(The Root) — No matter what Mitt Romney tells NAACP members Wednesday, nine out of 10 African Americans will still pull the lever for President Barack Obama in November.
But that doesn’t mean the former Massachusetts governor’s address to the venerable civil rights organization at its 103rd annual convention in Houston isn’t a big deal.
In another era, black folks were loyal Republican voters. Barrier breaker Jackie Robinson was a Republican, and former NAACP President Benjamin Hooks was an appointee in the Reagan administration. This time, though, Romney is an ambassador to black America from a party that has, over time, all but cut diplomatic ties with the black community.
If all he can muster is the standard refrain that Republicans are “the party of Lincoln” without addressing the question that black voters, and all voters, ask — “What have you done for me lately?” — his speech might turn out to be a concession of the black vote to the Democratic Party for the foreseeable future.
On the other hand, if Romney can find a message that resonates with a slice of the black electorate, it could be a step toward a rapprochement between black voters and the GOP.
The Miami Herald’s Leonard Pitts Jr. thinks that Romney should talk about black incarceration rates. CNN’s Roland Martin wants him to discuss the 53 percent drop in black wealth resulting from the mortgage crisis. Both topics are fertile ground for Romney’s keynote.
But there are also a few themes that Romney should consider steering clear of. Here’s what he shouldn’t say to members of the NAACP:
Obama “Doesn’t Understand”
Romney has a habit of saying that although Obama “didn’t cause the recession,” the president “doesn’t understand” how our free-market economy works. That not only rings false — considering the stock market’s dramatic uptick during Obama’s tenure — but it’s also a kind of pat-on-the-head condescension that’s a nonstarter for black voters.