“I think it was a calculated move on his part to get booed at the NAACP convention,” said former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in an interview yesterday when asked to react to Mitt Romney’s address to the NAACP earlier in the day. Romney’s motive for race-baiting was to create a moment on video that Fox News can play on an endless loop, showing Romney confronting “angry blacks” at the NAACP, which one Fox pundit referred to as a “hate group” yesterday.
Romney was booed several times but the instance that is getting the most play was triggered by his statement that he would repeal “Obamacare,” a phrasing calculated to offend the audience — he read it off a teleprompter. This was a juvenile dig similar to the way Republicans use “Democrat” as an adjective to send a signal to their base that they, too, are partisan hacks. (For example, George W. Bush frequently referred to the “Democrat Party” even in official, non-partisan addresses.)
A statesman in Romney’s position — a mature candidate who was running to be a leader of the entire nation regardless of faction or race — would not resort to silly nicknames in an official address before a presumably hostile audience. Romney not only disgraced himself and — if such a thing were still possible — his party, he sent the signal that he knows his support among the millions of racists who form the core of the Republican Party is weak, at best.
Of course, race-baiting is nothing new for Republican presidential candidates. It was Karl Rove who had flyers distributed on behalf of George W. Bush in advance of the South Carolina primaries in 2000 that claimed that Bush’s chief rival, John McCain had an illegitimate mixed-race child. And it was Bush’s father whose campaign against Michael Dukkakis benefited from the infamous ads accusing Dukkakis, then governor of Massachusetts, of complicity in the release of Willie Horton, an African-American, who committed armed robbery and rape while on a prison furlough.
It’s almost forgotten now as a result of the beatification of Ronald Reagan over the years, but he was also a master at race-baiting:
Space doesn’t permit a complete list of the Gipper’s signals to angry white folks that Republicans prefer to ignore, so two incidents in which [Republican former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi] was deeply involved will have to suffice. As a young congressman, Lott was among those who urged Reagan to deliver his first major campaign speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were murdered in one of the 1960s’ ugliest cases of racist violence. It was a ringing declaration of his support for “states’ rights” — a code word for resistance to black advances clearly understood by white Southern voters.
Then there was Reagan’s attempt, once he reached the White House in 1981, to reverse a long-standing policy of denying tax-exempt status to private schools that practice racial discrimination and grant an exemption to Bob Jones University. Lott’s conservative critics, quite rightly, made a big fuss about his filing of a brief arguing that BJU should get the exemption despite its racist ban on interracial dating. But true to their pattern of white-washing Reagan’s record on race, not one of Lott’s conservative critics said a mumblin’ word about the Gipper’s deep personal involvement. They don’t care to recall that when Lott suggested that Reagan’s regime take BJU’s side in a lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service, Reagan responded, “We ought to do it.” Two years later the U.S. Supreme Court in a resounding 8-to-1 decision ruled that Reagan was dead wrong and reinstated the IRS’s power to deny BJU’s exemption.
After Pres. Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act ending legal segregation, he predicted that, because they’d killed Jim Crow, Democrats would lose the South for a generation. He was partly correct. The South did become reliably Republican, but it wasn’t just for one generation but two, at least, and counting.
If there was any doubt about Romney’s intent to goad the audience at the NAACP convention into booing him, he drove home his racist message later in the day:
[I] want people to know what I stand for and if I don’t stand for what they want, go vote for someone else, that’s just fine. But 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.
Got it? Black folks just want free stuff from the government. And he can’t resist lying: Obamacare is not “free stuff” — it requires people to buy coverage from giant insurance corporations.