Paul’s Detroit speech revives Kemp’s optimism, calls for Freedom Zones to unshackle dire city
[Find the video of speech at the bottom of the page.]
The junior senator from Kentucky invoked the memory and optimistic conservatism of Jack F. Kemp in a Dec. 6 speech to the Detroit Economic Club, calling on the federal government to unshackle the people and spirit of the Motor City.
“Kemp loved figuring out ways to empower people—real people–regardless of race or family background,” said Sen. Randal H. “Rand” Paul (R.-Ky.), a top tier perspective candidate for the White House in 2016. “He called in a conservative ‘War on Poverty.’”
Kemp called these programs for targeted areas Economic Empowerment Zones, and it was at the heart of his political agenda both as a Buffalo congressman, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and as a candidate for president in 1988 and vice-president in 1996.
The senator spoke to a packed ballroom luncheon at the Motor City Casino Hotel, part of a day that included opening a new Republican Party office in northwest Detroit and speaking to local high schoolers. He spoke for just more than 20 minutes and took questions for another 20.
Paul said he is introducing legislation before the end of the year that would target an area of economic distress, such as Detroit or 20 different counties in Kentucky, by lifting the cost and burdens of the government.
In a Freedom Economic Zone, both personal income tax and the corporate tax would be 5 percent, payroll contributions reduced to 2 percent by the worker and his employee, along with other tax cuts and removal of regulations.
“It’s time we revisit some of the ideas of Jack Kemp—I recently told a friend: ‘This is Jack Kemp on steroids,’” he said.
The eye surgeon and graduate of Duke University Medical School said the words of Kemp still ring true: “By giving people access to capital and allowing them to take ownership of assets, entrepreneurship will be encouraged and the cycle of poverty can begin to be begin. All persons should have them.”
The senator proposal is what he called a $1 billion bailout for the Michigan city—paid for by the residents and businesses of Detroit by keeping Detroit’s money in Detroit as well as a lifting of the government’s regulatory burden.
Paul said these powerful interests combined to put their interests above those of the people living in Detroit. “The result has been a defective government, a declining business sector and failing schools.”
There are two reasons why Paul said he came to Detroit. First, he is a Republican looking to get more votes for the GOP. Second, as a physician, he is intrigued by illnesses and wants to diagnose a problem and
“Detroit’s situation is the result of a corrupt marriage of Big Government and Big Labor and Big Business that has worked against the City of Detroit for decades,” the senator said.
Paul said these powerful interests combined to put their interests above those of the people living in Detroit.
“The result has been a defective government, a declining business sector and failing schools,” he said.
Paul said, “I just told a friend of mine Paul’s update of the idea, which he called Economic Freedom Zones, would be like Kemp’s proposals on steroids, he said.
After decades of government-directed recovery programs that wasted billions of dollars and aggravated problems instead of solving them, there is now a feeling that Detroit is beyond repair, he said.
“Many have said the problems we see in Detroit, and say: “Well, it just means it’s the end of times—We are done for as a country—Woe is me—Let’s give up,’” Paul said.
Whether it was conscious or not, Paul was not only channeling Kemp in the speech, but also the gloom-and-doom of the 1970s liberalism that the former AFL and NFL quarterback stood up to challenge in Congress before Reagan became president and before Newton L. “Newt” Gingrich arrived at Capitol Hill.
In 1979, a freshman congressman Gingrich joined Kemp in opposing the federal bailout of Chrysler Motors. As with other Capitol Hill losses that session, it was during the debate over the bailout that conservatives made the case for free enterprise that prepared the country for 1980s.
Detroit was once what was great about American innovation and economic power, and it can do it again with the strength of within its own people, he said.
Paul said it was not a government agency that led Henry Ford to not only raise his workers’ wages and working conditions and produce cars the average American could afford or to build a music empire like Motown Records.
“They say: ‘We can’t create jobs anymore, we’ll never do it again–I disagree.’” he said.
