registered to vote prefer Obama over Romney by a staggering 96 percent to 3 percent.
Romney came to the NAACP with his own facts too, though. Like this one: “In June, while the overall unemployment rate remained stuck at 8.2 percent, the unemployment rate for African Americans actually went up, from 13.6 percent to 14.4 percent.”
And this one: “Today, black children are 17 percent of students nationwide – but they are 42 percent of the students in our worst-performing schools.”