In contrast to marginal candidates who are hyping social issues, former Texas governor Rick Perry tackled poverty in a speech Thursday at the National Press Club.
Perry’s pitch was simple. He said in his prepared remarks:
The supplemental poverty rate for African Americans is nearly double the rate for other Americans. Democrats have long had the opportunity to govern in African American communities. It is time to help black families hold them accountable for the results. I am here to tell you that it is Republicans, not Democrats, who are truly offering black Americans the hope of a better life for themselves and their children.
Unlike Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who makes a show of going to minority schools but offers warmed-over libertarianism (and hangs out with race-baiting Cliven Bundy), Perry had serious things to offer.
Using Texas as his model, Perry said:
We haven’t eliminated black poverty in Texas. But we have made meaningful progress. In New York, the supplemental poverty rate for blacks is 26 percent. In California, it’s 30 percent. In Washington, D.C., it’s 33 percent.
His formula is simple. Start with a booming economy:
Because we curtailed frivolous lawsuits and unreasonable regulations in Texas, it’s far cheaper to do business in Dallas or Houston than in Baltimore or Detroit. And those lower costs get passed down to consumers — especially low-income consumers — in the form of lower prices. There’s a lot of talk in Washington about income inequality. But there’s a lot less talk about the inequality that arises from the high cost of everyday life.
Texas’ high school graduation rate went from 27th in the country in 2002, to 2nd highest in the country in 2013. Our most recent graduation rate for African-Americans was number one in the nation: 13 points higher than the national average.
And the criminal justice system:
I believe in consequences for criminal behavior. But I also believe in second chances and human redemption … because that, too, is part of the American story. Americans who suffer from an addiction need help, not moral condemnation. By treating alcohol and drug abuse as a disease, we have given Texans who have experienced a run-in with the law the help they need and the rehabilitation that many seek.
He put forth some specifics as well:
If I am elected president, I will send to Congress a welfare reform bill that will take the money we already spend on non-health care-related, anti-poverty programs and split it into two parts. The first part will be an expanded and reformed version of the Earned Income Tax Credit so that anyone with a job can live above the poverty line. The second part will consist of a block grant so that states can care for their safety net populations in the manner that best serves their residents.
And instead of “free college,” he showed how something concrete can change the economics of college. “I challenged our state universities to offer a four-year college degree for less than $10,000. Many thought it would be impossible to drive tuition and fees that low. But today, 13 Texas universities have reached that target,” he said. “We are on the cusp of an online revolution in higher education, but only if the federal government rolls back the rules that make it almost impossible for students to gain accredited bachelor’s degrees achieved with online instruction.”
Most extraordinary was this:
I know Republicans have much to do to earn the trust of African Americans. Blacks know that Republican Barry Goldwater, in 1964, ran against Lyndon Johnson, a champion of civil rights. They know that Barry Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, because he felt that parts of it were unconstitutional. States supporting segregation in the South cited “states’ rights” as a justification for keeping blacks from the voting booth and the dinner table.
As you know, I am an ardent believer in the 10th Amendment, which was ratified in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights. The 10th Amendment says that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
I know that state governments are more accountable to you than the federal government is. But I am also an ardent believer in the 14th Amendment, which says that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
There has been – and will continue to be – an important and legitimate role for the federal government in enforcing civil rights.
Too often, we Republicans – myself included – have emphasized our message on the 10th Amendment but not our message on the 14th – an amendment, it bears reminding, that was one of the first great contributions of the Republican Party to American life, second only to the abolition of slavery.
I am not sure anyone has been so candid about the GOP’s “Southern Strategy” or its tone-deafness on equal protection.
Perhaps it is because so many other Republican contenders are pandering to the lowest common denominator (maybe the worst being Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) defending Donald Trump’s racist comments about Mexicans), but Perry’s speech strikes one as exceptionally thoughtful and grown-up. It may be fruitless to try to raise the level of discourse, but you have to credit Perry with trying.