By John David Dyche
It is a sad sign of these perilous times that public attention focuses more on outrageous utterances by billionaire buffoon Donald Trump than on thoughtful ideas from other Republican presidential candidates. There is a lot of substance in the GOP race for those preferring policy substance to circus sideshows.
For example, Texas Governor Rick Perry, best remembered for his “Oops!” in a 2012 debate, recently delivered a speech on race that some hail as the campaign’s best. It begins with a disturbingly vivid account of a mob execution of a mentally disabled black 17-year old in Texas 99 years ago.
After recounting America’s considerable progress on race since the landmark civil rights legislation half a century ago, Perry poses some relevant questions.
“So why is it, today, so many black families feel left behind? Why is it that a quarter of African-Americans live below the poverty line, even after the impact of federal programs like food stamps and housing subsidies?”
Noting that Democrats have long governed in African-American communities and should be accountable for the results, Perry persuasively made the case that fellow GOP contender Rand Paul broached some time ago. “It is Republicans, not Democrats, who are truly offering black Americans the hope for a better life for themselves and their children.”
He acknowledges a role for government, but not merely “throwing money at the problem and walking away.” When “we spend nearly one trillion dollars a year on means tested antipoverty programs,” Perry asks, “why does black poverty remain stagnant?”
“The fundamental reason why Democratic policies have failed to cure poverty is because the only true cure for poverty is a job,” Perry argues. “And Democratic policies have made it too hard for the poor to find a job.”
Perry says discussions about income inequality must consider “the inequality that arises from the high cost of everyday life” in high-tax, high-regulation “blue state coastal cities” where “black students are trapped in failing schools” and “union bosses look out after themselves at the expense of the kids.”
He describes a modern migration of African-Americans away from such mismanaged Democratic urban centers of the North to more free market and opportunity-oriented Republican-run Southern states like Texas.
Republicans have not recovered from their 1964 presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater, opposing that year’s civil rights act on constitutional grounds. He says, “It’s time for us, once again, to reclaim our heritage as the only party in our country founded on the principle of freedom for African-Americans.”
Perry proceeded to outline a set of reformist policy priorities. He concluded, “If we’ll do five things, if we create jobs, if we incentivize work, if we keep nonviolent drug offenders out of prison, if we reform our schools, and we reduce the cost of living, we will have done more for African-Americans than the last three Democrat administrations combined.”
The Texan is not the only Republican candidate tackling the tough issues in specific terms. New Jersey governor Chris Christie has given addresses full of detailed policy proposals on four of the fundamental issues facing the country: entitlement reform; foreign policy; education; and economic growth.
Among other things, Christie boldly called for means-testing and raising the eligibility ages for popular entitlement programs: “Let’s ask ourselves an honest question: Do we really believe that the wealthiest Americans need to take from younger, hard-working Americans to receive what, for most of them, is a modest monthly Social Security check?” He risks real political consequences by answer, “No!”
Christie advocates more military spending that will bust the so-called “sequester” budget caps. He says concerns about government gathering bulk phone records are “baloney.”
One could call these serious speeches “meaty,” but it would only invite jokes about Christie’s girth, a topic that gets more attention than his provocative ideas do. Such misplaced priorities and a preoccupation with the superficial are big reasons why our nation is in such trouble.
Florida senator Marco Rubio has been equally ambitious. In addition to a speech staking out strong, specific foreign policy positions he has issued a tax reform plan that departs from rate-cutting that has been prevailing Republican orthodoxy since the Ronald Reagan era.
It creates two personal income tax brackets — 15 percent and 35 percent; cuts taxes on business and investment income; eliminates the Alternative Minimum Tax and most itemized deductions except charitable giving and mortgage interest; expands the child tax credit; replaces standard deductions and personal exemptions with new personal tax credits; and cuts the corporate tax rate.
Critics contend Rubio’s plan is insufficiently pro-growth. But it, like Kentucky senator Rand Paul’s proposal to “blow up the tax code” by implementing a 14.5 percent flat income tax plus a value added tax on business activity, merits careful consideration.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush gave an impressive speech on religious liberty and has even put his immigration plan’s particulars in a book. Unfortunately, Bush’s actual ideas have gotten much less public attention than Trump’s several controversial comments.
Voters claim to want more issue-oriented campaigns. They should prove it by rewarding Republican presidential candidates who are providing them and ignoring obnoxious clowns like Trump.
(John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche)
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