Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has been reading Jack Kemp’s Wikipedia page.
Kemp — a former congressman, secretary of Housing and Urban Development and 1996 Republican nominee for vice president — was famous for being a conservative Republican intent on reaching out to minority communities. When not one right-wing politician showed up at the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, numerous commentators said, “Jack Kemp would have been there!”
In the 1980s, Kemp pushed the concept of Enterprise Zones to combat urban blight and renew communities. The core of the idea is to — you guessed it! — cut taxes and lower regulation in “distressed areas.” These zones tend to do well at nourishing large corporations when the economy is strong. Otherwise, “There is little evidence demonstrating that this concept is effective at generating new economic development at the local level,” a 1989 study found.
Pushing lower taxes and lenient regulation may have made sense for Kemp — before the lowest taxes and the most lenient regulation in 50 years led to the greatest economic crash in 50 years — but to do so now shows that the GOP has learned nothing from the Great Recession.
When it comes to minority outreach, the GOP is also far behind the Republican Party of Kemp, Bob Dole and even George W. Bush. The GOP of that era didn’t accuse minorities of fraud in order to make it harder to vote. They were proud of Reagan’s immigration reform legacy and they weren’t actively denying health insurance to millions of minorities living in red states.
Senator Paul — who visited Detroit this week to rebrand Enterprise Zones as “Economic Freedom Zones” — has mocked the reality of voter suppression, voted against immigration reform and opposes Medicaid expansion — though the program has already helped reduce the uninsured population in his home state of Kentucky by more than 10 percent.
Paul was not there to commemorate Dr. King’s speech but he did show up in the Motor City just days after a judge said that the pensions of public workers could be voided in Detroit’s bankruptcy, even though Michigan’s Constitution explicitly says they are inviolable.
Imagine if Rand Paul had showed up in Detroit to speak out against theft of retirees’ pensions — an average of just $19,000 a year for millions of workers who mostly do not qualify for Social Security — because honoring promises to people is more important than paying off the Wall Street financiers who engineered the city’s economic downfall.
Rand is the guy who accused the president of being too tough on BP during the largest oil spill in American history. His feelings about corporations resemble how pre-Reformation Catholics felt about the Pope — absolute infallibility.
No, Paul didn’t come to Michigan to defend workers. Instead he came to Detroit to tell his 90-percent white audience in a city that’s 90-percent African-American that the real problem — of course — is that rich people hadn’t been rewarded enough.
“The president plays this sort of thing of envy and he says to us, ‘You should not like the rich people, you should punish the rich people.’ I say no, reward them,” he said. “They create the jobs. That’s who we work for. Anybody here work for a poor person? So you want rich people to have more money so you can have more money.”
The senator also blasted the city for spending too much money on cleaning its drinking water. Is there an emoticon that exists to display what a WTF comment that is? The city is on a river where tons of petcoke waste from Koch Carbon is stored at the shores. He argued the reason the lights can’t be kept on in the sprawling city is because it’s too obsessed with not poisoning itself?
There are reasons Detroit has to choose between safety and clean water. They have to do with globalization, a disconnection from the massively affluent communities just outside the city’s boundaries and a starvation of public funding that’s the inevitable result of cutting taxes to spur growth that never comes, especially to the places that need it most.
The only recovery Michigan has seen in the last few years has come from investing in the auto industry, which migrated almost entirely outside of Detroit’s city limits during the mid-20th century. Rand Paul, of course, didn’t support the rescue of General Motors or Chrysler, saying that GM should “absolutely” be allowed to fail.
Still, the Tea Party hero deserves credit for two things.
He’s not Mitt Romney going to the NAACP conference to be booed. Knowing he’ll be criticized, Paul has interjected himself into a difficult situation under the pretense of wanting to help minorities in a city where the people desperately need help. (Of course, he’s also laying the groundwork for his 2016 presidential run in a crucial state where he won a straw poll earlier this year.)
Paul is also very progressive and very correct about the need for reforming mandatory minimum sentences, which unfairly punish minorities, shattering communities and damning millions to lives of second-class citizenship. This is genuinely brave outreach that has not been attempted by any major figure in the conservative movement before. Unfortunately, that’s where Paul’s originality ends.
If the answer to poverty is to make the rich richer, why hasn’t the massive transfer of wealth to the richest 1 percent since 1979 solved the problem? Almost 700,000 Kentuckians live in poverty. More than 46 million Americans live in impoverished households.
What the senator needs to understand is that he does know someone who works for a poor person, actually for lots of poor people — Rand Paul.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr