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The NAACP Boos Romney


It’s politically fashionable to question the relevance of the 103-year-old National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. But the NAACP is still one of America’s most revered institutions

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									The NAACP Boos Romney: A Double
Standard and a Breach of Civility

It’s politically fashionable to question the relevance of the 103-year-old National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People. But the NAACP is still one of America’s most revered
institutions, and deservedly so – which is why the country took notice last summer when the
organization passed a resolution calling for the restoration of civil political discourse amid the
boorish bile that passes for public debate in the U.S. today. It’s also why the country has every
right to be roundly disappointed in the NAACP for hypocritically flouting its own pledge on
Wednesday, when it invited Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to address its
convention in Houston – and then very uncivilly booed him.

The extended jeers, which Romney later conceded he anticipated – and which some have
accused him of baiting for the benefit of his conservative base – were a response to his promise
to repeal President Obama’s signature reform legislation, the Affordable Care Act, aka
Obamacare. The law’s aim of accessible, near universal health care coverage matters quite a bit
to an African-American community whose unemployment level has been almost twice the
national rate during the Great Recession; and Romney probably could have found a more
diplomatic way to broach the subject. Nevertheless, Obamacare is one of many issues starkly
dividing the U.S. in this election year, and last year’s NAACP resolution was meant precisely to
encourage respectful hearings from both sides – a courtesy from which the NAACP’s
conventioneers apparently believed they were exempt.

They did listen politely to Romney for the most part, even offering applause when he insisted,
perhaps not all that convincingly, that he’ll help more African-Americans join the middle class.
But unfortunately cable news doesn’t notice politeness; it’s the rudeness that gets you on
MSNBC and Fox, and the real problem with what happened in Houston is that it gives
Americans another excuse to resign themselves to gratuitous partisan barking. They’ll reason
that if the NAACP can’t resist the vitriol even after renouncing it just a year ago, then it’s futile
to expect the rest of us to stop following Gretchen Carlson and Bill Maher down Incivility

Perhaps the most significant thing the NAACP did on Wednesday was re-open the door to
charges of liberal double standard – just as Obama supporters were trying to enjoy the high
ground after the Supreme Court’s decision last month to uphold Obamacare. The country was
rightly mortified in 2010 when right-wing Republican Congressman Joe Wilson of South
Carolina made his irate “You lie!” outburst during Obama’s State of the Union address. The
NAACP’s boos may not have been as mean-spirited as Wilson’s heckle (we’ll pause here to let
the left-wingers shout “False equivalency!”) but the bottom line is that if a convention of white
conservatives had invited Obama to address them this week and then hooted at him, it would
have led Rachel Madow’s show.

The boos in Houston risked giving off the kind of air of intolerance for which Democrats like to
scold Republicans. It’s as if the NAACP had invited Romney to lay out his platform but rather
absurdly told him: Criticizing Obama or his policies is off limits. It simply doesn’t work that
way, and that’s what we thought the NAACP’s 2011 resolution had acknowledged – that we’ve
got to get back to absorbing dissenting viewpoints instead of demonizing them. After Romney’s
Houston speech, one NAACP member told CNN, ”I wasn’t booing him as a person, I was
booing his agenda.” Tea Partyers say the same thing after disrupting political addresses they
don’t like, but that doesn’t make it acceptable – something liberal groups like Code Pink, which
specializes in interrupting speeches like one given by conservative Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington this year, need to understand as well.

Earlier this year, the NAACP chapter in Martin County, Fla., cancelled an invitation to black
GOP Congressman Allen West to be its fundraiser keynote speaker. The conservative West
represents the district that includes Martin County; but after he publicly remarked, astonishingly
and repeatedly, that “there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members
of the Communist Party,” the NAACP chapter kiboshed his speech. Some conservatives cried
censorship, but the chapter’s decision was in fact in keeping with the NAACP’s call to
discourage the kind of polarizing rhetoric that makes the American body politic, the heir of
Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, sound like a dysfunctional banana republic.

Romney certainly isn’t the guy the African-American community is going to vote for in
November, and he acknowledged that in Houston. But he said he accepted the NAACP’s
invitation because he hopes to “represent all Americans,” and even if you consider that a
disingenuous sentiment on his part, it too is in keeping with a spirit of civil discourse. The
NAACP didn’t help its relevance problem this week by breaching that spirit. Or maybe it did,
sadly, given all the attention the booing got. If that’s the case, then it’s as much the nation’s
problem as it is the NAACP’s.

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