According to the 2010 U.S. Census (.pdf, p.24), there are 8.1 million blacks in this country who have no health insurance. That’s 20.8% of the black population, or slightly more than one out of every five American blacks. The first black president signed a law to change that situation dramatically. That’s because the law required states to put people on Medicaid up to the 133% poverty rate level and then offered a sliding scale of subsidies for anyone else who might struggle to afford health insurance. The bill also created high-risk pools for people with preexisting conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, and sickle-cell anemia. These reforms have the potential to almost completely wipe out the medical crisis in the black community.
But that’s not the only reason that Mitt Romney was lustily booed [Wednesday] at the NAACP when he promised to eliminate the Affordable Care Act. He chose to use the word “ObamaCare” to refer to the bill. In my experience, blacks are extremely sensitive about people showing the proper respect for the Office of the Presidency now that it is occupied by a black man. They don’t like it when people fail to refer to him as “President” or “Mr. President.” And they don’t like to see his name used in a derisive and demeaning way. Mitt Romney was booed primarily because of this lack of respect, which the audience experienced as a lack of respect for them.
And in my experience, it’s not an accident that a lot of people who disagree with President Obama for whatever reason do it in a way that they wouldn’t have done it if he was white. Aside from the overt stuff we’ve been seeing over the last four years from the fringes — birtherism, the “secret Muslim” talk, the conspiracy theories — and the coy claims of “Gee, I didn’t know depicting the president as a witch doctor was considered racist,” the lack of respect that Mr. Obama earns just by holding the office is blatant. (Context matters; calling George W. Bush a “chimp” was childish, too, but there isn’t any inherent racism in comparing a white man to a monkey.) Imagine a Democrat yelling “You lie!” at President Bush as he uttered those famous words about Saddam Hussein acquiring uranium from Africa. Imagine the exploding heads on Fox if Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Mr. Bush that he could not address Congress on a certain day. And these are just the ones that stand out. The simple fact that they have decided to vote against anything he proposes, including policies that they initially came up with such as Cap and Trade and the DREAM Act, show that it’s not the ideas but the man behind them. The Affordable Care Act is an update to the 1993 Republican counter-proposal to the Hillary Clinton healthcare idea. Mitt Romney took it and passed it in Massachusetts. Now it’s socialism.
Granted, the Republicans treat every Democratic president as if he is a usurper; after all, according to them, only Republicans should rule. But the level of disrespect for Mr. Obama is far beyond the pale, so to speak. To them it may be politics as usual; after all, they’re not counting on the black vote. But people of all races remember not just what they did, but how they were treated, and memory lingers on long after the campaign is over.