Former Texas Governor Rick Perry may be floundering in the overpopulated GOP primary field, but every American would do well to listen to his wise words on race. Tackling an issue that most Republicans seem content to ignore, Perry delivered a remarkable speech at the National Press Club last Thursday. And in an atmosphere where a great deal of ignorance has dominated the airwaves, Perry’s remarks come as a much-needed breath of fresh air.
In Perry’s opinion, modern Republicans have given up on blacks, costing the GOP the “moral legitimacy as the party of Lincoln, as the party of equal opportunity for all.” But just when conservatives might have been chewing their nails, worrying about where Perry was going, he revealed that he wasn’t quite ready to turn his (R) over for a (D). Moving through a series of problems one by one, Perry laid out a conservative blueprint that his fellow presidential contenders ignore at their own peril.
On Inequality: “There is a lot of talk in Washington about inequality. Income inequality. But there is a lot less talk about the inequality that arises from the high cost of everyday life. In blue state coastal cities, you have these strict zoning laws, environmental regulations that have prevented builders from expanding the housing supply. And that may be great for the venture capitalist who wants to keep 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.”
On Education: “In too many parts of this country black students are trapped in failing schools.” He went on to note his own successes at raising the high-school graduation rates among black students in Texas.
On Incarceration: “I’m pretty sure no one gets confused that Texas is a soft on crime place. But I also believe in second chances and human redemption because that, too, is part of the American story.” He argued that it was time to reduce sentencing on non-violent drug offenders.
Beyond his specific policy arguments, Perry is trying something that Republicans have been unable to do in the past. Instead of giving the black vote up for a lost cause, he is reaching out with sensible strategies that can attract voters without betraying conservative values. Contrast this with, say, the cynical Hispanic outreach practiced by Jeb Bush. Bush thinks the only way to attract Hispanic voters is to ape the left. Perry thinks the answer lies not in mimicry but rather in better, bolder ideas. That’s the difference between a real leader and a politician.
Perry may be well behind in the race right now, but if he keeps making speeches like this one, he will surely gain traction as the primaries swing into the latter half of the year. More importantly, he could become the man to show Republicans that there is a better way. Democrats have had black loyalty for long enough. It’s time to show the voters that there is hope in conservatism.