A chorus of boos reverberated among the crowd in Houston, Texas at the NAACP convention on July 11 in response to Mitt Romney's public pledge to repeal the new healthcare law, which the Republican presidential candidate referred to as "Obamacare."
Despite the display of discontent, it wasn't Mitt Romney who missed the mark at the NAACP convention, it was the NAACP.
Consider the setting for the meeting of two presumed diametrically opposed political perspectives:
Romney stood in front of a photo setting backdrop of flags on an elevated stage spotlighted behind a transparent podium branded with the logo of the NAACP. He looked down upon a crowd of mostly Black Americans while delivering a 20-minute canned speech that included a divisive term deliberately designed to incite the crowd.
My question is simply, why?
I don't wonder why Romney intentionally dropped the term "Obamacare," a political misnomer that has become the nasty mud-slinging calling card of the GOP in its effort to brand the new healthcare law as the linchpin of an aggressive attack upon the president -- as though he alone were responsible for the decisions of the majority of representatives in both houses of congress, the majority of the American people and the Supreme Court.
I naively expected Romney to show common courtesy and respect of the president in a room filled with presumed core constituents, but I wasn't surprised at the inflammatory rhetoric from a candidate who views President Obama as an enemy on a battlefield of influence. Romney didn't come to the NAACP convention to speak to the NAACP. He was there to leverage the moment to speak to his own core supporters -- those who coined the derogatory term, "Obamacare," and sharpened the rhetoric Romney was happy to launch into the crowd. Romney didn't disappoint them.
But I was disappointed by the NAACP.
NAACP Faux Pas
Inviting Mitt Romney to the convention was the right thing to do. Standing him above the crowd, bathed in bright spotlights beneath which he was free to deliver 20+ minutes of a scorched brand of vague milquetoast political promises, was unconscionable.
Instead, the NAACP should've invited Romney to give a five-minute speech followed by a chat with the NAACP president, Ben Jealous. Both should've been on stage. Romney should have had no script and no 20-minute dish-and-dash opportunity.
Mr. Jealous might've been equipped with a set of questions, most of which could've been curated from a crowdsourcing tool on the NAACP website that invited questions from its members nationwide. Mr. Jealous would've asked each selected question and one followup based upon Romney's responses.
The NAACP might've scheduled Romney for a 30-minute live online engagement following his stage appearance in order that hundreds of thousands of online users might've participated in a Q&A following the live broadcast of Romney's convention appearance.
The setup would've empowered the NAACP to have a real engagement with the real presidential candidate. If he had refused the invitation based upon the setup, Mr. Romney would've faced the PR nightmare of dodging accusations that he was unwilling to have a real discussion with NAACP members, preferring only a bully pulpit.
Questions for Mitt Romney
In a discussion setting, the NAACP could've asked questions that no media have asked Mitt Romney:
Mr. Romney, you proclaim your policies as president would be better for Black Americans than those under President Obama. Would your record as governor of Massachusetts support that premise and could you provide data on the education and economic welfare of Black Americans in your state that supports your premise?
Mr. Romney, you promise to provide low-income parents a choice of where to send their children to school. But what have you done -- not going to do -- to ensure all public schools are effective in preparing all students, regardless of income, for a 21st century marketplace dominated by a demand for science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM-educated, workers and entrepreneurs?
Mr. Romney, your background is in venture capital, which is a major part of a relatively new risk capital industry that claims responsibility for rapid job growth and has ballooned since its inception in the 60s when Black Americans were still fighting for Civil Rights. The risk capital industry, which has incorporated public pension funds into investments in hundreds of thousands of companies, is an industry in which the percentage of Black Americans, lumped in with Latino Americans in the latest National Venture Capital Census, is less than 2 percent, as is the spectrum of companies into which more than a half-trillion dollars has been invested over the past several decades. What have you done to ensure non-Whites are included in the innovation economy as entrepreneurs with access to risk capital and as risk capital investors?
Mr. Romney, let's talk about something you know a lot about, job growth and wealth creation. In 2007, there were 1.9 million Black-owned businesses in the U.S. that produced $137.5B in revenue, which amounts to LESS than 1% of the $14T GDP of the nation. More than 1.8 million of those 1.9 million businesses were sole proprietors. That was before the economic collapse that started in late 2007 and escalated through 2008. Were you aware of the extreme disconnection of Black entrepreneurs from the venture-fueled fast-paced tech-driven innovation economy? What have you done to address this issue in the past and what will you do about it regardless of whether you become president?
I'm saddened by the NAACP's missed opportunity to engage in a real discussion and debate with Mr. Romney. My hope is the NAACP is interested in engaging in such an ongoing discussion with both Republican and Democratic parties and will produce a stage for debate in the very near future to discuss these and other extremely important issues.
And I'm hopeful the NAACP will invite me to moderate and ask the questions that no one else has thought to ask.