Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul brought his presidential campaign to Chicago on Wednesday, appealing to African-Americans on the South Side, entrepreneurs downtown and Republicans in the suburbs.
Paul opened his speech by referring to the “black lives matter” refrain used by protesters after the controversial deaths of African-American men at the hands of police. Paul said the phrase reminds him of the deaths of Eric Garner, who was choked to death by officers in New York, and Freddie Gray, who was fatally injured in police custody in Baltimore. But Paul said the phrase also has meaning in Chicago.
“When I hear people say, ‘Black lives matter,’ I think of Jacele Johnson, who is 4 years old and got shot this weekend just a few blocks from here,” Paul said of the Englewood girl who doctors say is swiftly recovering after being shot on the left side of her head Friday night outside a family gathering. “You may be saying to yourself, ‘Why is this white guy saying black lives matter, what does he know about crime in my neighborhood?’ Well, I’ve got crime in my neighborhood too. . . . We’ve got some kind of thing going on in our country, and we need to come to grips with it.”
Paul then talked about a horrific 2011 case in his home state. “In my little town in Kentucky, a white woman cut a baby out of another white woman.
“There is crime going on all across America. It is not a racial thing, it is a spiritual problem,” Paul said. “I think government can play a role in public safety, but I don’t think government can mend a broken spirit. Government can’t provide you salvation, government can’t save you. . . . Ultimately, salvation is something you accept yourselves.”
His stop in Chicago came a day after the release of his book “Taking a Stand,” in which he makes the case for a new, more inclusive Republican Party, proclaiming the “Republican brand sucks.”
On Wednesday, Paul sought to bring that theme to the stump.
He advocated for reclassifying nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors as part of his call to end “mass incarceration” in America.
“We’ve got to rethink the war on drugs. We’ve got to find a better way,” Paul said. “We’ve got to treat drugs as a health problem, not an incarceration problem.”
Paul also called for providing “second chances” for felons to vote and seek jobs. And he pitched a tax-cutting program for businesses in low-income areas.
Paul proposed what he called “economic freedom zones” to dramatically lower corporate and income taxes for businesses in impoverished areas while also cutting the payroll taxes of their employees. He said the program would represent a $400 million tax cut for South Side businesses and could have prevented a nearby McDonald’s from closing.
Paul, though, closed his speech on his party’s future at home, giving a blunt assessment of the GOP’s outreach efforts.
“We have to be a party that has hope and has a cheerful message that says everyone is welcome. We don’t have to change our policy, we have to change our attitude,” Paul said. “If you talk to a lot of young African-American men or women, they’ll say, ‘You’re a Republican, you don’t like me.’ It’s the same with Hispanic voters, with almost any minority you can think of. We’ve got to conquer that with a better attitude, which is so much more important than policy.”