Mitt Romney’s Attempt to Court the Black Vote: Foolish or Opportunistic?

30 05 2012

Photo credit: Washington Post

“It’s not appreciated here,” she said. “It is absolutely denigrating for him to come in here and speak his garbage.” – Madaline G. Dunn, 78, Philadelphia, Pa

In a recent Washington Post article, we learned that Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney has begun to do what many Black people never expected to happen, attempt to court the Black vote. On one hand, it’s not entirely surprising that he would begin a small campaign this way, especially considering the divisive language that some Black clergy have recently implored about President Obama in response to his personal stance on the marriage of same-sex couples.

It’s also not that unprecedented. Contrary to the perceived (and arguably very real attachment the Black vote has with the Democratic Party), Former President George W.  Bush regularly appealed to socially conservative Black people during his campaigns. He even went so far as to speak at the 2004 Unity Journalism Convention, a conference that used to combine the four main minority journalism organizations every four years. So it would make sense that Romney would at least begin to appeal to the 11% who favored President Bush in the 2004 election.

On the other hand, a lot has happened since 2004 to make many people of color (Black, Latino, etc…), especially poor people of color, question the sincerity of the Republican Party. It’s that questioning that lead to the response that Mitt Romney received when he visited a school in West Philadelphia last week. And it’s the reason Madaline Dunn gave her quote to the Washington Post. She wanted to make it very clear that he was not wanted there.

Now, you can argue whether or not grown folks should be heckling a presidential candidate outside of a school. I would say not, but who am I? You could also argue whether or not they were actually heckling or if most people were simply exercising their given right to protest (which I think is the case, but I wasn’t there so I don’t know for sure). But either way, Mitt Romney hasn’t served himself well in this department prior to visiting West Philly last week. The Washington Post even mentioned his now infamous gaffe of saying “I am not concerned about the very poor,” when attempting to explain that his campaign was focused on the trials of middle America, because the very poor had “an ample safety net” provided for them.

It’s comments like those that make people question his sincerity towards the poor. And yet, I still don’t think it was foolish of him to visit, and I don’t think it’s foolish of him to attempt to get part of the Black vote. We’re not a monolithic group, just like women are not, the youth are not, Southerners are not, etc… I’ve met Black Republicans, and I know Black people who have never stepped foot in what might be considered a poor neighborhood. Therefore, it would actually be foolish for him to assume that every Black person will automatically vote against him.

The real question becomes whether or not his attempt to court the Black vote by visiting poor neighborhoods and schools is the wisest choice. I don’t know. But I hope that when Romney says his visit was meant to be educational for himself, he means it. And I really hope that he started to learn that there is not an ample safety net for the poor in this country and that the education system in America is greatly flawed. These are the things we should want any politician to learn, especially one that may be President of the United States in less than a year.

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