Yesterday, Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, delivered a speech at the NAACP’s national convention in Cincinnati, breaking the tradition of President Bush, who has repeatedly turned down requests to address the venerable civil rights organization.
McCain began his remarks by complimenting presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama, saying his opponent’s success should make all Americans proud.
Much of the Arizona senator’s speech, however, focused on education reform and the need for an effective public school system that provides better teachers and more opportunities for parents to have greater choices in how and where their children are educated, primarily through charter schools and vouchers for private schools. He said Obama has dismissed public funding for private schools as “tired rhetoric.”
“Parents ask only for schools that are safe, teachers who are competent, and diplomas that open doors of opportunity,” McCain said. “When a public system fails, repeatedly, to meet these minimal objectives, parents ask only for a choice in the education of their children. No entrenched bureaucracy or union should deny parents that choice and children that opportunity.”
Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton issued a response to the speech, saying, “Obama has led the fight to reform our school system and ensure that every child has the opportunity to achieve the American dream. He knows that a good education can be the ticket to opportunity for all Americans—regardless of their circumstances. And he believes that the way to fix our schools isn’t by draining their limited resources. Obama believes that the single most important factor in our children’s education is having an excellent teacher. That’s why he’s introduced a comprehensive plan to recruit and prepare a new generation of high quality teachers and implement new methods for rewarding their success in the classroom.”
McCain’s reception was in stark contrast to the one received by Obama on Monday, according to the Associated Press. The Arizona senator reportedly received mostly polite applause in a room with some empty seats, two days after Obama received enthusiastic reception from a standing-room only audience holding hopes to see him become the first black president.
Though McCain’s speech was graciously received, says Hilary Shelton, who heads the NAACP’s Washington bureau, it didn’t address some of the top issues on the organization’s priority list, such as the economic and human cost of the Iraq war, the impact of the home mortgage crisis on African American communities, criminal justice disparities, and funding for critical social services. Shelton was, however, impressed that the Republican participated in a question and answer session in which members of the audience queried him on topics such as judicial appointments and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“The speech didn’t really focus on the issues that are truly important to the African American community,” Shelton says. “But, I’m very happy he came. The most positive thing McCain said is that he came to us seeking our counsel, that he will need it even more if he becomes president and will seek it then. He bridged the divide that