Mitt Romney delivered a gutsy speech to the NAACP convention Wednesday, reminding blacks of what most of them knew or should have known: President Obama hasn’t made their lives better.
No demographic group has suffered more from Mr. Obama’s jobless economic policies than black Americans or has a worse unemployment rate.
Mr. Romney went into the lion’s den in Houston knowing he would be booed, but it was a courageous move on his part to show he was taking his campaign for economic renewal to every corner of the country and to every interest group, even to Mr. Obama’s core political constituencies.
Notably, the president has decided to take a pass on the NAACP convention, where he would have to defend his failed economic policies, where he would have to look into the faces of people who are hurting under his presidency.
But there was Mr. Obama’s unflinching Republican rival up there at the podium, where, as expected, he received a mostly hostile reaction - though there were some cheers when he said he would defend traditional marriage and talked about failing public schools.
“If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him,” Mr. Romney told his audience. When they booed and hissed at him, he kept his cool and replied, “You take a look.
“I believe that if you understood who I truly am in my heart, and if it were possible to fully communicate what I believe is in the real, enduring best interest of African-American families, you would vote for me for president,” he said. “I want you to know that if I did not believe that my policies and my leadership would help families of color - and families of any color - more than the policies and leadership of President Obama, I wouldn’t be running for president.”
Then he addressed the most painful reality that afflicts the black community - unemployment - noting that blacks had suffered the most under Mr. Obama’s presidency. No one in the audience could disagree with that. Unemployment among blacks, he pointed out, was a punishing 14.4 percent in June and rising, up nearly a full percentage point from the month before.
“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,” Mr. Romney said.
That was the bitter truth that no one in the audience could challenge. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ unvarnished unemployment rate for blacks was worse. “The official ‘not seasonally adjusted’ unemployment rate for all black workers in the United States increased from 13.3 percent to 14.8 percent between May and June 2012; while the ‘not seasonally adjusted’ jobless rate for all Latino workers increased from 10.4 to 11 percent,” it was reported on the Wherechangeobama.com website this week. Worse, it said, “The official ‘not seasonally adjusted’ unemployment rate for black youths between 16 and 19 years of age increased from 35.2 to 44.2 percent between May and June.” Total black unemployment soared from May to June by 342,000, Where’sthechange blogspot reported - from 2.438 million to 2.78 million.
It doesn’t get reported in the mainstream news media, but there’s growing criticism of Mr. Obama’s abysmal performance on jobs in the black community. “I think we are going to hear more voices of opposition coming from all sectors of black leadership, and certainly from the most hard-pressed sections of the black population,” said Tony Monteiro, professor of African-American studies at Temple University in Philadelphia.
There are signs some black leaders are not buying Mr. Obama’s excuses that George W. Bush is responsible for all of our economy’s ills and that things have gotten better under his presidency. “Black unemployment in worse shape than when the recession ended,” Black Agenda Radio reported earlier this year on its website.
Steven Pitts of the University of California at the Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education said that black unemployment was 14.9 percent in June 2009, when the recession was officially declared over, but had risen to 15.8 percent heading into this year. Black leaders say unemployment rates in many inner cities across the country remain around that level.
Yet despite the high unemployment rates and economic suffering that blacks are enduring, the NAACP audience Mr. Romney faced was sticking with Mr. Obama through thick and thin, no matter how bad things get.
But when Mr. Romney said “I’m going to eliminate every nonessential, expensive program I can find, [and] that includes Obamacare,” the boos erupted, forcing him to depart from his prepared text to return to the jobs issue after the booing stopped.
“You know, there was a survey of the Chamber of Commerce - they carried out a survey of their members, about 1,500 surveyed, and uh, they asked them what effect Obamacare would have on their plans, and three-quarters of them said it made them less likely to hire people. So I say, again, that if our priority is jobs, and that’s my priority, that’s something I’d change and replace,” Mr. Romney said.
It was a risky performance and could have ended badly for Mr. Romney, but he emerged from the speech as someone who was not afraid to carry his message to every group in the country, even those who may be hostile toward him. He proved he was not going to tailor his message to suit different audiences, that he held firm convictions that would not shift with the political tides.
The Obama campaign put out a statement saying, “African-Americans can’t afford Romney economics.” Tell that to the 2.4 million black workers who cannot find a job in Mr. Obama’s economy.
Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.