Great cheers for Biden on heels of jeers for Romney

Fri, Jul 13, 2012, 01:00

Obama’s ‘attack dog’ roused the civil rights group’s convention more than he could have ever dared to

THE WHITE House said President Barack Obama was unable to address the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) because of a “scheduling conflict”. So he dispatched vice-president Joe Biden to Houston yesterday instead.

“The NAACP didn’t get the top dog,” the Republican political strategist Ana Navarro commented. “They got the attack dog.”

Biden’s speech to the nation’s oldest civil rights group was more chummy-familiar with the African-American community, and more aggressive towards Republicans, than anything Obama would have dared. “It’s good to be home. It’s good to be back. I’m a lifetime member of the NAACP . . . This is preachin’ to the choir,” he said.

Greeting an old friend in the audience, the vice-president adopted the cadence of African- American speech: “Hey, Mouse! How ya doin’, man?” Biden addressed the group 24 hours after Mitt Romney received the most hostile reaction from any audience in the campaign. Romney was jeered. Biden was cheered.

The vice-president said he “watched [Mr Obama] make some of the toughest decisions since FDR” – the bailout of the automobile industry, the killing of Osama Bin Laden and the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which will provide healthcare insurance “for eight million black Americans who would never have had it”.

He said: “Obstruction was [the Republicans’] plan from the outset . . . They have never let up. But neither has my guy. Neither has Barack Obama.”

Biden accused Romney of putting education “on the back burner”. He said “his social policy is a throwback to the 1950s” and his “vision of foreign policy is mired in the Cold War”. Romney wanted to give $530 billion (€434 billion) in tax cuts to the 120,000 richest families. “If he succeeds, 2.2 million African- American families will see their taxes go up.”

On the opening day of the convention, NAACP chairman Ben Jealous spoke of voter identification laws passed in nearly a dozen states with Republican-controlled legislatures. “In the past year, more states have passed more laws pushing more voters out of the ballot box than at any time since the rise of Jim Crow,” he said, referring to the apartheid-style laws in southern states between 1876 and 1965.

“This organisation at its core is about the franchise, about the right to vote,” Biden added yesterday. “Because when you have the right to vote, you have the right to change things . . . Did you think we’d be fighting these battles again? Close your eyes and imagine what the Romney justice department would look like.”

Obama won 95 per cent of the black vote in 2008, and still enjoys an 87 per cent approval rating in the African-American community, compared to 45 per cent in the nation at large, so it’s unlikely Romney can win a significant number of black votes.

The punditry gave two explanations for Romney’s foray into the lion’s den. Some thought he wanted to prove to independent voters that he is a moderate who reaches out to ethnic minorities. Others said he wanted to be jeered – indeed, Romney told the right-wing Fox News channel afterwards that he “expected” the reaction – so that video of him standing firm, wearing a nervous grin before a hostile crowd, would play in what the liberal MSNBC cable channel commentator Lawrence O’Donnell called “certain racist precincts where that will actually help”.

Two passages in Romney’s speech particularly riled the crowd: when he said, “I will eliminate expensive, non-essential programmes like Obamacare”; and when he said, “If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him.”

Hours after the speech, NAACP leaders took the unusual step of releasing a statement calling Romney’s views “antithetical to many of our interests”.

Romney’s subsequent remarks at a fundraiser in Montana on Wednesday night led some to accuse him of race baiting. “When I mentioned I am going to get rid of Obamacare, they weren’t happy,” he said. “That’s okay . . . But I hope people understand this, your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government, tell them to go vote for the other guy – more free stuff. But don’t forget, nothing is really free.”

Romney has tried harder to seduce Hispanic voters, with little success. The Romney and Obama campaigns released duelling advertisements in Spanish this week. Romney’s feature a testimonial by his son Craig, who learned Spanish as a Mormon missionary in South America. The pro-Obama ads were particularly hard-hitting, with a man saying in Spanish that Romney “is a person without feelings who doesn’t care about people whether they be Hispanic, Latino, white, who are below him”.

Alluding to strict immigration laws supported by Romney, and the Republican candidate’s refusal to release income tax returns that would answer lingering questions about his finances, the vice-president on Tuesday accused Romney of wanting Latinos “to show your papers, but he won’t show us his”.

The Bush family have now endorsed Romney, but George P Bush (36), the grandson of George Bush senior, nephew of George W, and son of the former Florida governor, Jeb, this week criticised Romney’s stand on immigration. Bush’s mother Columba was born in Mexico.

Referring to Obama’s directive allowing some 800,000 young people who were brought to the country illegally as children to remain, Bush said: “Governor Romney had an opportunity to get in front of the president on the issue. But the president clearly has taken the initiative on it.”