Mitt Romney's speech to the NAACP convention in Houston was -- according to one's political perspective -- a "calculated move on his part to get booed..." to help his white base (Rep. Nancy Pelosi), or a presentation to "independent thinking adult citizens" whom he treated as equals (Rush Limbaugh).
Having an adult conversation in a racially and politically polarized age is nearly impossible, especially when our current political culture does not require a solution to problems, only the use of rhetoric and symbols to gain political power.
The second "A" in NAACP stands for "advancement." By any standard, African-Americans receiving government assistance do not appear to have advanced much, if by advancement one means progress toward a steady job. In fact, a serious argument could be made that they are falling farther behind.
"If equal opportunity in America were an accomplished fact," Romney told his Houston audience, "then a chronically bad economy would be equally bad for everyone. Instead, it's worse for African Americans in almost every way. ... 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."
Equally disconcerting are the number of births to single African-American women, the incarceration rate for African-American men, the number of failing public schools that sustain the cycle of poverty and crime in disadvantaged communities and a federal government that offers checks instead of solutions to problems, leading to a dependence on taxpayer dollars.
This was what Romney was getting at in his speech. He spoke of an economy that creates jobs. He spoke of creating stronger families and more opportunities for all Americans. He endorsed school choice. Why would members of the NAACP oppose parents choosing the school that offers the best education for their children? Perhaps some NAACP members oppose choice because the Democratic Party and the teachers unions to which they appear joined at the hip are against them.
The school voucher program provides federal tax dollars to subsidize private-school tuition for needy students and where vouchers are available, low-income students mostly benefit. Yet Democrats seem to want to block their escape from failing schools, maintaining the program doesn't help most students. "The federal government should focus its attention and available resources on improving the quality of public schools for all students," says Obama's statement of administration policy, "Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement." That's news to Dr. Patrick Wolf at the University of Arkansas. According to Wolf's government-sponsored study, "the program increased the graduation rate of students using vouchers by 21 percent (from 70 percent to a whopping 91 percent)."
Reaction to Romney's measured speech was predictable. Charlette Stokes-Manning, a chairwoman of Women in NAACP, said: "I believe his vested interests are in white Americans. You cannot possibly talk about jobs for black people at the level he's coming from. He's talking about entrepreneurship, savings accounts -- black people can barely find a way to get back and forth from work."
If a white person had said this, he would have been accused of racial stereotyping. Black people don't know about savings accounts? Black people know nothing about entrepreneurship? Stokes-Manning should read Black Enterprise magazine, which bills itself as "Your #1 resource for black entrepreneurs." Its slogan is "Wealth for Life." Is Stokes-Manning suggesting blacks can't succeed?
NAACP President Ben Jealous said of Romney's speech, "He really wasn't trying to talk to them (the audience). He was trying to talk to somebody else."
He's right. Romney was not speaking just to the Houston audience, mostly comprised of those tied to the civil rights establishment, but to those seeking jobs and a better life.
President Obama did not make the NAACP convention, citing a scheduling conflict. If he had shown up, he might have had to face questions about his failure to deliver on his 2008 campaign promises. Instead, Vice President Joe Biden attended and imagined what a Romney Justice Department would look like. The unserious Biden gave an unserious speech, but he was applauded. So was Romney at the end, though he was booed for saying he would repeal Obamacare.
What would the NAACP delegates have preferred to hear from Romney? A speech advocating higher black unemployment? More people on food stamps? That is what the Obama administration is giving them. What the NAACP needs is a freedom from government movement, but it won't get one because the organization's allegiance is less to African-American advancement than it is to the Democratic Party and the scraps it provides in exchange for votes.
(Readers may e-mail Cal Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.)