By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Contributor
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sooner or later, presumptive GOP presidential nominee frontrunner Mitt Romney will have to publicly answer which Romney will show up on the issue of race and diversity, if he indeed gets the GOP nomination and snatches the White House in 2012. Will it be the Romney who claimed in an interview on Meet the Press in 2007 that he got teary-eyed when he heard his Mormon church’s ruling that blacks would no longer be barred from the Mormon priesthood. Romney didn’t directly say it, but he strongly hinted that the moment stirred strong emotions in him because he never went along with his church’s decade’s old racial bar.
“I was anxious to see a change in my church,” Romney said. My faith has always told me that, and I had no question that African Americans and blacks generally would have every right and every benefit in the hereafter that anyone else had and that God is no respecter of persons.”
Now contrast that with the Romney that former GOP congressman J.C. Watts, a staunch black conservative, recently ripped for having a virtually lily white campaign staff. Romney was unmoved by the knock and flatly said that he hires the best persons he can find. He underscored that with the rhetorical emphasis “What’s the charge? Is there something wrong with that?”
Nothing, nothing, that is, if Romney’s political ambitions didn’t extend any further than seeking to win a GOP seat in a GOP friendly congressional district in the GOP’s hard core voter geographic vote base in the Heartland and the Deep South. The presidency is a far different matter. The teary-eyed Romney who chaffs at racial bigotry can’t trump the Romney who glibly condones it in picking his campaign staff.
Romney’s record on diversity as Massachusetts governor gives a strong hint of what his White House would look like. When it came to appointing minorities and women to judicial posts, his record was atrocious. The Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association repeatedly lambasted him for his near-exclusive white male state house. Romney partly in response to the public pounding, and partly with an eye on a presidential run where he knew his state record on diversity would be closely scrutinized, made a slew of appointments of minorities and women to the state bench in his last year in office.
Romney’s successor Deval Patrick, a Democrat, and the state’s first African-American governor, wasted no time in knocking Romney for his blatant race and gender blind spot on appointments. In his inaugural address, he made it clear that he would make diversity and inclusion a huge part of his administration. Romney, not surprisingly, did not attend Patrick’s inaugural.
Late night comedian-talk show host Jay Leno was bothered enough by Romney’s blind spot on diversity to ask him point blank in an interview during the 2008 GOP presidential primary campaign what he thought about diversity. Romney gave the GOP formula answer and said that he supported it in government and corporations. Leno wasn’t satisfied and pressed him on what his administration would do to promote diversity. Romney wouldn’t budge from the stock retort that discrimination is wrong. That’s even less than the bare minimum response to racial bigotry that any candidate for public office is required to give.
The embarrassing litany of Romney race-tinged gaffes that include the metaphorical reference to hanging Obama, a joke about Obama’s birth certificate, using the racially offensive word “tar baby” to describe a public works project, and an animal reference in a pose with an African-American doesn’t tag Romney as a racist. He apologized or pleaded ignorance in every case. But it does touch off warning bells on race.
The loudest bell is what Romney will have to do, or more particularly who he’ll have to satisfy, to seal the GOP nomination. Romney will have to do a massive sell job to Christian evangelicals, ultra-conservatives and Tea Party leaders that he’s really at heart one of them. To appease them, he has little wiggle room on race. The mere mention of race, let alone diversity, emblazons red flags among conservative hardliners. They relentlessly bait him as a flip-flopper and closet moderate who will not dump conservative principles at the drop of a hat. There’s no likelihood that Romney would pick the nettlesome Watts as his VP running mate as the influential ultra conservative blog, redstaterusa.org, dared him to do in 2007 when Romney was fighting hard for presidential nomination. The Watts for VP call though was done more to needle Obama than any serious interest in promoting diversity in a GOP White House.
Romney’s actions, not tears about Mormon Church bigotry and protestations against discrimination, tell much about what to expect with a Romney in the White House. And that’s not much.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media.