I’d like to thank President Ribeau, the Howard University faculty, and students for having me today, and apologize in advance for what I’m about to say.
Some people have asked if I’m nervous about speaking at Howard. They say “You know, some of the students and faculty may be Democrats.” They didn’t tell me you’d all be black.
My response is that my trip will be a success if the Hilltop will simply print that a Republican came to Howard but he came in peace and left with all his pieces.
My wife Kelley asked me last week, “Do you ever have doubts about trying to advance a message for an entire country?”
The truth is, sometimes. When I do have doubts, I think of a line from T.S. Eliot, “How should I presume to spit out all the butt ends of my days and ways, and how should I presume.” That is from a poem. It’s like a rap without the music.
When I think of how political enemies often twist and distort my positions, I think again of Eliot’s poem and its words: “When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall, how should I presume?” The man in this rap is so frustrated in a sexual sense that he can’t even ask a question.
Yet here I am today at Howard, a historically black college. Here I am, a guy who has no frustrations in the sexual sense but once presumed to discuss a section of the Civil Rights Act.
Some have said that I’m either brave or crazy to be here today. I’ve never been one to watch the world go by without participating. I’ve won more participation awards than anyone I know. I wake up each day hoping to make any difference I can no matter what difference it is.
I take to heart the words of Toni Morrison of Howard University, a black woman, who wrote: “If there is a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
I can recite books that have been written, by title, or I can plunge into the arena and stumble and maybe fall but at least I will have tried to do something.
What I am about is a philosophy that leaves you to fill in the blanks. I marked them with an “X.” Just sign here and here and here.
But I come to Howard today, not to preach, or prescribe some special formula for you, but to say I want a government that leaves you alone, that encourages you to write the book that becomes your unique future.
You are more important than any political party, more important than any partisan pleadings, but you are also black, which is why I came to Howard today.
The most important thing you will do is yet to be seen. Not in my lifetime have I seen people like you vote for people like me. For me, I found my important thing to do when I learned to do surgery on the eye, when I learned to restore a person’s vision. But none of them have seen people like voting for people like me either.
Fortunately, I found what was important when I met and married my wife. This is important. But I am an eye surgeon, first and foremost, so I find myself as part of the debate over how to heal our sick economy and get people back to work.
I truly believe that we can have an economy that creates millions of jobs again but we will have to rethink our arguments and try to rise above empty partisan rhetoric. I have a wife.
My hope is that you will hear me out, that you will see me for who I am, not the caricature sometimes presented by political opponents or myself. If you hear me out, I believe you’ll discover that what motivates me more than any other issue is the defense of everyone’s rights. And yours. Everyone’s and yours.
Of strong importance to me is the defense of minority rights, not just racial minorities, but ideological and religious minorities.
If our government does not protect the rights of white and ideological and religious minorities, then democratic majorities could simply legislate away our freedom to legislate away your freedom.
The bill of rights and the civil war amendments protect us against the possibility of your oppressive federal government.
The fact that we are a Constitutional Republic means that certain inalienable rights are protected even from democratic minorities. No Republican questions or disputes civil rights. Except for when I do, I have never waivered in my support for civil rights or the civil rights act.
The dispute, if there is one, has always been about how much of the remedy should come under federal or state or private purview. What gets lost is that the Republican Party has always been the party of civil rights and voting rights. And yet despite being the same Republicans, some have concluded that we are somehow inherently insensitive to minority rights.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We love you. Why else would we give you those rights?
Now Republicans do, indeed, still believe many rights remain with the people and states respectively. When some people hear that, they tune us out and say: “He’s just using code words for the state’s right to discriminate, for the state’s right to segregate and abuse.” And I am.
But that’s simply not true.
Many Republicans do believe that decentralization of power is the best policy, that government is more efficient, more just, and more personal when it is smaller and more local and not like those big cities you live in. But Republicans also realize that there are occasions, in history, of such egregious injustice that require federal involvement, and that is precisely what the 14th amendment and the Civil Rights Act were intended to do — protect citizens from state and local tyranny.
The fourteenth amendment says, “No state shall…” That is all it says. The fourteenth amendment did change the Constitution to give a role for the federal government in protecting citizenship and voting regardless of race.
Now I did not live through segregation nor did I experience it first-hand. I don’t even know what it is. But I did grow up in the South in public schools comprised of white, black, and Latino students largely all getting along with each other. Some of them are still my best friends.
So perhaps some will say that I can never understand. But I don’t think you had to be there to have been affected by our nation’s history of racial strife. Even though it ended we are all affected by history.
The tragedy of segregation and Jim Crow in the South is compounded when you realize that integration began with the Democrat Party in New England in the 1840’s and 1850’s. In 1841, Frederick Douglas was pulled from the white car on the Eastern Railroad, clutching his seat so tightly that he was thrown from the train with its remnants still tightly in his hands. But, within a few years public transportation was integrated in the northeast by Republicans.
It is a stain on our history that integration didn’t occur until more than 100 years later in the South. That in the 1960’s we were still fighting to integrate public transportation and schools is and was an embarrassment which I had nothing to do with. Strom Thurmond was a Democrat.
The story of emancipation, voting rights and citizenship, from Fredrick Douglas until the modern Civil Rights era, is in fact the history of the Republican Party I represent. How did the party that elected the first black US Senator, the party that elected the first 20 African American Congressmen become a party that now loses 95% of the black vote? How did the Republican Party, the party of the great Emancipator, lose the trust and faith of an entire race? What did we do wrong?
