Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
Mitt Romney told the NAACP Wednesday morning, "If you want a president who will make things better in the African American community, you are looking at him." The response was mixed.
Addressing the NAACP's annual convention as part of a push to attract black voters (95 percent of whom voted for Barack Obama in 2008), Romney had to know this was a tough sell. He has to make the case that the Republican candidate is the one that best represents the interests of minorities and the middle class. The timing is tough: Romney's speech comes two days after President Obama promised voters that his opponent would preserve the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans; and it follows a weekend fundraiser in the Hamptons that saw Republicans take in over $3 million (and a hell of a lot of rich quotes—pun intended) from the well-heeled set.
Appealing to a demographic he has almost no chance of winning in November, Mitt Romney struck a deferential tone with the NAACP, which he called a "venerable organization." But that didn't stop the audience from being vocal about the parts of his speech—and the larger narrative of Romney's candidacy—they didn't like.
And with that, here are the five times Mitt Romney got booed during his NAACP speech.
Romney laid out a five-point plan for recovery: "open up energy, expand trade, cut the growth of government, focus on better educating tomorrow’s workers today, and restore economic freedom." It was the third one, cut the growth in government, that got him in some trouble.
"If our goal is jobs, we have to stop spending over a trillion dollars more than we take in," Romney explained. "To do this, I will eliminate expensive non-essential programs," and then, as quietly as he said anything during the rest of the speech, "That includes Obamacare."
You could feel Romney rush to get through that part, all but physically ducking as he said it. The crowd hated it. The booing went on for over 10 seconds; all Romney could do was smile and wait for his turn to speak again.
"There was a survey of the Chamber of Commerce," Romney began. "They carried out a survey of members, 1,500 surveyed, and they asked them what effect Obamacare would have on their plans. Three-quarters said they were less likely to hire people. I say again: if our priority is jobs, that's something I'd change."
A few minutes later, Mitt Romney cast himself as the candidate who wouldn't be afraid to say the unpopular truth, the one who isn't out there just looking for applause. In that case, Romney came to the right place.
"I do not have a hidden agenda," Romney was saying. And then, he made the real pitch. "If you want a president who will make things better in the African American community, you are looking at him."
There were boos, again. The crowd didn't believe him. "You take a look," Romney pressed.
Touting his five-point plan, Romney said it was the clear path toward lower unemployment and higher wages. He could have left it there, but he didn't.
"The President will say he will do those things, but he will not, he cannot, and his record of the last four years proves it," Romney said. A pattern emerges: Romney hammers Barack Obama, he gets booed.
"I can’t promise that you and I will agree on every issue," Romney was saying, "But I do promise that your hospitality to me today will be returned."
This was perhaps the most awkward way to phrase it. During a speech that was going to be watched very closely for moments of pandering, this probably came closest to the red meat Romney detractors had hoped for.
Romney's "hospitality" remark was especially ironic because—guess what?—it got him booed. In fact, at this point in the speech, someone started playing chords on a church organ, as if anticipating the crowd's less-than-hospitable reaction and trying to drown it out. The organ would pop up at several other points toward the close of Romney's speech
"I will seek your counsel," Romney went on, "and if I am elected president, and you invite me to next year’s convention, I would count it as a privilege, and my answer will be yes." We'll see if his invitation doesn't get lost in the mail.
Okay, so this one wasn't a boo, exactly. But it was a moment of sarcasm.
"The Republican Party’s record, by the measures you rightly apply, is not perfect," Romney said. There was a smattering of applause, as if to say, "You don't say?" Then we heard that organ again.
The chords would play Romney off a few minutes later, as he wrapped up the speech with stories about his father's civil rights efforts while Governor of Michigan, and a quotation from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.