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Romney Remarks at NAACP Convention

Aired July 11, 2012 - 10:45   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you. Thank you.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

ROMNEY: I do love that music. I have to tell you, I do love listening to that organ music and the piano. And during the prayer, hearing sweet hour of prayer being played that was a wonderful thing. Good morning to all of you members of the NAACP.

AUDIENCE: Good morning.

ROMNEY: And thank you to Bishop Grays for his generous introduction and thank you also to President Ben Jealous, Chairman Roseland Brock for the opportunity to be here this morning. And for your hospitality. This is an honor to address you and one that I had not expected and one I value very highly. I appreciate the chance to speak first, even before vice president. Well, Vice President Biden will get his turn tomorrow. I just hope the Obama campaign doesn't think you're playing favorites. Now --

Oh, no. I was making that face because it's back. Let's head back to houston.

ROMNEY: When you're in a state with 11 percent of Republican registration, you don't get there by just talking to Republicans. You have to make your case to every single voter. We don't count anybody out. And we sure don't make a habit of presuming anyone's support. Support is asked for and earned and that's why I'm here today. Now, with 90 percent of African-Americans who typically vote for Democrats, be you may wonder or some may wonder why a Republican would bother to vote in the African-American community and address the NAACP. One reason, of course, is that I hope to represent all Americans of every race, creed, and sexual orientation. From the poorest to the richest and everyone in between, but there's another reason. 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.

Now, of course, you know the opposition charges that I and people in my party are running for office to help the rich. None sense. The rich will do just fine whether I'm elected or not. The President wants to make this campaign about blaming the rich and I want to make this a campaign about helping the middle class in America. [ applause ] . I'm running for president because I know that my policies and vision will help millions of middle class Americans of all races will lift people from poverty and will help people from becoming poor in the first place. My campaign is about helping the people who need help. Of course, the president has said, won't do that. My course will. Now, when President Obama called to congratulate me on becoming the presumptive Republican nominee - a gracious call - he said that he looked forward to a healthy and debate about America's future. To date, I'm afraid his campaign has taken a different course than that. But in campaigns at their best, voters can expect a clear choice and candidates can expect a fair hearing. Only more so from a venerable organization like this one.

[ applause ]

So it's that healthy debate about the course of the nation that I want to discuss with you today. Someone had told us in the 1950s or 1960s that a black citizen would serve as the 44th president of the United States, we would have been proud and many would have been surprised. Picturing that day we might have assumed that the American presidency would have been the last door of opportunity to be opened. Before that came to pass, every other barrier on the path to equal opportunity would surely have had to come down. Of course, it hasn't happened quite that way. Many barriers remain. Old inequities persist. In some ways, the challenges are even more complicated than before and across America and even within your own ranks there are serious, honest debates about the way forward. If equal opportunity in America were an accomplished fact, then a chronically bad economy would be equally bad for everyone. Instead, it's worst for African- Americans in almost every way, the unemployment rate, the duration of unemployment, average income, median family wealth are all worse in the black community. In June, while the overall unemployment rate remains stuck at 8.2 percent, the unemployment rate for African-Americans actually went up from 13.6 percent to 14.4 percent.

Americans of every background are asking when this economy will finally recover and you in particular are entitled to an answer. If equal opportunity -

(APPLAUSE)

-- if equal opportunity were an accomplished fact, sons and daughters could be sent to school that truly offer the hope of a better life. Instead, for generations the African-American community has been waiting and waiting for that promise to be kept. Today, black children are 17 percent of students nationwide but they are 42 percent of the students in our worst performing schools. Our society sends them into mediocre schools and then expects them to perform with excellence. And that's simply not fair. Frederick Douglas observed, and I quote, it's easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.

(APPLAUSE)

And yet instead of preparing these children for life, too many schools set them up for failure. Everyone in this room knows that we owe them better than that. The path of inequality often leads to lost opportunity, college, graduate school and first jobs should be the milestones. Marking the passage from childhood to adulthood. But for too many disadvantaged young people, these goals seem unattainable and their lives take a tragic turn. Many live in neighborhoods filled with violence and fears and empty of opportunity. There impatience for change is understandable. They are entitled to feel that life in America should be better than this. They are told even now to wait for improvements in our economy and in our schools but it seems to me that Americans have waited long enough.

