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Mitt's Real Insult to the NAACP -- Pushing Voter Suppression

Deriding "Obamacare" was bad, but Romney's support for voter suppression laws disrespects the group's entire legacy.
 
 
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Photo Credit: C-SPAN

 
 
 
 

I have to admit, I started out giving Mitt Romney some credit for agreeing to address the NAACP. I’m a sucker for the make-nice gesture in this age of political division and cruelty. Republican presidential candidates have been known to snub the group’s annual gathering: Bob Dole did in 1996, and while George W. Bush attended in 2000, when he was promising to be a compassionate conservative, he skipped it in 2004, when it was clear that he was not.

I knew Romney’s visit was mainly designed to make him appear reasonable to white swing voters who are a little worried about the GOP’s wingnuttery when it comes to our first black president. Still, I thought it was a mildly reassuring symbolic gesture that might serve to keep the chasm between African-Americans and the GOP from turning into a dangerous canyon.

I expected it would be awkward; Romney is awkward with every group. But I didn’t expect Romney to be so unbelievably disrespectful.

Let’s be clear: Going to the NAACP and sneering derisively at “Obamacare” was an act of disrespect. There was a way to frame his opposition to Obamneycare – I mean, the Affordable Care Act – in policy terms. By using the right’s term of choice, “Obamacare,” which serves to underscore that it’s our first black president’s signature achievement, Romney was being deliberately provocative – and he got the boos he wanted, so now he can boast of his ability to speak truth to the not terribly powerful. (Although the group gave him a standing ovation when he left, a sign that they have more class than the gazillionaire who wants to lead the nation.)

In case you’re not clear about his motives, Romney later told Fox News, regarding the boos: “I completely expected that, of course, but I’m going to give the same message to the NAACP that I give across the country, that it’s killing jobs.” He got nastier at a fundraiser in Montana Wednesday night,  according to a pool report, telling supporters about his NAACP critics: “Remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy -more free stuff. But don’t forget nothing is really free.” Some Romney supporters are even more vicious in making political use of his NAACP reception: Rush Limbaugh is  now saying the Republican candidate was booed “simply because Romney’s white.”

Romney’s disrespect confirms what we already know: He’s content to be the leader of  a party that gets almost 90 percent of its support from white voters alone. They can only get away with it, in a country that’s only 64 percent non-Hispanic white (and dropping)  by making it tougher for non-whites to vote. So that’s what they’re doing. And it’s against the backdrop of the GOP’s voter suppression movement that Romney’s cavalier treatment of the NAACP is particularly outrageous.

It’s no coincidence that a day earlier, also speaking to the NAACP, Attorney General Eric Holder called the GOP’s most egregious voter suppression laws “a poll tax,” invoking Jim Crow era maneuvers struck down by the Voting Rights Act. Romney didn’t even mention the issue in his speech, probably because he supports the GOP’s voter-suppression movement, remarking during the primaries,  “I like voter ID laws, by the way … more of them.” So Romney actually had the gall to tell the nation’s oldest civil rights group, which has fought for a century to expand voting rights for African-Americans, that he’d be a better president for African-Americans than Obama, whose Justice Department, under Holder, is fighting the new wave of voter restrictions that are rightly compared to a poll tax.

 
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