Mitt Romney visited West Philadelphia yesterday. His stated mission was “to learn, obviously, from people who are having experiences that are unique and instructive.” That’s a way of putting it.
Romney was also looking for votes. This includes whatever few stray votes might be picked up in West Philadelphia, and also votes from whites who, reasonably enough, expect the president to care about poor people and minorities.
George W. Bush successfully courted this latter group of voters in part through his “compassionate conservatism.” For better or for worse, Bush was sincere about compassionate conservatism. I believe that Romney is cut from similar cloth when it comes to this.
Unfortunately, in his worst gaffe of the campaign (and arguably the worst of any candidate in this cycle), Romney said “I’m not concerned about the very poor” (he also said the same thing about “the very rich”). A visit to West Philadelphia might help begin to dispel the image of callousness that Romney helped create.
The visit was not painless, though. Reportedly, a few dozen protestors greeted him with chants of “Get out, Romney.” One resident claimed to be “personally offended” and “denigrated” that Romney would visit her neighborhood and “speak his garbage.”
As noted, Romney may have brought some of this reaction on himself. But it likely was also the product of envy (Romney is rich) and racism (Romney is a white guy running against a black president). Then, too, some members of Philadelphia’s Democratic political establishment, including the mayor, were on hand to help stir the pot.
The anger that Romney encountered is misdirected. Romney isn’t fathering children and then refusing to help raise them. Romney isn’t having children at age 16 and becoming addicted to drugs. Romney isn’t keeping West Philadelphia kids trapped in terrible schools. Romney isn’t presiding over a faltering economy. Romney didn’t get elected president on a promise of “hope and change,” and then fail to deliver either.
The local pols who reportedly helped heckle Romney didn’t do most of these of things either. But they are more responsible for the problems of the riled up residents than Romney is. If anyone deserves to be heckled, it’s the local pols who consistently fail the community and the clueless residents who keep electing them.
So what did Romney learn from the “unique and instructive” experiences of the people of West Philadelphia? Perhaps that the mind-set of some residents and local politicians makes the situation there more hopeless than he had imagined.