“They say: ‘The schools here will just keep getting worse–I disagree.’” he said.
“They say: ‘The divide between rich and poor, black and white, will only grown–I disagree.’” he said. “All of their pessimism is wrong.”
In addition to emulating Kemp, Paul was addressing the same club Ronald W. Reagan addressed in 1976 running against President Gerald R. Ford, and again as a candidate against President James E. Carter in 1980, both times making the case that the American auto industry was essentially strong, save for the wounds inflicted by the taxation, union rules and pay structures and federal interference.
In his May 5, 1980 speech, Reagan said, “The US auto industry remains the best in the world. It simply needs the freedom to compete unhindered by whimsical bureaucratic changes in energy, environmental, and safety regulations.”
In a real sign of those times, Reagan felt the need to defended the car itself. “The American people found in the automobile the last great freedom. The freedom to go where they wanted, when they wanted by the route they chose, and it is a freedom that we should not easily give up.”
In that year’s campaign, Detroit was held up as the prime case study of the failure of liberalism to the point Republican Party National Convention delegates gathered at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena
In 1984, Reagan returned the Detroit Economic Club as president to celebrate the Reagan Recovery and the comeback of the American auto industry, typified by Chrysler itself. In the previous year, Chrysler paid off the government’s assistance along with a $500 profit to the federal treasury—a sharp contrast with the $1.3 billion loss the treasury absorbed from President Barack Obama’s 2009 Chrysler bailout.
(Courtesy of FootballCardGallery.com)
Kemp was supposed to be conservative follow-up to Reagan, but his 1988 campaign stumbled out of the gate when his New Hampshire primary campaign manager resigned after making a tasteless joke involving the Jesse Jackson’s grandmother being the centerfold of a National Geographic magazine. Then, conservatives cringed as he quoted Whitney Houston: “I believe that children are the future, treat them well and let them let the way.”
When Reagan was told Kemp left the race, he lowered his head and his face tightened as he spit out: “And that means Bush will be president.”
In a gesture to conservatives, President George H. W. Bush put Kemp in his cabinet to lead Housing and Urban Development. Soon enough though, the nod devolved into gag-casting as Bush budget chief Richard G. “Dick” Darman repeatedly undercut and humiliated Kemp and his proposals.
It was a redux of Darman’s early days as Reagan’s deputy chief of staff, when his top mission was to keep conservatives and their mail away from the president.
In the final months of Bush I, Bush brought Kemp out of the shadows to leverage him as a retort to William J. Clinton’s attacks on the failure of Bush’s economic policies. But, the election was over by the summer lunch Darman had with Gingrich.
By 1992, Gingrich was number two among House Republicans and their de facto leader, and at the summer lunch he gave Darman the message: Not only were House Republicans not going to lift a finger to save the Bush White House, they were convinced that with Clinton in the White House they could run against him and take over the House for the first time since the 1956 elections.
After 12 years of a GOP-occupied White House, Gingrich was convinced the action was on Capitol Hill and with that polar shift, Kemp and his ideas no longer played center stage. His run for vice-president in 1996 with Robert J. Dole had a rabbit-out-of-the-hat quality that seemed over before it started.
When Paul breathed life back into Kemp-style conservatism: bringing people freedom, instead of more government lever-pulling and button-pushing, he reintroduced the Kemp narrative.
Since 1994, the GOP has controlled the House of Representatives for all but four years, but today’s House Republicans compete with Democrats in funding more business subsides and more regulators and imposing more mandates and crafting evermore crafty government crafted solutions to problems out in the provinces.
In the era of top-down Republicanism, Paul demands the proverbial “stop.” Yet, he was taking a chance that his audiences in the room and across the country would even understand words and phrases, so long out of use.
Kemp trusted Americans to not only fix their own problems, but he trusted they would find their own greatness through their own imagination and effort.
Now, four years after Kemp’s passing, Paul is asking the GOP to trust Americans again.