Naturally, it’s fun to poke fun and chatter endlessly about the White guy who got on stage and got booed by the Black people. There’s quite a bit of non-stop talk about what Gov. Mitt Romney said before the assembled and hostile crowd of NAACP convention-goers yesterday … and there’s all the talk about what he didn’t say.
There’s also the analysis on what he should’ve said. And there are those who are stumbling all over themselves about what he could’ve planned to say.
But, what we should be curious about is why he was there in the first place.
Let’s not forget what we can’t take away from Romney: he’s the former moderate Republican Governor who learned political navigation while governing a very blue and Democratic state. Contrary to popular opinion, he knows a thing or two about Black people. Massachusetts’ Black population is 7% – that’s enough, apparently, to have elected the current Black governor, Deval Patrick (D). Its largest city, Boston, is nearly 25% Black – and it’s not very friendly to them, either.
Bottom line is that there are enough Black people in the Bay State to give Romney enough confidence to walk in a room full of them.
For those of you cutting jokes at Romney’s expense, you probably missed his late May appearance in Philadelphia at the Universal Bluford Charter School, courtesy of Philly-soul-godfather-turned-Muslim-Imam Kenny Gamble. The visit caught very Democratic and very union Ill-Town off-guard; no one really knew he was there up until it happened. And as Romney talked about education, a crowd emerged outside the Charter School, including Mayor Michael Nutter and an assortment of Black Philly politicos accompanied by frantic protesters.
To veteran political observers, it was a flawless strategic coup. Romney had ambushed the City of Brotherly Love and looked fairly comfortable while at it. Despite the classroom of clearly disagreeable Black folks, the conversation was civil. And while the White Republican Mormon didn’t win over any new voters of color that day, he accomplished his mission.
He wasn’t looking for Black votes. He wanted to thumb his nose at the most loyal core of the Democratic base and put them on notice: “I’m not afraid of you.”
That’s what happened in Houston yesterday – and the NAACP delegates who booed, hissed and laughed at him fell right into the trap. They should have simply clapped (politely) or said nothing at all, throwing the Republican nominee off guard and thereby ending the day on a flat note.
But, no: folks had to get emotional. They had to show themselves. And, before any sensible person in the room realized in utter terror what was happening it was, by all measures, a perfectly pulled midsummer prank – complete with Romney’s Eddie Haskill grin and likeness.
You had to laugh while watching it. Calculated and calibrating hits on the President, Romney was like a well dressed and better-talking version of Boston’s Whitey Bulger – from the ballsy use of “Obamacare” in front of folks who liken the term to “n***a” to saying he’d be the better president for African Americans. It was as if he was taking cues from working class Bean Town Southies on how to face Black people.
Of course he knew he was venturing into unfriendly territory. That’s the point.
The bonus: he’s now the racial folk hero for his very White conservative base. It’s been a long, tough road to convince that segment of the population that he’s really one of them, that he gets them. This latest episode, which is being replayed by the dozens on FOX News, could get him the extra bounce needed to mobilize Republicans and Independents who sit on the sidelines with doubts about the Bain capitalist.
Through clever racial imaging, Romney used the glue that holds all of that together. Was it easy, of course not. Did he want to – we may never know the answer to that question. But, he managed to pull it off and Romney does whatever it takes to get Romney to win. Overnight, he is now transformed from ridiculously rich and untouchable White baron of Caribbean tax shelters to a helpless White guy who got mugged while walking through a Black neighborhood. This wasn’t a Black outreach moment; Romney had no intention of reasoning with African Americans that he’s any better than their Black president.
He’s stand-your-ground in reverse, the narrative his operatives were looking for. The Willie Horton moment of 2012. And Republicans feel they just proved what they’ve been saying all along: Black people support President Obama only because he’s Black.
Hook, line and sinker. In your face. Let the racial Olympics begin.