The GOP believes they simply need to talk about issues that African Americans care about, not actually do anything about them
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul came to Michigan today to be part of the opening of the Republican’s Detroit “African American Engagement Office”. No, seriously.
Before the Republicans got their day started, Democrats had a press conference nearby where they pointed out the hypocrisy of having a man who was against the saving of the auto industry and who doesn’t support parts of the Civil Rights Act kicking off this effort in Detroit. MDP Chair Lon Johnson pointed out the stark differences in the “two different visions our parties have for the state of Michigan”.
“To create a state where people want to stay and succeed,” he said, “We must invest in our people, our land, and our Great Lakes. Rand Paul was one who wanted to let GM fail.”
State Representative Thomas Stallworth also spoke. Pointing out that the income of African American families lags the national average by $30,000 year, he said that instead of the tax cuts and trickle down economics Senator Paul is proposing, what Detroit needs is, “a vibrant economic development plan” that will help rebuild the city FOR Detroiters, not at the expense of Detroiters.
The Democrats also had a local resident Melinda Rawls share her perspectives. She’s shown here holding signs created to “welcome” Senator Rand to Detroit:
— Anne C. Savage (@Anne_Savage) December 6, 2013
The Republican’s new office is on Livernois in northwest Detroit and Sen. Paul started his day there. The seats in the tiny space were filled with well-dressed supporters, most of whom were African American. One guy who had spent time behind the screen talking with staffers came out into the crowd before the program began and made a point of moving to the far back of the room. Later, after Sen. Paul concluded his remarks, he
asked a question made a statement that seemed very much planned, as if he were a plant:
I’m Charles McIntosh, I’m a local resident from the university district here and I don’t have a question. I just want to say I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad to hear those words you said and I’m excited. I’m willing to support. We need more information so we can make better decisions and I see this as a platform to get more information. So I welcome you and I’m glad you’re here.
Senator Rand spoke for a bit under four minutes:
About an hour later, several miles away, Senator Paul made another speech in front of around 200 people at the Grace Bible Chapel. Outside, a group of protesters from the National Action Network led by Rev. Charles Williams II chanted and carried signs.
Protesters in front of event with Senator Rand Paul
Inside, Republicans from around the state gave speeches. Tea party Congressman Kerry Bentivolio was one of them and he spoke for about 45 seconds saying virtually nothing of consequence.
In contrast to the staged event at the new office, this crowd was over 90% white people despite the fact that Detroit is over 80% African American.
The Michigan Republican’s Ethnic Vice Chair of the Michigan Republican Party Linda Lee Tarver was busy, ushering black attendees to sit in the front rows of the gathering. You may remember Tarver as the wife of Clint Tarver, the “Hot Dog Guy” who claimed “union thugs” mistreated him and destroyed his hot dog cart at last year’s Right to Work rally at the state Capitol. Tarver also spoke, getting the crowd to chant “Freedom is not free” repeatedly.
Linda Lee Tarver
Before Sen. Paul spoke, some of the protesters including Rev. Charles Williams II tried to come in and were stopped at the door.
Rev. Charles Willams II tries unsuccessfully to enter Rand Paul event
They were told they couldn’t enter because they didn’t have tickets. I found this interesting because when we came in, we were not asked for tickets. Indeed, some of the protesters — the white ones — were allowed inside without tickets:
— Charles Williams II (@therevcw) December 6, 2013
At this event, Senator Paul gave a longer version of the same speech he had given earlier. You can listen to it here:
Senator Paul’s primary message was that Republicans are simply not talking to African Americans about the issues enough. What he seems not to understand is that talking about the issues is not enough, you must actually act on the issues, something that he and his Republican colleagues have proven time and again that they aren’t interested in. He spoke quite eloquently about the disparate treatment of minorities when it comes to incarceration, particularly for minor drug possession charges. That part of the speech could have been given by a liberal Democrat, in fact.
You haven’t heard many Republicans talking about this. I think if Republicans were to talk about criminal justice, making it equal and the same, having equal protection under the law for everyone, I think we’d get some of those voters.
Sen. Paul seems to completely miss the point that talking is simply not enough.
He also described his plan for Detroit which creates “Economic Freedom Zones” based on zip codes where the unemployment rate is 1.5 times or more the national average. Within these zones, federal personal income tax and corporate taxes would be cut to 5%. Because this would do almost nothing for many Detroiters who don’t make enough to pay income taxes, he proposes reducing the federal payroll tax to 2% each for both employees and employers. Paul claims this would “leave $10 billion — billion with a ‘B’ — in Detroit”. What he doesn’t say is that this money would be largely in the bank accounts of corporations and wealthy individuals, not with the average Detroiter. His message is pure trickle down economics:
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. 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.
It’s refreshing, I suppose, that he admits that his plan is one that primarily benefits rich people.
He also talked about loosening environmental regulations in the “Economic Freedom Zones” as a way to stimulate Detroit’s economy. It was an odd moment.
We’re going to reduce the red tape. Do you know that Detroit spends $20 million a year on storm water drainage? You’re like, “Well don’t we need to do that?” Well, we didn’t do it before ten years ago. We always had drains where the water drains off but the government’s now mandating that you have to come in and spend all this extra money on storm water drainage.
So, I come from a small town in Kentucky and I’m in the Lion’s Club and I asked a guy in the Lion’s Club who’s in charge of storm water drainage, I said, “What does that mean? My town’s gonna have to spend $3 million on it.” He says, “Well, half of that is to print up brochures telling you what we’re going to do.
A couple of things here. First, this “storm water drainage” that Paul talks about is actually the process of separating sewage lines from the storm water drainage lines. Why? Because when it floods, if the lines are not separated, the sewage overflows into the drainage lines and then enters the lakes and rivers where we get our drinking water. Sewage goes into your drinking water source. In Detroit, that’s the Detroit River.
Second, any small town that can’t print up and send out brochures to its residents for less than $1.5 million dollars has bigger problems than “storm water drainage”. The fact is, it’s highly unlikely that they are actually spending this sort of money on brochures, but Rand Paul wants you to think that protecting your drinking water from having sewage in it is some sort of wasteful government spending. Later on, he actually referred to protecting drinking water as a “ridiculous thing”, saying that in Detroit, “your street lights can’t be turned on because you’re sending this money and you’re spending it on these ridiculous things the federal government’s making you do that you shouldn’t have to do”. That’s simply a lie told to a mostly white audience that ate it up like pudding.
Nothing that Senator Paul offered as a solution to Detroit’s vexing problems will solve the socio-economic catastrophe that has led to things like this:
Like the national Republican Party’s effort to rebrand itself as a Party that is friendly to women and minorities, the Michigan Republican Party’s effort in this regard, particularly in Detroit, is doomed to fail. It’s not enough to mouth nice-sounding rhetoric to minority groups. If they are not doing anything to benefit them — and their actions for decades prove that they are not — it’s nothing but an insulting attempt to patronize them to win their votes.
Detroit residents are much smarter than Republicans seem to believe they are. As Lon Johnson said in his talk at the beginning of the day, these out-of-touch Republicans “have looked at the Demographics and know they can’t win”. Nothing they are doing now will change that.
One final thing: Republican candidate for Senate Terri Lynn Land sent out a fundraising letter this week that contains language that seems to intentionally invoke images of slavery:
We need to make reforms to make government the servant – not the master. I’m ready to go there and whip things into shape.
The same week her home state Republicans are trying to start a new outreach program to black Detroiters, their top candidate for the U.S. Senate is talking about masters, servants, and whips.
Two Detroit-area state legislators responded sharply to Land’s irresponsible language.
State Representative Fred Durhal, Jr.:
Terri Lynn Land’s remarks ignore the history of African American experience in relation to the Republican Party in America.
For the Republican Party and its candidate for U.S. Senate to become identified with statements such as whipping into shape and racist code words at worst reflects the real Republican Party, its agenda, and it’s out of touch philosophy with all of black and minority communities in Michigan and America. It is bad politics and only serves to inflame racial tensions that are already smoldering.
If Terri Lynn Land believes that Rosa Parks ended racism, she will find that is totally unacceptable and insensitive to our community.
State Senator Coleman A. Young II:
RNC Committeewoman Terri Lynn Land’s latest desperate attempt to pander to the Washington D.C. Tea Party on Obamacare is insulting and offensive to Michiganders of all race. It is especially crude for RNC Committeewoman Land to resort to this kind of insensitive and racially charged imagery just days after her Committee declared that racism ended with Rosa Parks and just as Michigan Republicans prepare their first so-called “African American Engagement Office” in Detroit. I call on Ms. Land to apologize for the RNC, retract her despicable email, and hold an actual event in the state of Michigan to explain herself.
Just more examples of Republican inability to even know what language to use when reaching out to minorities. No amount of fake pandering and “African American Engagement Offices” will ever overcome that.
[All photos by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog]