Does Mitt Romney Care About Black People?

Terrance Heath

Almost six years ago, the nation watched poor, mostly African-Americans suffer and die waiting for government help in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Meanwhile, conservative pundits declared that Katrina victims only had themselves to blame. Then Sen. Barack Obama called the abandonment of poor blacks in New Orleans a manifestation of social conservatives’ “Social Darwinism.” And. Rapper Kanye West ignited controversy when he said during a nationally televised concert for hurricane relief, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” 

In light of an economic disaster that’s leaving millions more African Americans — poor, working-, and middle-class — underwater, the 33rd health care reform repeal vote engineered by House Republicans (still no jobs bill, tho’), and Mitt Romney’s speech to the NAACP on Wednesday, it’s worth asking: Does Mitt Romney care about Black people? Do Republicans? 

Boo Who?

Much has been made of Mitt Romney’s speech to the NAACP conference this week, and even more has been made of the fact that Romney was booed by the audience when he reiterated intention to overturn the Affordable Care Act — the health care reform bill so associated with the President, that its unofficial name is Obamacare. 

The Romney campaign has since said that it expected expected booing during his speech. They apparently expected it despite bussing in their own African Americans (or “our blacks,” as Ann Coulter like to call them) to ensure Romney’s speech got some applause.

Why did Romney get booed? Rush Limbaugh was quick to claim that the NAACP audience booed Romney because he’s white. And it turns out that, while he got far more applause than Romney, even Vice President Biden was booed by the NAACP audience. OK, so Biden was good for closing his speech, but he (a) he is white, and (b) he was booed.

What Health Care Reform Means For African Americans

Somehow I don’t expect Limbaugh to say Biden was booed because he was white, but it fair to say the booing had slightly less to do with the messenger than the message, which Romney clearly defined in his speech.

Free enterprise is still the greatest force for upward mobility, economic security, and the expansion of the middle class. We have seen in recent years what it’s like to have less free enterprise. As President, I will show the good things that can happen when we have more – more business activity, more jobs, more opportunity, more paychecks, more savings accounts.

Why did the Romney campaign expect to get booed? Because, as Romney explained, black people just want free stuff.

Speaking at a Montana fundraiser later in the day, Romney took it a step past having expected the boos, saying:

When I mentioned I am going to get rid of Obamacare, they weren’t happy … That’s okay, I want people to know what I stand for, and if I don’t stand for what they want, go vote for someone else, that’s just fine. But I hope people understand this, your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this, if they want more stuff from the government, tell them to go vote for the other guy—more free stuff. But don’t forget nothing is really free.

Of course, that has to be it. It couldn’t be that the NAACP audience booed because they know that what health care reform means to African Americans.

With 46 million Americans living without health insurance, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, health care reform’s real benefits breached divisions between classes, genders and races. Nevertheless, African Americans are still suffering disproportionately with the problems of this country’s broken health care system.

In 2009, 19 percent of blacks did not have health insurance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number for whites was 10.4 percent in 2007. What’s more, 48 percent of African-American adults suffer from chronic diseases, compared with 39 percent of the general population.

With a series of steps set to roll out over the next five years, HR 3590, also called the Affordable Care Act, is designed to eliminate these and other disparities. And in fact, many of the law’s provisions have already begun to be implemented.

… By immediately providing small businesses with a tax credit to help cover their employees, the new law has already made health insurance more accessible for many. And come 2014, the government will also offer tax credits to individuals who need to buy their own insurance. For those who still can’t afford insurance, the federal government will provide matching funds to states in order to help cover additional low-income families under Medicaid.

The government estimates that these benefits could help 32 million uninsured Americans get coverage.

A series of measures will guarantee that all people who are insured are treated fairly by their insurance companies. This means that by 2014, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage to anyone with pre-existing conditions — a huge coup for the African-American community, which is plagued with chronic illness.

Insurers are already barred from denying children with pre-existing conditions. Again, while all Americans stand to gain from this particular regulation, African Americans in particular should celebrate: Black children are more prone than white children to a host of illnesses, including type 2 diabetes and asthma.

Those benefits also include increased access to preventative services, more entry points into the health care system due to the addition of community health centers to our health care infrastructure, a new strategy for fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic and increased funding for care and support services for “high risk” minority families living with or at risk for HIV/AIDS infection, and more funds invested in combating obesity and tobacco use.

“Your Free Market Ain’t LIke Mine”

Judging from their booing and the looks on their faces, the folks in the audience for Mitt’s speech probably also know “good and well” (as used to hear growing up in the south) that conservatives have no alternative health care solutions to offer, and no intent of offering any meaningful solution for the health care concerns of African American families and communities. 

Mitt Romney’s solution is “the free market,” but many people in the NAACP audience for Mitt’s speech could probably have borrowed an old blues lyric to sum up their experience: “Your Free Market Ain’t Like Mine.” 

For him, free enterprise is the answer to all of America’s problems. By free enterprise, he means de-regulation and low taxes for the rich corporations and people. He means trickle down economics. Those policies are not the solution. They are the problem. Those failed policies gave us the mortgage foreclosure crisis and soaring unemployment. Those policies gave us the recession.

Their free market certainly isn’t much like Romney’s free market.

There were probably people in that audience who knew what kind of solutions the “free market” tends to offer them.

That’s the problem with applying a “market-based solution” to a problem like health care. I can’t explain it any better than Republican Senator Chuck Grassley.

But Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, questions whether dentists at corporate dental chains are free from corporate pressures to maximize profits. Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, wouldn’t speak about Aspen Dental specifically, but he’s had committee investigators looking into the company and other private-equity-owned chains for months.

“Because when private equity firms get involved,” Grassley explained, “you got to understand that their motivation is to make money. And they are not dentists. And dentists ought to make the determination ’ of what is good for the teeth.’ Not some private equity manager in Wall Street.”

The problem is that there are populations that need services, but there’s no profit to be made in serving them. There are services that we as a country, at least until recently, have agreed that people should receive whether there’s a profit to be made or not. Health care is one of them. “Market-based” solutions require profit, and the only way to make a profit serving these populations is to overcharge, under-serve, or both.

“Sometimes Poor People Will Die Just Because They Are Poor”

The right’s free market solutions on health care have been summed up somewhat vaguely by conservatives like Rep. David Drier:

 And he’s supposed to be one of the reasonable ones:

Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) said on Monday evening that he didn’t believe highly expensive health care should be provided to uninsured patients with pre-existing conditions…

“While I don’t think that someone who is diagnosed with a massive tumor should the next day be able to have millions and millions and millions of dollars of health care provided, I do believe there can be a structure to deal with the issue of pre-existing conditions,” Dreier said.

What do you suppose he thinks should happen to this person? Does he think there should be some sort of ….death panel that decides whether he lives or dies? Or should we just assume that anyone with a deadly illness who doesn’t have enough insurance to pay for “millions and millions and millions” of dollars of health care should just be euthanized on the spot? Or perhaps they should be made to suffer. After all they failed to get rich enough or lucky enough to have adequate funds to pay for their needs so maybe it would be best to use some of these sickly parasites as cautionary tales.

I think we may actually be coming to the point of debating whether or not to repeal the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act. And it will fail, of course. At first. The country isn’t there yet. But it will represent one more step in the disintigration of America’s moral fabric (which wasn’t that strong to begin with.) Like torture, it’s in the political ether now, no longer completely taboo. This is how this sort of thing is mainstreamed.

It’s summed up somewhat more explicitly (in “quiet rooms” of course) by conservatives like economist Tyler Cohen.

  However Americans feel about the health care law as a whole, a majority like what it does. And what it does it take America in a very different direction than John Boeher, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney and the Republican want to take us. What it offers us is a very different vision of American, than the one envisioned by conservatives. That vision was recently summed up by conservative economist Tyler Cohen, in terms of health care policy.

Breathe deeply and try to summon your inner peace before reading this description, from economist Tyler Cowen, of what conservatives and libertarians should put in health care policy. You’re going to need every drop of calm and sanity you can muster.

2. A rejection of health care egalitarianism, namely a recognition that the wealthy will purchase more and better health care than the poor. Trying to equalize health care consumption hurts the poor, since most feasible policies to do this take away cash from the poor, either directly or through the operation of tax incidence. We need to accept the principle that sometimes poor people will die just because they are poor. Some of you don’t like the sound of that, but we already let the wealthy enjoy all sorts of other goods — most importantly status — which lengthen their lives and which the poor enjoy to a much lesser degree. We shouldn’t screw up our health care institutions by being determined to fight inegalitarian principles for one very select set of factors which determine health care outcomes.

I’m going to repeat that: “We need to accept the principle that sometimes poor people will die just because they are poor.” 

And that brings us all the way back to Katrina. 

Does Mitt Romney Care About Black People

When New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was elected, the conservative blog Powerline went off in a post that I can’t find there anymore, but that has been cached here, and which I summed up here at the time. It typified conservative thinking about Black voters (and Latinos) for that matter, in a way that I paraphrased as, “They don’t know what’s good for ‘em.”

 It occurred to me that I’d heard the kind of stuff before, most recently in the comments resulting from a brouhaha that recently broke out about the portrayal of certain black Republicans. It’s the same basic rhetoric I’ve heard in just about every discussion I’ve been involved in over why there aren’t more black republicans. My point has always been that Republicans — like other predominantly white organizations — spend more time asking why more black people aren’t joining them than they do asking themselves why they aren’t attracting more black supporters.

In other words, they avoid the reality that the reason they don’t attract more black supporters is because they don’t address — and aren’t seen as addressing — the needs and concerns of many in black communities. The analysis never gets further than that because it would probably undermine their current base of power. So every discussion I’ve had ends up with the other side’s argument boiling down to this: the reason more blacks don’t support the Republican party is because they don’t know what’s good for them. 

That’s the nice way of putting it. The more blunt way of putting it would be much closer to the way the conservative blogger above put it. Because they are dumb. The blacks who don’t vote Republican are dumb. The anti-Bush supporters in Latin America — or anyone else in Latin America who doesn’t support the U.S. Agenda — is dumb. The folks marching against Bush and the U.S. agenda in Latin America just don’t know what’s good for them.

Mitt Romney told the audience at the NAACP conference that if they understood him they’d support him.

I believe that if you understood who I truly am in my heart, and if it were possible to fully communicate what I believe is in the real, enduring best interest of African American families, you would vote for me for president.

In other words, “If you knew what was good for you, you’d support me.” In all fairness, if Romney had bothered to have any relationship with the NAACP when he was governor of Massachusetts, he might have understood something about the concerns of the people he was talking to, and offered solutions to address those concerns. 


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