“For too long, we Republicans have been content to lose the black vote because we found that we could win elections without it. But when we gave up on trying to win the support of African-Americans, we lost our moral legitimacy as the party of Lincoln. As the party of equal opportunity for all. It is time for us to once again reclaim our heritage as the only party in our country founded on the principle of freedom for African-Americans.”
It is no surprise there has been far more attention paid to Donald Trump’s attempt at populist caricature than the above words from Rick Perry’s speech last week. The modern Democratic Party has very little margin for error when it comes to keeping its lock on minority voters — and Trump’s musings about forcing Mexico to pay for a border fence to keep its criminals there serve Democrats’ political interests far better than Perry’s powerful arguments that minority voters, particularly African-Americans, have been let down time and again by Democrats’ policy choices.
Perry’s political future was left for dead after his disastrous 2012 run — I’m on the record as believing that first impression is insurmountable — but his chances remain better than Trump’s. Other candidates are making overtures to voters who don’t typically back Republicans, notably Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. But no one in the field, including Hillary Clinton, has matched the combination of rhetoric and record that Perry laid out at the National Press Club last Thursday.
You really should read (or watch) the entire speech to get its full impact, but here are some highlights of his description of the real-world impact of conservative policies in Texas — and how he’d translate that experience to the federal level:
- “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. In Texas, it’s just 20 percent. Here’s how it happened. 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. In blue-state coastal cities, strict zoning laws and environmental regulations have prevented builders from expanding the housing supply. That’s great for the venture capitalist who wants a nice view of San Francisco Bay, but it’s not so great for the single mother working two jobs in order to pay rent and still put food on the table for her kids.”
- “In too many parts of this country, black students are trapped in failing schools where union bosses look out for themselves at the expense of the kids. This matters, because kids who graduate from high school typically make 50 percent more than those who don’t. In Texas, we made sure that the kids come first. 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.”
- “(F)ederal programs impose a one-size-fits-all approach to fighting poverty. In California, someone might need more money to deal with the cost of housing. In Massachusetts, it might be the cost of vocational school. Instead, we force the poor to enroll in separate programs for housing assistance or Pell grants. 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.”
- “A four-year degree at the typical private college now costs more than $170,000. Compare that to the median home price in America, which is $205,000. We are literally asking poor students to mortgage their future in order to gain a college degree. This must end. In Texas, 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. 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.”
There’s more, including his opening with a graphic description of a lynching in Texas 99 years ago, an episode of vigilantism that Perry said Texas “even today … struggle to talk about,” and how far the state has come since those days. Taken as a whole, Perry laid out a far better vision of where leading Republicans would like to take America than anything Donald Trump has had, or will have, to say.