Mitt’s real insult to the NAACP

Deriding "Obamacare" was bad, but Romney's support for voter suppression laws disrespects the group's entire legacy

Topics: Mitt Romney, NAACP, 2012 Elections, Race, Editor's Picks,

Mitt's real insult to the NAACPMitt Romney (Credit: AP/Evan Vucci)

I have to admit, I started out giving Mitt Romney some credit for agreeing to address the NAACP. I’m a sucker for the make-nice gesture in this age of political division and cruelty. Republican presidential candidates have been known to snub the group’s annual gathering: Bob Dole did in 1996, and while George W. Bush attended in 2000, when he was promising to be a compassionate conservative, he skipped it in 2004, when it was clear that he was not.

I knew Romney’s visit was mainly designed to make him appear reasonable to white swing voters who are a little worried about the GOP’s wingnuttery when it comes to our first black president. Still, I thought it was a mildly reassuring symbolic gesture that might serve to keep the chasm between African-Americans and the GOP from turning into a dangerous canyon.

I expected it would be awkward; Romney is awkward with every group. But I didn’t expect Romney to be so unbelievably disrespectful.

Let’s be clear: Going to the NAACP and sneering derisively at “Obamacare” was an act of disrespect. There was a way to frame his opposition to Obamneycare – I mean, the Affordable Care Act – in policy terms. By using the right’s term of choice, “Obamacare,” which serves to underscore that it’s our first black president’s signature achievement, Romney was being deliberately provocative – and he got the boos he wanted, so now he can boast of his ability to speak truth to the not terribly powerful. (Although the group gave him a standing ovation when he left, a sign that they have more class than the gazillionaire who wants to lead the nation.)

In case you’re not clear about his motives, Romney later told Fox News, regarding the boos: “I completely expected that, of course, but I’m going to give the same message to the NAACP that I give across the country, that it’s killing jobs.” He got nastier at a fundraiser in Montana Wednesday night, according to a pool report, telling supporters about his NAACP critics: “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.” Some Romney supporters are even more vicious in making political use of his NAACP reception: Rush Limbaugh is  now saying the Republican candidate was booed “simply because Romney’s white.”



Romney’s disrespect confirms what we already know: He’s content to be the leader of a party that gets almost 90 percent of its support from white voters alone. They can only get away with it, in a country that’s only 64 percent non-Hispanic white (and dropping)  by making it tougher for non-whites to vote. So that’s what they’re doing. And it’s against the backdrop of the GOP’s voter suppression movement that Romney’s cavalier treatment of the NAACP is particularly outrageous.

It’s no coincidence that a day earlier, also speaking to the NAACP, Attorney General Eric Holder called the GOP’s most egregious voter suppression laws “a poll tax,” invoking Jim Crow era maneuvers struck down by the Voting Rights Act. Romney didn’t even mention the issue in his speech, probably because he supports the GOP’s voter-suppression movement, remarking during the primaries, “I like voter ID laws, by the way … more of them.” So Romney actually had the gall to tell the nation’s oldest civil rights group, which has fought for a century to expand voting rights for African-Americans, that he’d be a better president for African-Americans than Obama, whose Justice Department, under Holder, is fighting the new wave of voter restrictions that are rightly compared to a poll tax.

And it’s particularly awful that Romney gave his speech in Texas, which passed one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation, one that’s being challenged by Holder  (the issue is before a federal judge this week). The Justice Department says the law would disenfranchise 1.4 million Texas voters, almost a million of them Latino. The Nation’s Ari Berman, who’s doing some of the best reporting on voter suppression, explains why:

There are DMV offices in only eighty-one of the state’s 254 counties. Not surprisingly, counties with a significant Hispanic population are less likely to have a DMV office, while Hispanic residents in such counties are twice as likely as whites to not have the right ID. Hispanics in Texas are also twice as likely as whites to not have a car.

And if voters can make their way to a government office that provides ID, they’ll need documentation of their eligibility, and the cheapest option is paying $22 for a birth certificate – which is what leads Holder to accurately call the law “a poll tax.” More than 20 million Americans, nationwide, don’t have the government-provided documentation required by these new laws, including a quarter of all African-Americans.

Make no mistake, these laws affect white people, too, particularly white college students. Holder noted that in Texas, “concealed handgun licenses would be accepted forms of identification, but student IDs would not.” That’s no accident. A New Hampshire Republican made his party’s agenda plain when he defended his state’s law invalidating student IDs as a form of voter documentation. “Voting liberal, that’s what kids do.” And in New Hampshire, they’re by and large white kids. So the GOP has a plan to stop them too.

If you’re noticing a trend, you’re right: Young people, African-Americans, Latinos – that’s the Obama coalition. Since those groups surged to the polls in 2008 to elect the president, Republicans have been almost as aggressive passing laws restricting voting as they have restricting women’s reproductive rights. (That may have the opposite effect politically.) Remember Madam Range Rover at Romney’s Hamptons soiree, complaining “the common people” didn’t get it? The misinformed hoi polloi, she lamented, all had the right to vote, but she singled out “my college kid, the babysitters, the nail ladies” — all less likely to have voter ID than wealthy white people.

To be fair, the GOP has always complained about Democratic voter fraud – which essentially doesn’t exist: The Bush Justice Department conducted an exhaustive voter fraud investigation, but only prosecuted 86 cases in seven years, and most were felons who thought they had the right to vote but didn’t. MSNBC’s “The Cycle” co-host S.E. Cupp defended the GOP’s voter ID crusade as worth it to eliminate those 86 cases of voter fraud over seven years in a nation of 300 million, even if it risks disenfranchising 21 million people. (Have you noticed that conservatives are the radicals lately?) Rooting out nonexistent voter fraud only became a GOP jihad, however, after Obama’s election. Pennsylvania Republican Mike Tarzai was nice enough recently to explain why, bragging that his state’s new voter ID law “is going to allow Mitt Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

That’s why voter suppression may be the nation’s top civil rights issue today (the drug war has to be a runner-up). A man who supports that movement can’t be considered a better president for African-Americans than Obama. That was Romney’s real insult to the NAACP; deriding “Obamacare,” however deliberate and offensive, can’t compete.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>