(APPLAUSE)

The point is that when decades of the same promises keep producing the same failures, that it's reasonable to rethink our approach and consider a new plan. I'm hopeful that together we can set a new direction in federal policy. Starting where many of our problems do start, with a family. A study by the Brookings Institute has shown that those that graduate from high school, who get a full-time job and wait until 21 before they marry and then have their first child, the probability of becoming poor is 2 percent. And if those factors are absent, the probability of being poor is at 76 percent. Here at the NAACP, you understand the deep and lasting difference that family makes. Your former executive director, Dr. Benjamin Hooks had it exactly right. The family he said quote remains the bull work and the main stay of the black community. That great truth must not be over looked, end of quote. Any policy that lifts up and honors the family is going to be good for the country and that must be our goal. As president, I will promote strong families and I will defend traditional marriage.

(APPLAUSE)

Now, as you also may have heard from my opponent, I'm also a believer in the free enterprise system. I believe it can bring change where so many well-meaning government programs have failed. I've never heard look around an impoverished neighborhood and say, you know there is too much free enterprise around here, too many shops, too many jobs, too many people putting money in the bank. What you hear, of course, is how do we bring in jobs? How do we make good, honest employers want to move in, stay in, and with the state the economy is in today, we're asking that question more and more. Free enterprise is still the greatest force for upward mobility, economic security, and expansion of the middle class. We've seen in recent years what it's like to have less free enterprise. As president, I'll show the good things that can happen when we have more free enterprise, more business activity, more jobs, more opportunity, more paychecks, more savings accounts. On day one I'll begin turning this economy around with a plan for the middle class and I don't just mean for those that are middle class now. I also mean for those who have waited so long for their chance to join the middle class.

(APPLAUSE)

And by the way, I know what it takes to put people to work, to bring more jobs and better wages. My plan is based on 25 years in success of business. It's a job recovery plan. Now, there's five key steps. First, I'm going to take full advantage of our energy resources and I'll approve the keystone pipeline from Canada. Low cost, plentiful coal, natural gas, oil, and renewables will bring over a million manufacturing jobs back to the United States.

(APPLAUSE)

Second, I want to open up new markets for American goods. We're the most productive major economy in the world. So trade means good jobs for Americans. But trade has to be fair and free. So I'll clamp down on cheaters like China and make sure they finally play by the rules and don't steal our jobs.

(APPLAUSE)

And, third, I'm going to reduce government spending. I hope everyone understands that high levels of debt slow down the rate of growth of the GDP, of the economy. And that means fewer jobs are created. If our goal is jobs, we have to stop spending over a trillion dollars than we take in every year. And so to do that I'm going to eliminate every nonessential expensive program that I can find. That includes Obama care and I'm going to work to reform and save -

(BOOING)

You know, there was a survey of the chamber of commerce. They carried out a survey of their members, about 1,500 surveyed. And they asked him what effect Obama care would have on their plans and three- quarters of them said it would make them less likely to hire people. So I say again, if our priority is jobs, that's my priority, that's what I would change and I'd replace with something that provides the people something they need in health care which is lower cost, good quality, a capacity to deal with people who have pre-existing conditions and I'll put that in place and I'll work to reform and save Medicare and social security. People keep talking about the fact that those programs are on the path way to insolvency. Yet nothing gets done to fix them. I will fix them and make sure they're permanent and secure for our seniors today and for seniors tomorrow. And I'll do that in part by means-testing the benefits. Meaning higher benefits for lower income people and lower benefits for higher income folks.

(APPLAUSE)

Fourth, I'm going to focus on nurturing and developing the skills of the workers that our economy so desperately needs today and the future demands. This is the human capital with which tomorrow's bright future can be built. And by the way, too many homes and too many schools are failing to provide our children with education that are essential for anything other than a minimum wage job.

(APPLAUSE)

And, finally, and perhaps most importantly, I'll are restore economic freedom. This nation's economy runs on freedom, on opportunity, on entrepreneurs, on people dreamers who innovate and build businesses. These entrepreneurs are being crushed by high taxation, unnecessary burdens and regulations, hostile regulators, excessive health care costs, and destructive labor policies. I will go to work to make America the best place in the world for innovators, for entrepreneurs and for businesses large and small. Do these five things, open up energy, expand trade, cut the growth of government, focus on better educating tomorrow's workers today and restore economic freedom and jobs will come back to America. Wages will rise again. We have got to do it. And I know the president will say he will do those things but he has not, he will not, he cannot, and his last four years in the White House prove it definitively. If I am president, job one for me will be for creating jobs.

Let me say that again. My agenda is not to put in place a series of policies that get me a lot of attention and applause. My policy will be, number one, create jobs for the American people. I do not have a hidden agenda.

And I submit to you this -- if you want a president that will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him. You take a look.

Finally, I will address the institutionalized inequality in our education system and I know something about this from my time as governor. In the years before I took office, our state's leaders had come together to pass bipartisan measures that were making a difference. In reading and in math, our student were already among the best in the nation. And during my term, they took over the top spot.

