Was Romney’s NAACP Speech Almost Good?

He gave what could have been an effective speech -- but there were some things he failed to explain.

Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

(The Root) — Give Mitt Romney credit. On Wednesday in Houston, he addressed the NAACP’s 103rd annual convention, made his case and gave African-American voters — who will still undoubtedly remain solidly behind President Barack Obama — something to think about.

Telling the members of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization that “support is asked for and earned,” Romney acknowledged the trust deficit between the GOP and many black voters, but he also argued that his campaign is “about helping the middle class in America” and that “the course the president has set won’t do that.”

And with a smirk that he probably couldn’t help — and that probably didn’t help him — Romney added, “If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him.”

Slow down, governor.

The speech was good, but it wasn’t that good.

Romney did at least one thing better than the president. He kept it brief — avoiding those extra 10 minutes of every Obama speech that leave you wondering if White House speechwriters get paid by the word. And he followed my advice to leave his church’s once-tenuous but improved relationship with African Americans out of it.

All in all, Romney got what he wanted. Giving a keynote address to a skeptical constituency gives him a chance to try doing what the last GOP president couldn’t: be a uniter, not a divider. But there were a few key points that turned what could have been a win into a push at best:

No Specifics

Although the big news out of the speech will be the chorus of boos that followed Romney’s restatement of his plan to repeal “Obamacare,” that should have been expected.

Romney’s real problem is what he said right before that: “I’m going to eliminate every non-essential, expensive program I can find.” It’s an almost comically vague promise to tackle “big government” that both Romney’s conservative base and black voters hear as, “I’ll cut Head Start and teacher pay, but stealth bombers and ethanol subsidies are safe.”