Mitt Romney: Who am I talking to?

You’d think a US Republican presidential candidate would be aware of one of the tenets of good speech-making: Know your audience.

Mitt Romney’s audience in Houston was the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), one of America’s oldest and most respected civil rights organisations, established in 1910 to abolish segregation, work for equal education for black and white children, and the complete enfranchisement of African Americans.

As the presumptive Republican nominee should have known, members of the NAACP backed the Obama health plan. Yet Mr Romney said he would “eliminate every nonessential, expensive program I can find; that includes Obamacare.” The crowd booed at his denigration of the health bill (you can see it here: ).

From all accounts, he lost most of the audience (in the photo above by Evan Vucci of Associated Press, they look less than impressed.). One gay rights activist at the NAACP convention, Donna Payne, told the New York Times: “To say he would repeal Obama’s health care plan is absolutely a joke. I can’t believe he had the nerve to even bring up repealing the plan in the middle of speaking to an audience that fought hard for the health care plan and for coverage. It’s a total misread of who you’re talking to.” ( )

It reminded me of a white principal in Harlem addressing the staff of a junior high school for the first time in the late sixties. The school where I taught was experiencing student unrest in the midst of Richard Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia and local youths wandering into the building and causing trouble. Clearly, something had to be done, and the new principal, Mr S, started his speech by saying: “Good morning. I think it’s time to call a spade a spade.” This, to a staff of mostly black teachers in a black school in Harlem. There were no boos, but much laughter. Mr S didn’t last long as principal.

It’s hard to say if the Romney speech will lose the election for him, but his bid to attract more black votes – 95 per cent of African Americans voted for Barack Obama in 2008, according to exit polls – has just taken a turn for the worse. Some of the audience gave him credit for his courage in addressing the convention, and then telling them he would make a better president for blacks than the first African-American president in US history.

Black Americans are still worse off than white Americans and have a higher jobless rate – 14.4 per cent. If I were his speechwriter, I would have put the Obamacare line a lot lower in the address – he had to mention it since he’s already said he will repeal the healthcare legislation if he’s elected president – and concentrated on more jobs for African Americans.

It is a close race with less than four months to go until election day, as the Washington Post/ABC poll showed yesterday, with both Romney and Obama deadlocked on 47 per cent among registered voters. ( ) Romney’s best chance is to keep blasting the president on the economy and the high jobless rate, since neither is likely to improve before November.

The Republicans are raising more money than the Democrats, which is not surprising, given all the rich right-wing business people who will be trying to oust President Obama. And Barack Obama keeps asking ordinary, middle-class Americans to contribute to his campaign. In his last email to the troops who helped elect him in 2008, the President lamented: “We’re getting outraised — a first for a sitting president, if this continues. Not just by the super PACs and outside groups that are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into misleading ads, but by our opponent and the Republican Party, which just outraised us for the second month in a row. We can win a race in which the other side spends more than we do. But not this much more. So I need your help.”


And many Democrats and ordinary Americans would like to help. Unfortunately, 8.2 per cent of Americans are out of work and can’t afford to donate as they did in 2008. That is a message that Romney needs to send to voters – black and white.

But, to be honest, I hope he doesn’t, as I still think Barack Obama will be a much stronger president in his second term and deliver the change Americans can believe in — and wanted him to deliver in his first term, like his health legislation. Closing down Guantanamo Bay detention camp would be a good start – a promise the President made in 2008.

Finally, more in my campaign against ugly words and phrases. My pet hate remains “going forward.” I heard a slight variation on the ABC’s AM program this morning when the deputy head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Dr Michael Schaper, told reporter Samantha Hawley the ACCC was actively investigating 20 complaints about carbon tax price rorts: “This is early days and we’ll certainly be keeping the Australian public informed as we go forward.”  There was no need to say “as we go forward.” But Dr Schaper redeemed himself at the end of interview when he said: “… if we come across businesses that really are setting out to dupe consumers and they are using the carbon tax as a pretext without any reasonable basis, then we’ll certainly go them.” “Go them,” a wonderful turn of phrase, Dr Schaper, and I’m glad you didn’t add: “as we go forward!”

And I am sad to inform you if you didn’t already know that the official slogan of the Obama re-election campaign is “Forward.” ( ) Yes, from a team that brought you “Change We Can Believe In,” a one-word slogan that at least doesn’t having “Going” in front of it. If you remember, Julia Gillard’s 2010 election campaign slogan was “Moving Forward,” and that didn’t help her very much. She did move forward into a minority government, but that’s not what she was hoping for. However, I do have an idea for a new Obama re-election campaign slogan: “It’s Time for Change We Can Really Believe in.” Too long? Okay, back to the drawing board!

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