On Wednesday morning Mitt Romney addressed the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. In most recent years Republican presidents and candidates have avoided speaking to the NAACP. That makes sense, since they oppose civil rights.
But Romney is pursuing the ricochet pander approach to the general election that George W. Bush laid out in 2000. He pretends to reach out to blacks and Latinos, but the real purpose is making white suburban soccer moms feel like they are not intolerant if they vote for him. That’s why he released an education agenda that mimics much of Bush’s education rhetoric about offering a fair shot to disadvantaged youth.
Unfortunately, Romney did not tell the truth in his speech on Wednesday. Consider this key section:
The opposition charges that I and people in my party are running for office to help the rich. Nonsense. The rich will do just fine whether I am elected or not. The President wants to make this a campaign about blaming the rich. I want to make this a campaign about helping the middle class.
I am running for president because I know that my policies and vision will help hundreds of millions of middle-class Americans of all races, will lift people from poverty, and will help prevent people from becoming poor. My campaign is about helping the people who need help.
This is simply a lie. It is a demonstrable fact that Romney’s economic policies—cutting taxes on the rich and cutting spending on programs that aid the poor—is designed to help the rich get even richer. Now, Romney may subscribe to the discredited supply side theory that ultimately increasing wealth at the top will increase investment and generate economic growth that lowers unemployment. But there is no question he is running for office to help the rich. (If you don’t believe me, read today’s analysis of Romney’s tax plans from Wall Street veteran Henry Blodget.)
In his remarks Romney emphasized his education reform plan, something he has almost never talked about since he announced it. Rather than showing that he is serious about improving social mobility, this reaffirms that he is simply copying the Bush playbook on how to pretend you care about poor urban children while promising to cut programs they depend on, such as Medicaid.
The rest of Romney’s speech was the same pitch he makes to every group: the economy is stagnant, and I will grow it. You could do a find-and-replace for “Latinos,” “women,” “African-Americans” or, for that matter, “Inuits” and his speech would be the same.
There is no question that the economic downturn has been especially hard on black families. But Romney seems to either not know or not care that people have other political interests besides macroeconomic indicators. The NAACP was set up to advocate for legal equality for African-Americans. The last Republican president, George W. Bush, eviscerated legal protections against racial discrimination. His Equal Employment Opportunity Commission only concerned itself with “reverse discrimination” while he appointed federal judges who are hostile to civil rights. Will Romney do the same? He did not say.
Nor did Romney have anything to say about the fact that his own church, in which he became a prominent leader, openly discriminated against blacks until 1978. Romney never, to anyone’s knowledge, did anything to condemn the Mormon Church’s racism. The only thing he is reported to have ever said about it was that he thought it rude of other schools to boycott playing Brigham Young University in sports as an objection Mormonism’s racist policies. In other words, he was against using a classic device of the civil rights movement, a boycott, to promote integration.
No wonder he did not want to discuss civil rights on Wednesday. But the least he could have done is told the truth about his economic agenda.