12 July 2012

What Romney didn't say to the NAACP

Partisans and spin-watchers are still talking about Mitt Romney's speech yesterday to the NAACP. Romney himself has been talking about it, and in doing so apparently opened himself to the usual knee-jerk attacks. By last night the candidate had reached Montana, where he boasted of having told the NAACP the same things he's told any other group he's addressed, while admitting that he got a different response this time. The issue, for some people, is how Romney characterized his speech. He paraphrased it this way

I hope people understand this, your friends who like Obamacare, you 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.

The knee-jerk response so far has been to accuse Romney of racism. You reach that conclusion thusly: Romney was booed by the NAACP; the delegates thus intend to vote for Obama; that means they want "free stuff;" and to accuse black people of wanting "free stuff" is racist. Of course, in Montana Romney was speaking of anyone who supported "Obamacare." That's stupid in its own right, since as everyone now realizes, "Obamacare" itself isn't free stuff so long as the individual mandate obliges you to buy into an insurance policy and subjects you to a penalty/tax if you fail to do so. Defenders of the new law would go further to argue that it means the end of "free stuff" for the people who go uninsured and then get treatment on the taxpayers' dime at the emergency room. Free stuff in the form of health care would be a utopian goal to shoot for, but "the other guy" running against Romney isn't offering that.

Leave aside whether "Obamacare" = "free stuff" and there's a further problem with Romney's Montana remarks. If he meant the above quote to represent what he told the NAACP, then he misrepresented himself. The closest he came to asserting that "Obamacare" wasn't "really free" in his sense of the term -- and remember that no one claims that it is -- was an impromptu citation, in response to a round of boos, of a Chamber of Commerce survey (so much for objectivity) suggesting that member businessmen will be less likely to hire people because of the obligations supposedly imposed by the new law. Speaking in Montana, Romney attempted to create the impression -- such is my impression of his remarks -- that he confronted the NAACP with uncomfortable truths about the consequences of their presumed entitlement mentality. He did no such thing. Readers will recall that I wrote yesterday to criticize Romney precisely for his failure to engage a skeptical audience in such a necessary discussion of first principles. Apart from offend the audience (so the booing is explained) by calling the Affordable Care Act by a nickname deemed derogatory, he did nothing but boast of his aid to charter schools in Massachusetts and his father's civil-rights record and promise that more free enterprise will solve all the nation's problems. His reticence is regrettable yet understandable, especially when you imagine how his "free stuff" line would have gone over with the convention.

The Montana talk is taken by Democrats as proof that Romney expected to be booed and may have provoked booing deliberately so he could take credit later for having bravely talked straight to a hostile crowd. The sad fact is that it's all too easy for a Republican to get himself booed by a black organization without having said anything really provocative, brave or worthwhile. Yesterday's episode proves this, especially if you accept the premise that NAACP delegates are offended merely by use of the word "Obamacare." Merely getting booed doesn't make you a profile in courage, no matter what Republicans may say on the subject. If anything, Romney might have gotten a more respectful hearing had he been more confrontational and critical of delegates' supposed beliefs. People are funny when it comes to criticism after all. We're all supposed to be thin skinned and hair-triggered when we debate politics. We supposedly have a hard time -- I suppose this -- distinguishing criticism from expressions of hatred. Yet evangelists make their living by telling people that they are doomed to eternal torment unless they change their ways, and when was the last time you heard of an evangelist getting chased by an angry mob of insulted listeners? Why is it more difficult to make a secular equivalent of this argument -- to tell a crowd that they will suffer and deserve it unless they adopt different political ideas? This country could probably use some secular evangelists who'll talk tough and scare people yet seem no more the enemy of their audiences than the religious evangelist is. I imagine that Mitt Romney did some evangelizing once as an obligation of his faith, but as a secular evangelist he doesn't live up to his own billing so far. But the other side has been little better, and those who damn both sides still have few hearers. Too many people are happy to preach to their own choirs -- Fox News, MSNBC, the Conservative Book Club, etc. -- because that's where the money is. Romney is running for President, however, and can't use that as an excuse. His talk to the NAACP was like dipping a toe in cold water, then running away and bragging about it afterward. The people who make exaggerated criticisms of his speech only make his brag more convincing.


Anonymous said...

Well, Mr. Romney: While busy chopping up companies and putting people out of work, how much did YOU contribute towards your health care and benefits package? $0! So you received free stuff. Since nothing is free, who paid for YOUR health benefits? Why, the people YOU put out of work, by the act of putting them out of work, and by the people who remained employed by those companies everytime they labored to create the product or service those companies profited from.

So who is it who really wants free stuff?

Samuel Wilson said...

I don't know where you get your info on Romney's health plan, but your point about consistency regarding "free stuff" is well taken. What about "free enterprise," for instance? That seems to be a kind of freedom from accountabilty, which means it comes at a cost to the power of the people, for which the supposed power of the "market" is a poor substitute.