Should Black Voters Give Romney-Ryan A Chance?

Many conservatives were ecstatic with Mitt Romney's choice of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate. Even though few observers expect the ticket to draw much African-American support, conservative Lenny McAllister says black voters should give the team a chance. Guest host Jacki Lyden talks with McAllister and the NAACP's Hilary Shelton.

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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Jackie Lyden. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, ideally American neighborhoods embrace people of different backgrounds and incomes, but one researcher suggests that residential income segregation is changing the way we live, and not for the better.

First, though, we want to talk about the reaction to Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as the Republican's vice presidential candidate. Presumptive GOP candidate Mitt Romney made that announcement on Saturday. Ryan beat out a number of higher profile prospects for the slot. Here's Ryan speaking to a crowd yesterday in North Carolina.

PAUL RYAN: America is an idea. And the idea of America was very clear. Our founders made it really explicit. Our rights come from nature and God and not from government.

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LYDEN: Both Paul Ryan and President Obama campaign in Iowa today. Conservatives lauded the choice of Ryan, arguing that he'll bring both intellectual weight and excitement to the ticket, but Ryan also has detractors, who consider his budget damaging to economically vulnerable citizens, including African-Americans.

Joining us now to talk about Paul Ryan and how voters of color might respond to the ticket, we're joined by Lenny McAllister. Hello, Mr. McAllister.

LENNY MCALLISTER: Hi, Jackie. How are you?

LYDEN: And I will call you Lenny.

MCALLISTER: That is fantastic.

LYDEN: He's a conservative commentator and Republican strategist. He's also the author of the new book "Spoken Thoughts of an Amalgamated Advocate in Today's America." Thanks for joining us.

MCALLISTER: Thanks for having me.

LYDEN: And Hilary Shelton, the Washington Bureau director and senior vice president for advocacy and policy for the NAACP. Welcome, Mr. Shelton.

HILARY SHELTON: Oh, thank you. It's great to be with you.

LYDEN: And it's great to have you. So let's begin to talk about the addition of Paul Ryan to the ticket. First of all, Lenny McAllister, how do you react? What do you make of the choice?

MCALLISTER: I think it's probably the best choice that Governor Romney could've taken for several reasons. One, he wanted youth. I think one thing that people are overlooking with this race - people look at the cultural difference, people look at even the racial difference, but you're still talking about a generational gap as well.

Mitt Romney is 65 years old. Barack Obama just turned 51. You still have that generational gap there that's evident the same way it was with McCain and Obama four years ago. Paul Ryan addresses that. He gives them the youth, he gives them the intellectual weight behind some of these policies, and he's able to articulate this as someone that is respected as an expert on both sides and beloved by the Tea Party.

This is probably the only candidate that was going to allow Governor Romney to do all of those things with a vice presidential pick.

LYDEN: Lenny McAllister, let me ask you. There are many political observers who thought that Florida Senator Marco Rubio would've been a better choice to narrow the gap with Latino voters. Or perhaps that former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice might've given the ticket a lift with African-Americans. Is in any sense this a missed opportunity for Mitt Romney?

MCALLISTER: It could be. Not so much when it comes to race and filling up that type of demographic at the number two slot, but more in regards to can that VP pick shift a state? Can it move a state into the Romney column? By picking Paul Ryan, you're not necessarily going after Wisconsin - you are making the bigger argument, where Marco Rubio would've been very, very strategically placed to go get Mitt Romney Florida.

So in that regard it's a missed opportunity, but if Paul Ryan can make the economic argument for Governor Romney and shape that and move it forward, this is something that should help him overall. Especially if the economic numbers continue to look bad for President Obama and gas prices and other commodities continue to move in the wrong direction.

LYDEN: Hilary Shelton, in all truthfulness, given that President Obama won 96 percent of the black vote in 2008, and two-thirds of the Latino vote, was there really anyone he could've chosen who would've really helped to shift those numbers in a significant way?

SHELTON: Well, I'm not sure about that side of it, because of course, like any other demographic, racial and ethnic minorities - African-Americans and others - vote our economic interest. So certainly as we look at the candidate and in this case also the vice presidential candidate, as we look at Mr. Romney's choice of Mr. Ryan, it's actually clarifying to have Mr. Ryan actually become his running mate.

Mr. Ryan, of course, is very well known for his budget on Capitol Hill. This speaks in great specificity to many of the broad generalities that Mr. Romney has spread as he's gone throughout the country campaigning.

LYDEN: Mm-hmm. Well, let's talk about that fiscal policy, which is certainly going to be at issue here. Lenny, as House Budget Committee chairman, Congressman Ryan, he became a lightning rod, as we know, for the budget plan. His initial plan would've slashed $6 trillion from government programs, including food stamps, college loans, Medicaid, programs that disproportionately do help African-Americans.

We will get to Mitt Romney's budget plan later, what it may be, but here's what the president had to say about the Ryan proposal during a speech - this became quite famous - at George Washington University in 2011.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There's nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, and I don't think there's anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don't have any clout on Capitol Hill.

LYDEN: Now, as I noted, Governor Romney has said that he'll have his own budget plan. This is the Ryan plan. But tell me how those proposals help the black community or others who are struggling economically.

