Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My Analysis of Mitt Romney's NAACP Speech

So last week, both presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney and Vice-President Joe Biden both appeared before the NAACP. By now, in the milieu that is the 24 hour news cycle both messages are lost in antiquity. I am therefore in the position of providing a history lesson on something that is (forgive the oxymoron) 'old news'.

Except I don't believe it is...

Let me say again. There are times when I like to allow things to percolate before I make comment. I find reflection helpful and, besides, I have a day job!

But at any rate, here is what I think.

Mitt Romney's speech was an interesting optic. Of course the oldest civil rights organization in the country routinely invites presidential candidates and presidents themselves to appear at their annual convention. Bush in his last years in office refused to attend. I would tell people that I didn't blame him. He knows it is an unsympathetic, if not downright unfriendly audience so why would subject himself to that?

That's one reason why Romney's appearance was interesting. Unless I've missed something, the Romney campaign has made 0 overtures to the black community. There are no senior level campaign officials on his staff, who are black and he has few black surrogates. And his message does not not include anything that specifically addresses black poverty, black unemployment, black home ownership, or education in the black community, or the mass incarceration. So...what was he going to say?

He said what he's said everywhere else.

Now that's not totally a bad thing. I mean, the most dangerous thing for any public speaker is to be something he or she is not. And black audiences are notorious for being generously accepting of those who show them respect by being themselves. Trust me, I know.

But Mitt Romney's speech was problematic in two ways. First, Romney came off as someone who came with something to sell - knowing his audience wasn't going to buy. So it was a proforma approach. He wasn't particularly passionate. Nor was he particularly persuasive. If you were disposed to believe some of what he said, you mildly supportive. If you disliked what he said, you didn't feel any more inclined to reconsider your reason for disagreement than you were before you walked into the room.

Secondly, he shows why his argument for business experience is not a good basis for running for President. In business you have a particular market demographic. Those who you know can afford your product or for whom there is a particular appeal. This is why Dom Perignon is not advertised in low income neighborhoods or Thunderbird advertised in Beverly Hills! In general this is not his crowd. But he's running for President and that means he cannot appear to be dismissive of the NAACP, no matter what he thinks of them. This is why he couldn't see how patronizing he was by using the GOP meme "Obama Care" when talking about 'the Affordable Care Act' to a black audience for whom a black President represents a significant consequence of 100 years of labor. He also didn't think it out of order to imply that he was better for black people than the black President their storied mission made possible. Trust me, older black people in the audience had a PTSD moment, hearing segregationist whites boasting how well they 'know' their blacks! In fact, to prove that he knew black people he brought a black man with him and touted how he was a part of his 'kitchen cabinet'. That was unfortunate in a couple of ways: one, speaking of a black man being in the 'kitchen' and two, the implication that this man wasn't good enough to be in the official cabinet!

It's not that Romney actually meant anything patronizing, or racist - it's that he didn't THINK!

But if you our a run of the mill salesman or a novice, and you're not speaking to your target audience and you don't expect them to buy, what difference does that make? You're making a presentation, not a real sales pitch.

Oh but you are...

If you understand that America is not a corporation, then you know that political office is about governing for everybody. It is understanding everyone's interests. And while you may not share their ideology, you must respect them. Romney was not doing the NAACP a favor by stopping by, it is what he owes them as Americans if he is running for the highest office in the land. Mitt Romney is not selling 'widgets' to the American people he's selling himself.

His speech at the NAACP convention only proves that he doesn't understand that...

What I thought of Vice-President Biden's speech, tomorrow...

No comments: