Thursday, July 19, 2012

My Analysis of Vice-President Joe Biden's NAACP Speech

I never had politicians campaign at my church on Sunday mornings. As a member congregation of Dallas Area Interfaith, we would participate and sometimes host, 'Accountability Sessions' during which incumbents and challengers were invited to voice their support of - or their unwillingness to support - the organizations agenda of issues. 

Of course we knew that it was easy to come before 200-1500 people and endorse their agenda. We looked for other things as well. High on the list: respect for the organization and a willingness to work with us. 

That's one of the things I thought about when I saw the video of Joe Biden's speech before the NAACP convention. There was respect for the organization and their was a willingness to work with them. 

Oh, of course there was 'pandering'. All politicians pander. But savvy organizations know that and sift beyond all of that and get discern to what degree there is a relationship there. 

If Mitt Romney came as a salesman, knowing that he that no one in this crowd would buy what he was selling, Vice-President Biden came as the favorite uncle at a family reunion. You know the type: the quirky one. The one who can be a little embarrassing at time, because you never quite know what he's going to say. But he's also the one who makes everybody laugh and if you listen to him, you always know that there is something in there that's helpful and he's also, almost always going to do something that makes you proud you know him. 

Biden came there familiar. He knew people in the audience. He called some by name. He didn't lecture them and didn't approach them as if he knew something they didn't. He respected them. 

Here is another stark contrast between Biden and Romney's appearance. There are indeed social issues about which black people are deeply concerned. But that's not the full range of their interest. Black people are capitalists. Especially those who are members of the NAACP. The oldest civil rights organization actually has a reputation as being the economically and socially elite civil rights organization. Not to say that this is a pejorative. On the contrary, it's to say that a preponderance of NAACP members are not 'grassroots activists' by strict definition. There are many small business owners and entrepreneurs there - owners or restaurants, funeral homes, insurance companies, marketing firms, IT businesses. There are also attorneys and physicians. There are banking executives and clothing store owners. Mitt Romney missed the opportunity to bring this economic development message to the convention. 

By the same token, the history of the NAACP is one of fighting for social issues that has helped expand the notion of democracy by tearing down barriers to equality. Which means that institutionally they also have a 'grassroots' agenda. Which is in part what Biden appealed to. In short, Romney, had he really respected the NAACP, could have been even more of himself  - the 'Bain Capital guy we've heard so much about - and not gotten booed out of the room, just as Biden was totally himself and spoke about the issues which stereotypically appeal to civil rights organizations. 

But that was the real difference between the two appearances. It wasn't just party affiliation, nor was it presentation or style. It was familiarity and respect. Romney bought a black man to show that he knows black people. Biden knew black people at the convention. The Vice-President was himself; Romney should have been more of himself. Romney tried to show he could relate; Vice-President Biden was simply relational. 

At the end of the day, it was a difference between a man for whom race is problematic and one who isn't intimidated by the problems of black people. Romney could have crafted a message that showed how his economic ideology is a viable solution for a different constituency. He's clearly a smart man, surrounded by smart men and women. He came across as someone who has been advised about blacks and the NAACP and how to conduct himself around them. Biden simply showed up and 'preached to the choir'. 

The contrast shows the reason why the GOP hasn't gotten more than 5% of the black vote in almost half a century. It's also why it will be the same this year. 

No matter who wins the election in November...

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