Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, deserves credit for having the guts to speak at the national meeting of the NAACP on Wednesday. Given the GOP's long-standing antipathy toward the host organization and Romney's relentless criticism of Barack Obama's policies and performance, the candidate had to know his reception by attendees who overwhelmingly support the nation's first black president likely would be unfriendly. That proved the case.
Romney was loudly booed and heckled — most noticeably when he pledged to repeal what he pejoratively called "Obamacare" rather than the Affordable Care Act, the legislation's correct title. He was booed again when he said that Obama has failed to restore the nation's economy. The candidate did win weak applause a couple of times, but mostly the crowd was silent or greeted Romney talking points with jeers or groans. The candidate, it should be noted, was treated with respect. The opprobrium was reserved for his policies, platform and promises. That's no surprise.
There's little that Romney proposes that finds resonance with most NAACP members — or with anyone outside the smug, comfortable confines of the conservative, right-of-center wing of the Republican party. His jobs, tax and economic policies, his proposals about social services and his disinterest in making American society more equitable limit his political appeal.
Indeed, Romney's speech offered little new to those in attendance or listening on radio or watching on TV. He reiterated his familiar pledge to cut Obamacare and what he called other "non-essential" government programs, regurgitated his standard prescriptions for jobs and the economy and lambasted Obama for failing to keep his many promises to the American people. It was, by any objective measure, a boringly routine speech delivered in a practiced but passionless manner.
It could have been more lively, but Romney chose not to address issues that would engage his audience and the public — his continuing flip-flops, most noticeably on health care; his questionable views on immigration and deficit reduction; his tenure at Bain Capital; his ongoing refusal to release tax returns that might help provide an unbiased view of his personal finances. That's nothing new. Avoidance of those vital issues is a key component of the Romney campaign.
If Romney hoped to convince his Wednesday audience that his candidacy was relevant to their needs and to the hopes of the great majority of hard-working Americans, he failed. If he wanted to prove that he was not afraid to speak to predominantly black audiences at a political event — he rarely does so — he succeeded. That modest success, though, is hardly a recommendation for the presidency.
Vision, leadership and a solid plan for the nation's future that addresses the needs of all Americans are required. Romney, try as he might, has yet to prove that he and his party can meet those requirements.
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The 2012 presidential general election has begun. It won't be pretty.