Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush came under criticism recently when asked how the GOP could appeal to black voters. "Our message is one of hope and aspiration," he said. "It isn't one of division and 'Get in line, and we'll take care of you with free stuff.'" Hillary Clinton quickly responded: "I think people are seeing this for what it is: Republicans lecturing people of color instead of offering real solutions to help people get ahead."
Do Democrats give away "free stuff" to voters? Are Republicans any better? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
JOEL MATHIS: I'm not necessarily a Hillary Clinton fan, but when she's right, she's right.
"Republicans have no problem promising tax breaks and sweetheart deals to their corporate friends, but when Democrats fight to make sure all Americans have access to quality, affordable health care, early childhood education and job training, that's giving away 'free stuff'?!'" the more than Democratic presidential candidate wrote on her Facebook page. "Talk about backwards." Exactly. Jeb Bush's comments came, in fact, just a couple of weeks after he released his tax plan to the public. You will not be surprised to learn that Bush's tax cuts are heavily tilted to the rich.
The New York Times analysis found that Bush's plan would cut the tax rate on earners making $10 million or more to 21 percent. "The average taxpayer in this group earned $29.2 million in 2013, meaning the plan proposed by Mr. Bush would have saved them an average of $1.5 million that year," the Times reports. Free stuff, indeed.
But let's take a closer look. The result of Bush's plan, economists say, would be to reduce government revenues by more than $3 trillion over 10 years. So how is Bush going to pay to finance those tax cuts? Bush himself says he can grow the economy at a rate fast enough - 4 percent - to offset the cuts. The problem? Even during its best years, from 1948 to 1975, the economy grew at just a 3.7 percent average annual rate.
There are two other ways to pay for those cuts: Cut government programs, or borrow the money and let future taxpayers pay it back. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both paid for their tax cuts by running up huge deficits, so we can predict what Jeb will do.
What this means is that Republicans from Ronald Reagan on have promoted the idea of government itself as a kind of "free stuff" - deficits only matter when Democrats hold the White House. Both parties are the parties of "free stuff," then.
Republicans are just more hypocritical about it.
BEN BOYCHUK: I'm not a Jeb Bush fan, but he's not altogether wrong.
Hillary Clinton along with a host of liberal pundits are waxing indignant about Bush's alleged insult to black voters. What he was really saying is that the liberal Democratic way of addressing poverty, joblessness, health care and education has failed and that Republicans should be unafraid to make a case for their own policies to black voters.
That should be perfectly obvious to anyone with eyes to see and ears to listen.
None of the pundits or press reports - let alone Hillary Clinton - had anything to say about the rest of Bush's answer, which emphasized one of his policy strengths as governor: education reform.
"The place where I think this could be the most powerful, where it resonates the most," he said, referring to Republicans' appeal to African-American voters, "is in school choice. When I was governor, we totally turned the system upside-down. We created the first statewide voucher program in the country, the second and the third." Bush's conservative critics knock him, rightly, for promoting the Common Core State Standards initiative. But when it comes to extending as many educational options as possible to parents and families, Bush's record is unimpeachable.
"The African-American community wants school choice," he continued. "The day, or the week, after Hillary Clinton launched her nascent campaign, the first endorsement she got was from the teachers union. I can promise you, I will never get the endorsement of the teachers union." He's right about choice. He was a bit off with the union endorsement. Clinton announced in April. The American Federation of Teachers endorsed Clinton in July, to the consternation of some of its more socialist members.
The important detail here is that black and low-income families have been the main beneficiaries of school choice, not just in Florida but also in Milwaukee, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., as well as other states such as Arizona, North Carolina, Indiana and Oklahoma that offer vouchers, private scholarships and taxpayer savings accounts.
Most Democrats, who are beholden to their teachers union patrons, are immovable in their opposition to school choice. Better to keep black kids in failing public schools than to risk upsetting the status quo.
That's the trouble, at least, with a "free" public education. You get what you pay for.
Ben Boychuk (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal. Joel Mathis (email@example.com) is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine.