In his acceptance speech in Tampa last week Governor Romney spoke to the disappointment he believes Americans have had about the Obama administration of the last four years. He said,
"Four years ago, I know that many Americans felt a fresh excitement about the possibilities of a new president. That choice was not the choice of our party, but Americans always come together after elections. We're a good and generous people, and we are united by so much more than what divides us.
When that election was over, when the yard signs came down and the television commercials finally came off the air, Americans were eager to go back to work, to live our lives the way Americans always have, optimistic and positive and confident in the future.
That very optimism is uniquely American. It's what brought us to America.
But, today, four years from the excitement of that last election, for the first time the majority of Americans now doubt that our children will have a better future."
He returned again and again to the basic point: that the excitement about the Obama presidency was short lived, and that it is time to move on from Obama's failure to make things better.
In itself this is an amazingly shortsighted notion. Romney suggests that since the Great Depression no president who sought a second term got there without showing that "You're are better off than you were four years ago." The point however is that these last years, beginning in the Bush presidency, have constituted a second great depression and it differs from the first primarily because there are some mechanisms in place to stop the collapse of the whole system and those were used both by Bush and Obama to slowly turn the economic tide without the economic bottoming out that has happened elsewhere. But it has been a time of great depression, and Obama is right. The work has begun but is not finished.
I believe we are better now than we were then. More importantly we are better now then we were when it looked like financial and manufacturing activities in this country were going to go completely down the drain.
Notice however that I indicated a break in the "are you better now" argument. In Romney's speech he broke into the American optimism portion of his speech to insert these remarks about immigrants and optimism.
"We're a nation of immigrants, we're the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the ones who wanted a better life. The driven ones. The ones who woke up at night, hearing that voice telling them that life in a place called America could be better.
They came, not just in pursuit of the riches of this world, but for the richness of this life. Freedom, freedom of religion, freedom to speak their mind, freedom to build a life and, yes, freedom to build a business with their own hands.
This is the essence of the American experience. We Americans have always felt a special kinship with the future.
When every new wave of immigrants looked up and saw the Statue of Liberty, or knelt down and kissed the shores of freedom, just 90 miles from Castro's tyranny, these new Americans sure had many questions, but none doubted that here in America they could build a better life. That in America, their children would be blessed more than they."
Romney, of course, leaves out at least two groups of people - people who were not considered immigrants, people who came here wanting "a better life." African Americans and Native Americans never "looked up and saw the Statue of Liberty or knelt down and kissed the shores of freedom..."
Apparently there is no need to mention them in the grand hope for the American people. No need to speak to hopes for those who were not immigrants but here before the immigrants or dragged here to be bought and sold by the immigrants, and in either case treated as non-citizens with few if any rights.
Native Americans constitute between one and two percent of the US population. African Americans constitute about 13%. The Brookings Institute suggests that about 12% of the voters in 2012 will be African American. Apparently this 12% is of little interest to the Romney campaign. The web site MittRomney, lists all sorts of "communities" - special interest groups - but nothing concerning African Americans or Black interests. There is nothing concerning Native Americans.
Native Americans do not often have friends in high places, although there is a firm commitment by the Obama administration to supporting positive change in Indian Country. That is perhaps understandable in an election year. One percent of the population is not likely to be an important determining factor in the election. Still, it might be. Every one percent helps. Native Americans find proof of engagement by the Obama administration. From Romney? Not so much.
But Romney doesn't get it about the African American / Black 13%. The American Dream is not an immigrant dream for them. Perhaps it is a justice dream. They were brought here against their will and there was no hope in being here, no hope at all. Hope derived from the belief, sore tested, that justice might finally prevail, here and everywhere. Perhaps.
Romney said, "This is the essence of the American experience. We Americans have always felt a special kinship with the future." He is right. But the future is the place of justice, not the place of gain alone.