Those results reveal what good teachers will do if the system will let them. The problem was, this success wasn't shared. A significant achievement gap between students of different races remained. So, we set out to do our best to close it.

I urged faster interventions in failing schools and the funding to go along with it. I promoted math and science excellence in schools and proposed paying bonuses to our best teachers. I refused to weaken testing standards and instead raised them. To graduate from high school in Massachusetts, students now had to pass an exam in math and English and I added a science requirement, as well.

And I put in place a merit scholarship for all those students who excelled. The top 25 percent of students in each high school in Massachusetts were awarded a John and Abigail Adams Scholarship, four years tuition-free at any Massachusetts public institution of higher learning.

And, when I was governor, not only did our test scores improve, we also narrowed the achievement gap. Now, the teachers' unions weren't happy with a number of these reforms. They especially did not like our emphasis on choice through charter schools, which is a great benefit to inner city kids trapped in underperforming schools.

Accordingly, the legislature passed a moratorium on any new charter schools. As you know, in Boston and Harlem and Los Angeles and all across the country, charter schools are giving children a chance, children that otherwise could be locked in failing schools.

I was inspired just a few weeks ago by the students at one of Kenny Gamble's charter schools in Philadelphia. And right here in Houston is another remarkable success story, the Knowledge Is Power Program, which has set the standard, thanks to the groundbreaking work of the late Harriet Ball.

These charter schools are doing a lot more than closing the achievement gap. They are bringing hope and real opportunity to places where for years there has been none. Charter schools are so successful that almost every politician can find something good to say about them.

But as we saw in Massachusetts, true reform requires much more than talk. As governor, I vetoed the bill blocking charter schools, but my legislature was 87 percent Democrat and my veto could have been easily over written, so I joined with the black legislative caucus and their votes help preserved my veto, which meant that new charter schools, including some in urban neighborhoods, would be opened.

When it comes to education reform, candidates can't have it both ways, talking up education reform while indulging the same groups that are blocking reform. You can be the voice of disadvantaged public school students or you can be the protector of special interests like the teacher unions, but you can't be both.

I've made my choice. As president, I will be a champion of real education reform in America and I won't let any special interest get in the way.

I will give the parents of every low-income and special-needs student the chance to choose where their child goes to school. For the first time in history, if I'm president, federal education funds will be linked to a student, so that parents can send their student to any public or charter school they choose. And I'll make that a true choice because I'm going to ensure there are good options available for every child.

And should I be elected president, I'll lead as I did when I was governor. I'm pleased to be joined by the Reverend Jeffrey Brown who was a member of my "kitchen cabinet" in Massachusetts. That cabinet helped guide my policy and actions that have affected the African- American community, in particular.

I'll look for support wherever there's goodwill and shared conviction and I'll work with you to help our students attend better schools and help our economy create good jobs with better wages.

I can't promise you that I'll agree on every issue, but I do promise that your hospitality to me today will be returned. We will know one another.

And we will work the common purpose. I will seek your counsel. And if I'm elected president and you invite me to next year's convention, I will count it as a privilege and my answer will be yes.

You know, the Republican party's record by the measures you rightly apply is not perfect. Any party that claims a perfect record doesn't know history the way you know it. Yet always in both parties, there have been men and women of integrity, decency, and humility who have called injustice by its name.

For every one of us, a particular person comes to mind, someone who set a standard of conduct and made us better by their example. For me, that man is my father, George Romney. It wasn't just that my dad helped write the civil rights provision for the Michigan constitution, though he did. It wasn't just that he helped create Michigan's first civil rights commission or that, as governor, he marched for civil rights on the streets of Detroit, though he did those things, too.

More than these acts, he was the kind of man he was in the way he dealt with every person, black or white. He was a man of the fairest instincts and a man of faith who knew that every person was a child of God.

I'm grateful to him for so many things and, above all, for the knowledge of God whose ways are not always our ways, but whose justice is certain and whose mercy endures forever. Every good cause on this earth relies in the end on a plan bigger than ours. Without dependence on God, Dr. King said, our efforts turn to ashes and our sun rises into darkest night. Unless His spirit pervades our lives, we find only what called G.K. Chesterton called "cures that don't cure, blessings that don't bless, and solutions that don't solve." End of quote.

Of all that you bring to the work of today's civil rights cause, no advantage counts for more than this abiding confidence in the name above every name. Against cruelty, arrogance, and all the foolishness of man, this spirit has carried the NAACP to many victories. More still are up ahead.

So many victories are ahead and with each one of them we will be a better nation. Thank you so much and God bless every one of you. Thank you.