It’s a modern oddity, the name of the biggest black organization in America: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. A bit like saying the word “Negro” nowadays (although the other “N” word appears to be fully OK to say, judging by today’s comedians and rappers).
And like its name, the group is stuck in the 1960s, still furious about perceived but nonexistent slights as if they were equivalent to Jim Crow and disenfranchisement. Look, America elected its first “black” president in 2008. For those still furious at “The Man,” get over it: Time to move on. You’ve arrived.
But no, not this organization. They’re still angry, jousting at windmills. Perhaps it’s time they changed their name to reflect the modern era, and to sum up, in a simple acronym, how they really feel. The new name: The National Association for the Advancement of African Americans (NAAAA). Any point in listening to a Republican? “NAAAA.”
Yet that didn’t matter to Mitt Romney. The NAAAA asked him to come address its members, so he graciously agreed (President Obama, invited, said “NAAAA.”) But Mr. Romney, to be sure an almost luminescent shade of white, wasn’t about to pander to the angry masses, to kowtow to the supposed leaders of the black community, to apologize, ingratiate, prostrate himself in submission or adoration. He went to make his pitch, to sell himself, to ask (directly) for blacks to just take a moment and give him a look before they pull that lever Nov. 6.
He made clear why he came: “We have to make our case to every single 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.” (Oddly, Mr. Obama is doing just that, presuming blacks will support him, no questions asked.)
And then Mr. Romney got frank: “If equal opportunity in America were an accomplished fact, then a chronically bad economy would be equally bad for everyone. Instead, it’s worse for African-Americans in almost every way. The unemployment rate, the duration of unemployment, average income, and median family wealth are all worse for the black community. 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.” By the way, it’s even worse for black teens: 39.3 percent.
Why? “Our society sends them into mediocre schools.” And: “Many live in neighborhoods filled with violence and fear, and empty of opportunity.” Frank enough?
He lectured: “Your former executive director, Dr. Benjamin Hooks, had it exactly right. The family, he said, ‘remains the bulwark and the mainstay of the black community. That great truth must not be overlooked.’ Any policy that lifts up and honors the family is going to be good for the country, and that must be our goal. As president, I will promote strong families — and I will defend traditional marriage.”
Amid boos and groans, he got in their faces: “My policy will be: Number one, create jobs for the American people. I do not have hidden agenda. And I submit to you this: If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him.” The crowd moaned and laughed; one shouted “No!” Mr. Romney was unbowed. “You take a look!” he declared as he stood there, smiling.
So how was his address received? Scorn. Ridicule. Snippets made the cable news of blacks booing Mr. Romney. Plenty of high-powered NAAAA members were furious over the Republican’s effrontery. How dare he address them as adults, and actually say out loud the problems that continue to plague the black community.
“It was insensitive and quite demeaning as a matter of fact,” Clayola Brown, the member of the NAACP’s National Board of Directors who invited Mr. Romney to speak, told The Washington Examiner. “Certainly, we are aware of what the numbers are and the impact is in our communities. It’s the dialogue used that we find insulting.”
“For him to come here and lecture us about the family — he doesn’t need to be talking to Negroes about that,” he told the Examiner. Negroes? Really?
George W. Bush made a push for black support during his re-election campaign. He told them, frankly, that they were giving up their bargaining power by backing one party exclusively. Wouldn’t you, he asked, have more clout, leverage, if you played the field, said to Democrats and Republicans: OK, tell me, why I should vote for you?
Mr. Bush won 8 percent of the black vote in 2000. Four years later, he won 11 percent — and election analysts say his strong support in Ohio (16 percent in 2004 versus 7 percent in 2000) tipped the election.
So Mr. Romney’s address to the NAAAA, despite the boos, may prove pivotal. He spoke to them like adults — here are your problems and here’s what I’ll do to address them. Maybe blacks will vote en masse anyway for the first “black” president who didn’t even bother to show up for the NAAAA. Or maybe, just maybe, they’ll decide that this time around, they’ll play the field, and simply ask: “What’s in it for me?”
Mr. Obama didn’t bother to give you an answer; for whatever it’s worth, Mr. Romney did.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at [email protected]
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