US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addresses the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) annual convention in Houston on July 11, 2012.
Mitt Romney, GOP candidate for president, has been looking for a way to run from the Affordable Care Act since the linchpin, the individual mandate, is essentially the same as the legislation Romney approved when he was governor of Massachusetts. Justice Ginsburg neatly pointed this out in her Supreme Court opinion on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.
The fact that “Romneycare” is, in all meaningful respects, “Obamacare” has been somewhat awkward for the Romney camp.
Romney really needs a conversation changer on “Obamacare.”
Perhaps what we saw this week, therefore, is the roll out of the new messaging on “Obamacare.” This began when Romney accepted an invitation to address the NAACP, the historic African American civil rights group. Romney was generally civilly received, except he was booed when he derided “Obamacare” as “expensive and unnecessary.”
“Romney Welcomes the Boos” opined John Dickerson at Slate, because “It offered a chance for a candidate criticized for his malleability to look principled in the face of opposition.”
Perhaps. But I think there’s more to it than just looking “principled.”
I too think Romney welcomed the “boos,” but I have begun to wonder if Romney didn’t solicit them in order to tee up his new message on health care. The “boos” from the African American crowd at the NAACP made headlines and Romney addressed that response in a speech to a group of donors in Hamilton, Montana.
“If you’re looking for free stuff you don’t have to pay for? Vote for the other guy, that’s what he’s all about, okay? That’s not, that’s not what I’m about.”
“Free stuff.” Suddenly, that seemed to become the new message on “Obamacare” from Romney: legislation to provide a means to obtain health care by those who are currently uninsured is the equivalent of giving people “free stuff,” that is, a “handout.” This is insulting to millions of Americans whose health is at risk because they cannot afford the high costs of private health insurance.
But it is especially insulting to African Americans given the cynical way the Romney camp apparently got this new messaging out. Health care as “free stuff” wanted by African Americans is roughly equivalent, in its racial undertones, to Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queens” messaging from his 1976 presidential campaign.
That 1976 presidential campaign was a terrible time in American politics as it set the template for using racially coded language to justify cutting the social safety net. This has had enormously negative consequences over more than three decades as it has served to cut the nerve of ethical effort to eliminate both poverty and racism. It gives people an excuse not to care about the poor because the poor ‘don’t deserve it,’ and it stereotypes the poor as all African American when that is completely inaccurate. People are tempted to believe that universal health care isn’t necessary because it is just a scam for people who are looking to get “free stuff.”
Affordable health care isn’t “free stuff” or a handout to the undeserving, it is a “moral responsibility” we have a society to one another, as Rev. Jennifer Butler said. Faith leaders from many religious perspectives worked hard for passage of the Affordable Care Act, and its constitutionality was called “a blessing” and “in line with our biblical and theological witness.”
Health care is a “human right” according to these faith leaders, not a handout. It is particularly morally misguided of Mr. Romney, therefore, to characterize resistance on the part of an American audience to his calling the ACA legislation “unnecessary” as a desire for “free stuff.”
Why would Mr. Romney do that?
I, among others, am becoming very suspicious that Mitt Romney’s speech to the NAACP was not primarily addressed to that audience but to another audience entirely, namely his “base” of white voters. If this analysis is correct, it is an extraordinarily disrespectful treatment of the NAACP and its membership.
Americans can disagree about many things, and it is clear there is broad disagreement about health care legislation. But the one thing we owe each other as fellow citizens is mutual respect.
Prove me wrong, Mr. Romney. Quit saying the Affordable Care Act is just a way for people to get “free stuff.” It’s not.
Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.