MCALLISTER: Well, those proposals that they're putting out there - again, we have to emphasize that they're initial proposals. It's supposed to make sure that we can save entitlements and provide opportunities where we have more investment, people have more capital to invest in our challenged areas.

And it's very interesting that the president and the Democrats are going to take this line of attack when you look at these three things. Number one, President Obama's budgets were getting shot down in a bipartisan effort repeatedly throughout his administration.

You have that, you have the fact that the Democrats have not produced any type of a budget in over a thousand days. You look at those two things, and when you start really going into what we're looking at from this economy, we see a lot of demagogue-ing from both sides.

Paul Ryan is actually one of the first to put something out there and understand that it's a bipartisan effort to make something really work. And particularly when President Obama talks about these tax cuts, people conveniently forget that after the 2010 midterm elections there was a president that signed into law the extension of the Bush tax cuts. And that was not President Bush - that was President Obama.

LYDEN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Jackie Lyden. We're talking about how the choice of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney's running mate could affect voters of color.

Our guests are Lenny McAllister, a Republican strategist, and Hilary Shelton of the NAACP. Hilary Shelton, Paul Ryan has said that America can't help poor people if the nation itself is poor. This is a philosophy that a lot of Americans embrace. What's your response?

SHELTON: Well, it is important that we all have personal responsibility for everything that we do, but Americans are at many different stages in our economic lives. You have those that are multi-billionaires and you have those that are struggling, three part-time jobs just to make ends meet to feed their children.

For those who much is given, much is certainly required. So if we talk about the revenue side of this equation, it's also important, as we talk about, of course, the budget, we put a human face on that budget as well and see what those programs do. But as we talk about things from the revenue side, it's also important to talk about who can actually make the contributions.

It's a fascinating thing for me to look at the kind of recommendations that are on Capitol Hill now when even as we've gone through other challenges with our budgets, the federal budget across the board, when we go back and look at how Ronald Reagan handled things, look at how Bill Clinton handled things and others, we're in a unique situation in that we've actually severely cut the revenue side as things are going well in our country.

But since then, of course, under the Bush administration, we moved forward to enter into two wars. We've also entered into a record downturn in the economy, mortgage foreclosure crisis, and other economic challenges in our society. So we do have to have a more in-depth conversation about the revenue side, but it's also incredibly important we have more conversation about what those numbers, those percentages and (unintelligible) talking about budgets mean, the human factor, human beings in our society and make sure we provide every foundation for Americans to be able to work hard, be responsible for themselves and their families, but be able to at least get an opportunity to achieve.

LYDEN: Lenny, the Congressional Budget Office, which is nonpartisan, has said that, essentially, the Ryan budget just doesn't work. Paul Ryan voted against extending unemployment benefits through 2012. What about critics - and you just listened to Hilary - who say that his philosophy is to actually blame poor or disadvantaged people for America's economic troubles, that they're too much of a drain?

MCALLISTER: I don't think that's the philosophy that they're going to take with this ticket and I don't think that's the philosophy that Governor Ryan - or excuse me - congressman Ryan is going after. I think what Paul Ryan is going after is saying, I blame too much government for getting in the way of allowing small businesses and other business owners to provide opportunities so people can climb out of poverty and establish themselves as stakeholders in the American dream. And I think that's what he's trying to go after.

Now, there are going to be some questions he's going to have to answer in regards to voting against the unemployment benefits extension and things along those lines and I think that's a legitimate debate to have. But I think the long-term philosophy is - what can we do to scale back government just enough to make sure that people can invest, people can get jobs and the people of America can uplift this country out of this bad economy instead of waiting for government to try to put patches and band-aids on it.

LYDEN: Hilary, under President Obama, poverty rates have risen to historic levels. Unemployment has been stuck above 8 percent. Unemployment for African-Americans almost twice as high as that of white Americans. How can the president argue that he's been helpful to those who are stuck, whatever their race?

SHELTON: Well, there was an awful hemorrhage that took place under deregulated federal government that came through the eight years of the Bush administration. But we talked about the predatory lending practices that banks and other lending institutions were able to continue forward that actually put so many Americans, literally, not only out of work, but out of their own homes.

What we're saying is a policy movement to be able to lay down a foundation to provide the protections Americans have been without too long. It is because of that lack of protection that so many Americans found ourselves in the position that we're in now. So, certainly, as we look at that foundation and what is the stimulus package and the positive effects it has had, whether it is the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to make sure that these lending institutions are unable to actually take advantage of poor Americans that are simply trying to have an opportunity for home ownership or start a business or other things.

LYDEN: OK. Thank you very, very much.

SHELTON: (Unintelligible) in place.

LYDEN: Thank you. Hilary Shelton is the Washington bureau director of the NAACP and he joined us from Tabernash, Colorado. Lenny McAllister is a conservative commentator, former consultant to the Republican National Committee. Thank you both very much.

MCALLISTER: Thank you. God bless.

SHELTON: For having us.

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LYDEN: Coming up, a different perspective on economic justice and opportunity that suggests wage and wealth disparities are rebuilding barriers between Americans.

STEPHEN KLINEBERG: As the gap between rich and poor increases, people increasingly live in very separate worlds.

LYDEN: A closer look at what the Pew Research Center calls the rise of racial segregation by income. That's coming up on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

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