Romney's NAACP Speech Shows Courage, Open Mind

Mitt Romney did get booed while speaking to the NAACP, but at least he wasn't afraid to talk about race or religion.

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Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks before the NAACP annual convention, Wednesday, July 11, 2012, in Houston, Texas.

On Wednesday, Mitt Romney spoke to the NAACP convention in Houston. If you watch the entire video (full speech on video here) like I did, you'll see a gracious, respectful, thoughtful, and compelling speech that makes a great case for why African-American voters should vote for former Governor Romney. Romney didn't talk so much about voting against President Barack Obama; instead he outlined what he will do as president about high unemployment in the black community, how he'll work to improve failing schools in minority neighborhoods, and support policies that strengthen families, to name a few. "Support is asked for and earned, and that's why I'm here today," Romney said, "You have to make your case to every single voter."

Wednesday Mitt Romney did just that. He wasn't afraid to talk about race or religion; he also addressed head-on how the economy and the education system have not served every American equally and what he's going to do about it. This was not a divisive speech. It was a very unifying speech, one of his best so far. The Romney campaign is not writing off anyone, including those who have voted for the other party in the past.  

The press is full of reports that the audience booed Romney, which they did when he was talking about repealing and replacing Obamacare. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, like many in the press, seemed to be delighted about it. "For crying out loud, of course Romney got booed. At the risk of being overly cynical, I can't help but wonder if Romney did this on purpose precisely so he would be booed." If you watch the entire speech you'll see how cynical that statement is.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

As you'll see on the video, that one segment is the only time the audience got upset. Throughout the rest of his policy proposals, he was interrupted dozens of times for applause, some more than others; reportedly Romney got a standing ovation at the end. Here's the part that seemed the most well-received of all, judging from the fact that even the organist at the event started agreeing with the crowd's reaction:

I can't promise you I'll agree on every issue. But I do promise that your hospitality to me today will be returned. We will know each other. (Applause) (Chords played on the organ). And we will work to common purpose. I will seek your counsel and if I am elected president, and you invite me to next year's convention, I will count it as a privilege and my answer will be yes. (Applause) (Organ a second time). You know the Republican Party's record, by the measures you rightly apply, is not perfect. Any party that claims a perfect record doesn't know history the way you know it. (Applause)

As I watched Romney's address, another speech came to mind: Attorney General Eric Holder's speech commemorating Black History month in 2009:

Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race-related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race ...

And yet, if we are to make progress in this area we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.

[ Take the U.S. News Poll: Was It a Good Idea for Mitt Romney to Speak at the NAACP?]

What a shame our first African-American president chose not to address the NAACP himself. That decision says volumes about his campaign. I'm sure many in the audience would love to hear from President Obama personally why African-Americans should continue to support policies which have left behind so many in their community. 

Maybe Eric Holder was right. Maybe not everyone is interested in having the conversation that Mitt Romney had yesterday. It doesn't sound like President Obama is.

What a missed opportunity.