The Corner

Politics & Policy

Rick Perry on Republicans and Race

The editors of the Wall Street Journal write that Perry’s speech on race and opportunity last week was “thoughtful, often moving,” and “the speech of the campaign so far.” (Yuval Levin also praised it in this space.) I thought this passage deserved wider attention:

I am running for President because I want to make life better for all people, even those who don’t vote Republican.

 

I know Republicans have much to do to earn the trust of African-Americans. Blacks know that Republican Barry Goldwater, in 1964, ran against Lyndon Johnson, a champion of civil rights. They know that Barry Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, because he felt that parts of it were unconstitutional.

 

States supporting segregation in the South cited “states’ rights” as a justification for keeping blacks from the voting booth and the dinner table.

 

As you know, I am an ardent believer in the Tenth Amendment, which was ratified in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights. The Tenth Amendment says that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

 

I know that state governments are more accountable to you than the federal government is.

 

But I am also an ardent believer in the Fourteenth Amendment, which says that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

 

There has been – and will continue to be – an important and legitimate role for the federal government in enforcing civil rights.

 

Too often, we Republicans – myself included – have emphasized our message on the Tenth Amendment but not our message on the Fourteenth – an Amendment, it bears reminding, that was one of the first great contributions of the Republican Party to American life, second only to the abolition of slavery.

I can’t recall similar words — all-but-explicitly criticizing Barry Goldwater over the Civil Rights Act, suggesting that Republicans often praise the Tenth Amendment but forget the Fourteenth — from any other conservative presidential candidate in any cycle. And I think Perry’s right.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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