The week was good for Mitt Romney.
The Republican presidential nominee may have stepped deep in volatile racial waters this week with his dramatic appearance before NAACP conventioneers and Drudge Report-fueled rumors about former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice as a running mate, but he emerged fairly unscathed. Red meaty conservatives were rushing to his defense, FOX News was looping his “brave” move in Houston, and the right-wing talk-showing intelligentsia was giving him new props for taking on President Obama’s most loyal base.
Meanwhile, the incumbent President found mired in doubt and controversy when he opted out of, arguably, the largest Black political event of the year. While the NAACP itself attempted to put a happy face on the affair, many in the blogosphere and Twitterverse were hot with speculation, accusing the President of avoiding the event out of fear he would look “too Black.”
Yet, President Obama is scheduled to deliver the opening address at the National Urban League’s 2012 Conference in New Orleans, another large and major African American civil rights organization led by the city’s former Mayor Marc Morial.
That the President chose to speak at the Urban League conference over the NAACP convention adds a new, peculiar twist to the controversy. He says he couldn’t make the NAACP due to the oldest of political-tricks-in-the-book: the convenient “scheduling conflict.” But, a glance at POTUS’ schedule that day revealed a relatively light day absent public appearances.
So, what makes the Urban League different from the NAACP, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization?
Critics point to the perception that the Urban League is much more middle class and “elite” compared to the more grassroots NAACP, thereby continuing a controversial narrative that the President only interfaces with a certain “class” of African Americans. “The National Urban League is indeed popular among young urban professionals, who are middle class and upwardly mobile, which is key to the President’s message about being the man for the middle class,” observed Jeneba Ghatt, a lawyer and Politic365 Senior Contributor.
“As to the NAACP, it is working on repairing its image that it’s an organization that has strayed from its historical core mission. There have been a few missteps along the way such as the Shirley Sherrod debacle and then with the organization endorsing the president’s support of gay marriage. The organization itself is struggling on rebrand and perhaps the President doesn’t want to be associated with that.”
A “few missteps” could be an understatement as the organization struggles to find balance, relevance and footing on a rapidly transforming political landscape.
University of Mississippi political scientist and Politic365 contributor Marvin King agrees, but also points out that it’s simply a given that the President would choose the NUL. “Given the state of the economy, it makes perfect sense that Obama would attend the National Urban League convention. The NUL’s primary focus is on economic empowerment and that mission is most consistent with Obama’s ‘Forward’ campaign this fall,” argues King.
Many Democratic strategists expressed concern that the President’s failure to show up at one of the largest Black political events of the year further erodes his Black support at a time when he needs it. That same YouGov poll shows the President with only 78% of African Americans supporting him – while 8% express support for Romney and 10% say they are “unsure.”
The President will, again, need enormous Black support in the high 90 percentile range to win re-election.
“Obama is like an older White person who doesn’t know how to handle the issue of race,” quips Raynard Jackson, a noted Black Republican strategist and commentator and public relations executive. “He’s making a calculation that if I associate with the Black community too much, it’s going to hurt me.”
Still, NAACP spokesperson Ben Wrobel seemed unfazed by the President’s absence, pointing to the fact that he did send Vice President Joe Biden in his place. “We understand the President is very busy and has a very demanding calendar. We were very pleased with the Vice President’s appearance.”
When asked about President Obama choosing the NUL over the NAACP, Wrobel only said that attendees at the convention “wished he had been there, but understand his commitments.”
Longtime Black Republican commentator and strategist Raynard Jackson expressed disappointment that the NAACP was giving the President a “pass” while everyone in politics recognized it was a slap in the face.
“I’m not angry that he didn’t show up,” says Jackson. “I’m angry that we [Black people] keep giving him a pass. We are so emotional that we are blinded from the substance.”