McCain to go to NAACP convention

John McCain has decided to enter a lion’s den in a year where he can count on seeing no positive return for the effort. McCain will address the NAACP convention in July, a few weeks before the Republican convention and in the middle of Barack Obama’s efforts to unify the Democrats after their identity-politics meltdown this year. He skipped the convention last year, along with all of the rest of the GOP candidates except Tom Tancredo:

What a difference a nomination makes.

Now that he’s wrapped up the Republican nomination for president, Sen. John McCain has decided to attend the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Cincinnati in July. A year ago when he was just one of a pack of GOP contenders, he turned down the civil rights group’s invitation.

McCain disclosed his plans in an interview with the African-American publication Essence, which was released Tuesday. Asked how he might reach out to the black community, McCain replied that he would “go to places and venues that would allow me to continue a dialogue with the African-American community. I will go to the NAACP convention.”

Last year, McCain could be forgiven for skipping the event. His campaign had a financial meltdown during the summer, and he needed to focus all of his attention on surviving it. He had also skipped CPAC in 2007, and attending the NAACP’s event after spurning conservative activists would have stoked already-burning resentments into a conflagration.

Now that he has won the nomination and stabilized his financial picture, McCain is freer to do aggressive campaigning. He will likely win few votes at this event, with Obama running against him in the general election, but that’s not the point. Like his appearance in Memphis at the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, it starts a process that Republicans have long delayed in approaching black voters and arguing for conservative principles.

The question will be whether McCain takes the opportunity to espouse specific conservative policies like school vouchers and reducing regulation and taxes to encourage small-business growth in urban centers, or whether he will instead highlight some of the positions that cause conservatives to grind their teeth, such as on immigration and global warming. If he does the former, he will take giant steps towards becoming the Republican Party’s leader and reversing a four-decade-old capitulation to the Democrats in this community, a capitulation that hasn’t helped black voters or Republicans.

Here’s what McCain hopes to do in July — take some of the bitterness out of the relationship between black voters and the GOP, as he did in Memphis: