Dear Mitt Romney: I was pleased to hear that you have accepted an invitation to speak in July before the 103rd convention of the NAACP in Houston. In anticipation of that event, I have taken the liberty of writing a speech for you. It’s only a beginning, space limitations being what they are, but it should get you off to a solid start and you can take it from there. So, here it is:
“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for inviting me to speak before the nation’s oldest and most storied civil rights organization. I propose not to waste this moment by filling it with the usual vague promises and platitudes. Instead, I want to try something politicians almost never try. It’s called straight talk.
“I am not unmindful that, because of my party affiliation, many of you view my presence here with a certain amount of skepticism. Nor am I unaware that the Republican Party has often seemed to go out of its way to earn that skepticism. The examples abound.
“There was, for instance, the time in 1996 when Sen. Bob Dole refused an invitation to speak before you, saying your then-leader was trying to set him up. In 1994 when Jeb Bush was running for governor of Florida, someone asked what he would do for black voters if elected. ‘Probably nothing,’ he said.
“Nor do we have to go back to the ’90s to find justification for your skepticism. In this very day, we see members of my party seeking to gut the Voting Rights Act and questioning the legality of the Civil Rights Act. We have seen them accused and even convicted of voter suppression. And, yes, we have seen my party provide a haven for those whose animus against the president is motivated not by honest political differences, but by simple, malignant bigotry.
“So, yes, I am aware that my party has done much to earn your skepticism. It is my hope that today we can begin the process of earning your trust. To that end, I propose a complete reset of the relationship between African-American voters and the Republican Party. Today, I serve notice that we intend to do something we have not done for more than 50 years: compete for your votes.
“For far too long, the Democratic Party has been allowed to depend on your support while offering you little in return. For far too long, it has gotten away with taking you for granted, commanded your loyalty based on ghostly memories of things the Kennedy brothers and Lyndon Johnson did on your behalf in the 1960s. But the last of those men died 39 years ago and it is time African-American voters asked the Democrats a simple question: What have you done for me lately?
“It is not as if the Civil Rights Movement ended all your problems. To the contrary, African-Americans continue to be discriminated against in banking, housing and employment. You still have unequal access to quality education and health care.
“And the justice system still betrays you. Under the failed ‘War on Drugs,’ young men from your communities are incarcerated at rates that are a national scandal. In some states, they constitute up to 90 percent of those imprisoned for drug crimes, though they commit less than 15 percent of those crimes.
“Yet, even with an African-American man as its leader, the Democratic Party has failed to raise this unfinished business of the civil rights movement to the level of a national concern. That will change under the Romney administration. Under the Romney administration, we will have no higher priority than to ensure that ‘liberty and justice for all’ means exactly that.
“We will use solid, conservative principles to achieve this goal, to attack the inequities that still hobble African-American people. But I promised you more than vague promises and platitudes and I meant it. Let’s get specific, then.
“If I am elected, here is what I will do:
(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)