From the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, for a century, most black Americans voted Republican. How did we lose that vote? When did we stop beating your wives?
To understand how Republicans lost the African American vote, we must first understand how we won the African American vote. In Kentucky, the history of black voting rights is inseparable from the Republican Party. Virtually all African Americans became Republicans. Before that they weren’t even people. Who made them people?
Not Robert Byrd. Not the Democrats in Louisville who were led by Courier-Journal editor Henry Watterson and were implacably opposed to blacks voting.
Watterson wrote that his opposition to blacks voting was “founded upon a conviction that their habits of life and general condition disqualify them from the judicious exercise of suffrage.” In George Wright’s “Life Behind the Veil,” he writes of Republican General John Palmer standing before tens of thousands of slaves on July 4th, 1865, when slavery still existed in Kentucky, and declaring: “My countrymen, you are free, and while I command, the military forces of the United States will defend your right to freedom.”
The crowd erupted in cheers.
I said “The crowd erupted in cheers.”
Is this thing on?
Anyway, Kentucky’s Democrat-controlled legislature voted against the 13th, the 14th, and the 15th amendments.
William Warley was a black Republican in Louisville. He was born toward the end of the nineteenth century. That was a long time ago. Do you know about it? Because the Republican Party’s history is rich and chock full of emancipation and black history. We are rich and chock full.
Republicans still prize the sense of justice that MLK spoke of when he said that “an unjust law is any law the majority enforces on a minority but does not make binding upon itself.” It is one of our favorite prizes. We award it whenever we talk to people like you.
Republicans have never stopped believing in minorities, whether they derive from the color of their skin or shade of their ideology we believe they warrant equal protection. We believe in you. I think our retelling of the Civil Rights era does not give enough credit to the heroism of civil disobedience. We need to tell this story with more Republican heroes.
But Republicans face a daunting task. Several generations of black voters have never voted Republican and are not very open to even considering the option. Democrats still promise unlimited federal assistance, which I know you all need, and Republicans promise free markets, low taxes, and less regulations that we believe will create more jobs.
The Democrat promise is tangible and puts food on the table, which again, we know you need, but too often doesn’t lead to jobs or meaningful success. The Republican promise is for policies that create economic growth. Republicans believe lower taxes, less regulation, balanced budgets, a solvent Social Security and Medicare will stimulate economic growth for everybody. Including you.
Republicans point to the Reagan years when the economy grew at nearly 7% and millions upon millions of jobs were created.
Today, after four years of the current policies, one in six Americans live in poverty, more than at any other time in the past several decades. In fact, the poor have grown poorer in the past four years. Black unemployment is at 14%, nearly twice the national average. This is unacceptable.
Using taxes to punish the rich, in reality, punishes everyone because we are all interconnected. Poor people are black. Black people are poor. High taxes on rich people and excessive regulation on corporations are not working for them.
The economy has been growing at less than 1% and actually contracted in the fourth quarter. Objective evidence shows that big government is not a friend to African Americans. I will show it to you later.
Big government relies on the Federal Reserve, our central bank, to print money out of thin air. Printing money out of thin air leads to higher prices. When the price of gas rises to $4 per gallon, it is a direct result of our nation’s debt. When food prices rise, it is a direct result of the $50,000 we borrow each second. Inflation hurts everyone, particularly the poor who are black.
Some Republicans, let’s call them the moss-covered variety, mistake war for defense. All they want to do is wage war. The old guard argues for arms for Ghaddafi and then the following year for boots on the ground to defeat Ghaddafi. Do your arms work? Do you need boots?
I want you to know that all Republicans do not clamor for war, that many Republicans believe in a strong national defense that serves to preserve the Peace through War.
In Louisville, in the predominantly African American west end of town, it was recently announced that 18 schools are failing. The graduation rate is 40%. Most of these people need boots. The Republican needs these boots for War. The head of Kentucky’s education called it academic genocide. Johns Hopkins researchers call these schools dropout factories.
I saw a movie.
I defy anyone to watch Waiting for Superman and honestly argue against school choice. Let me tell you the tale of two young men. Both of them made mistakes. Both of them were said to have used illegal drugs. One of them was white and from a privileged background. He had important friends, and an important father and an important grandfather. You know, the kind of family who university’s name dorms after. The family had more money than they could count. Drugs or no drugs, his family could buy justice if he needed it.
The other man also used illegal drugs, but he was of mixed race and from a single parent household, with little money. He didn’t have important friends or a wealthy father. Now, you might think I’m about to tell you a story about racism in America, where the rich white kid gets off and the black kid goes to jail.
It could well be, and often is, but that is not this story. In this story, both young men were extraordinarily lucky. Both young men were not caught. They weren’t imprisoned.
Instead, they both went on to become Presidents of the United States.
The history of African-American repression in this country rose from government-sanctioned racism. Jim Crow laws were a product of bigoted state and local governments. Big and oppressive government, which is the opposite, has long been the enemy of freedom, something that makes no sense but black Americans know all too well.
We must always embrace individual liberty and enforce the constitutional rights of all Americans-rich and poor, immigrant and native, black and white.
Such freedom is essential in achieving any longstanding health and prosperity.
As Toni Morrison, the black women I mentioned earlier, said, “Write your own story.” Challenge mainstream thought about Republicans. I hope that some of you will be open to the Republican message that favors choice in education, a less aggressive foreign policy, more compassion regarding non-violent crime and encourages opportunity in employment.
And when the time is right, I hope that African Americans will again look to the party of emancipation, civil liberty, and individual freedom and vote against it 2016. Rand Paul!