Mitt Romney, the whitest Republican presidential nominee since every single Republican presidential nominee before him, informed an auditorium of black people at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People conference in Houston today that he, stilted awkward whiteness aside, knows what's best for blacks -- him.
Romney, who's looking more like Mr. Fantastic from the Fantastic Four every day, said if he wasn't better for African Americans than the one who's president, he never would have decided to run for the position. "If you want a president who will make things better in the African American community, you are looking at him," Romney said, after repeating he would repeal Obamacare if elected president, inciting much booing and guffawing.
People, listen: Blackness is an essential part of Mitt's Romneyness. Didn't you know that? He understands the struggles of black America. His father -- another rich white dude -- once walked for civil rights in the streets of Detroit. With black people! There's only one logical conclusion a person of color can draw from this anecdote: They must vest Mitt Romney with the power of the presidency. Or Doctor Doom will destroy the economy.
In 2008, President Barack Obama captured 95 percent of the black vote, but Romney and his advisers see inroads into the voting bloc. And while Obama is expected to win an overwhelming proportion of African Americans in November, such predictions are riddled with the same ailment infecting most of his base -- a lack of enthusiasm.
Obama was able to wrench certain key states, Virginia and North Carolina, away from the Republicans last presidential cycle because of significant turnout in black communities in those states. He won North Carolina by roughly 15,000 votes, and it's entirely possible that Obama will lose those states -- and their electoral college votes -- if people of color don't enter polls in the same numbers again.
Romney knows this. He's not trying to win the black population. But if he can shave off a voting point or two, or muddy the ideological waters enough so a few people stay home, he'll take back conservative states that have a large black presence.
Romney also escalated the dichotomy between the competing narratives shaping this presidential campaign: one which urges free market economics, and the other that calls for government-driven growth. Republican economic proposals could, in fact, resonate with black voters as they -- as well as Hispanics -- bore the brunt of the recession. During the financial and housing crises, median wealth fell 55 percent among black households, and 66 percent among Latin families, according to the Pew Research Center. Meanwhile, median wealth for whites dropped 16 percent.
Yet, if history is any guide, identity trumps economics. Catholics, which are often more conservative, sided with John F. Kennedy in 1960. Then in 2008, blacks went for Obama. And there's little proof that laize faire economic policies will restore wealth to middle and lower classes, where significant majorities of minority voters inhabit. If anything, times of large government spending fosters a strong middle class -- think New Deal.
Still, some in attendance respected that Romney spoke at the traditionally African American convention. "Took guts," Lewis Robinson, 55, of Guthrie, Okla., said. "He said things that he knew we wouldn't agree with."
The 103rd NAACP Annual Convention continues through Thursday at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Upcoming scheduled speakers include U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.