CINCINNATI – John McCain ventured into solid Barack Obama territory on Wednesday, when he addressed the 99th annual convention of the country’s venerable civil rights organization, the NAACP.
He did not draw the crowd that greeted his Democrat opponent here on Monday, where, as one organization official put it, “even the overflow room had an overflow room,” but he received a respectful reception for his speech on education reform and fielded some testy audience questions.
“After decades of hearing the same big promises from the public education establishment, and seeing the same poor results, it is surely time to shake off old ways and to demand new reforms,” McCain said. “That isn’t just my opinion; it is the conviction of parents in poor neighborhoods across this nation who want better lives for their children.”
Obama has the overwhelming support of black voters, few of whom are Republican. (In a New York Times/CBS News poll released this week, 89 percent of black voters supported Obama, while 2 percent backed McCain.) But McCain’s appearance had symbolic value and might be viewed as a plus by independent or undecided voters who might not have appreciated it if he had snubbed the group.
In his speech, the Arizona senator did not shy from a cause dear to conservatives’ hearts – school vouchers – and noted that Obama, who opposes them, recently derided the “tired rhetoric about vouchers and school choice” in a speech to the American Teachers Federation. That, said McCain, “went over well with the teachers union, but where does it leave families and their children who are stuck in failing schools?” He received only a smattering of applause.
He also advocated better pay for good teachers, new teacher recruitment programs and vowed to fully fund No Child Left Behind, the Bush administration’s controversial program for improving school performance by imposing standards and accountability. (The Democratic National Committee immediately issued a news release with a list of education bills McCain has opposed, describing his education record as “nothing to brag about.”)
Noting that “the worst problems of our public school system are often found in black communities,” McCain suggested that when the public education system fails repeatedly, “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.”