The Republican presidential candidate made some symbolic deviations from Republican doctrine, but gave over the bulk of his speech to championing the market society.
If Mitt Romney made any real news in Wednesday's address to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, it was at two moments: the first, a seeming deviation from the GOP party line, earned some tepid applause. The second, a restatement of a major Republican plank, received an enthusiastic and sustained boo from the audience.
Let's start with the tepid applause line: Romney's acknowledgement that LGBT people exist, and that he might end up as their president. "I hope to represent all Americans," he told the assembled crowd, "of every race, creed, or sexual orientation."
Of course, the nod towards non-straight Americans was purely symbolic, and moments later Romney reiterated his substantive opposition to LGBT rights when he vowed to "defend traditional marriage." (He opposes not only gay marriage but civil unions that are "identical to marriage.") Nonetheless, the fact remains: the de facto head of the Republican Party made a barely perceptible gesture to the gay community in an election year. He wasn't even prodded into it; we're talking about an unforced pander, here.
That's undoubtedly a testament for how far support for LGBT rights—at least some LGBT rights—has come in a relatively short period of time. As Think Progress puts it: "Marriage Equality Now A Mainstream Value."
Romney's other news-making moment (in the loosest sense of the term), captured in the above video, was the loud and impressively long-lasting boo he received for denouncing Obamacare. Not that he should have expected anything different, given the audience; and he probably didn't, given both his reaction to the booing and the way he snuck the offending comment into the speech as a parenthetical. In response, conservative commentator David Frum tweeted: "If I were a political cynic, I'd wonder whether the Romney campaign wanted to be booed at NAACP."
But the larger context of Romney's vow to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act was, as usual, more noteworthy than the promise itself. It came couched in what has become Romney's standard litany of promises to erode the regulatory state, chip away at government spending, and further empower the private sector. And it was followed by the longest and meatiest part of Romney's speech: a prolonged tribute to the magic of charter schools, complete with some swipes at teachers' unions.
Romney framed charter schools as a way of "address[ing] the institutionalized inequality in our education system," and noted that, as Governor of Massachusetts, he cultivated the support of the state legislature's Black Legislative Caucus to kill a law that would have put a moratorium on building new charter schools. Presumably, he spent so much time hammering the issue in part because of electoral calculus: African American support for charter schools, while still just barely below 50%, is trending upwards. Raising the issue is a good way to drive a wedge between black voters and another Democratic-leaning constituency, teachers' unions. But in order to make the case for "school choice" to African Americans, Romney needs to elide some of the real-world effects: for example, here in New York City, charter schools are helping to deepen school segregation.
As for Romney's remarks on Voter ID laws—well, Romney didn't say anything about Voter ID laws.