A complete urban agenda

Posted: Jul 27, 2004 12:00 AM

It's no secret that I hoped President Bush would go to the NAACP National Convention to engage in a dialogue and debate about what policies would most help African-American communities. But I was thrilled when he went to the National Convention of the Urban League in Detroit to talk about creating an "ownership society," improving our schools, increasing homeownership, creating jobs, encouraging entrepreneurship, promoting wealth creation and retirement prosperity, and full participation in a growing economy.

The president made a simple yet profound request to a diverse audience gathered at the convention: He asked for their vote. It was a genuine and sincere request from a Republican president urging African-Americans to come home to the Party of Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. I believe the theme of an ownership society and democratizing capitalism will resonate with the nation generally and within African-American, Latino and Hispanic communities specifically.

The Republican Party had a great history that it turned aside. The Democratic Party had a horrible history and overcame it. Thanks to the efforts of Bush, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and others, the Republican Party now has a second chance to heal its fractured relationship with African-Americans. As Bush implied, we cannot afford to let this opportunity slip away.

Bush asked his audience whether the policies advocated by the Democratic Party truly represented their values: support of faith-based institutions, quality education, economic opportunity, wealth creation and retirement prosperity. "Are Democrats taking your vote for granted?" he asked. Those are profound questions.

At the same time, the president acknowledged that the Republican Party has much work to do to repair its image with minority men and women. This type of humility strengthens my belief that Bush is the man who can help energize the Republican Party to fight for all votes, of all Americans, without regard to their racial, religious or ethnic background.

Bush has tirelessly pursued policies to help all Americans. The 2003 tax-rate reductions have proven a success, the economic recovery is strong and more than 1.5 million new jobs have been created since last August.

Admittedly, America has a long way to go to provide a full measure of justice and equality for all - in reality and not just as a dream. Toward this end, the president has also been a strong advocate for homeownership.

One specific example of this is the American Dream Downpayment Act, signed into law by Bush, which will help an additional 40,000 low-income families become homeowners each year. As a result of sound economic policy, homeownership is at an all-time high, including 1.54 million new minority homeowners since June 2002.

I was also pleased when Bush recently signed into law the African Growth and Opportunity Acceleration Act of 2004, which will increase jobs, investments, exports and opportunities for Africans and Americans alike. We must take Africa and Third World development seriously if we are going to help lead a 21st century global fight against poverty, AIDS and injustice.

The conversation Bush had with members of the Urban League largely echoed the conversation Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., had with supporters as they introduced legislation on National Enterprise Zones of Choice recently. The bill offered by these two political entrepreneurs would bring to fruition Bush's desire to increase ownership and entrepreneurship in urban areas as well as other areas left behind economically.

The Ryan-Brownback bill supports what I like to call "supercharged enterprise zones." Individuals who reside in those zones would be able to opt into a reformed tax code where they would pay a flat 17 percent tax rate, where all saving would receive IRA tax treatment, and they would pay zero capital gains on property acquired and sold while residents of the zone. Similarly, businesses operating within the zones would be able to opt into a reformed corporate tax code and receive a flat 17 percent tax rate, they would get to deduct the full cost of machinery and equipment placed in the zone, and they would get to deduct inventories held in the zone when acquired.

These are positive-sum alternatives to the class warfare, protectionist and redistributionist policies currently being advocated by the Kerry-Edwards campaign.

National Enterprise Zones of Choice would enable all Americans to benefit from their hard work by putting their assets to work for them - owning a home, saving for their child's education or their own retirement.  Enterprise Zones, along with school choice, personal retirement accounts and other pro-family initiatives supported by Bush, represent a complete urban agenda.

These policies will enable the president to fight for and begin to win back the votes and confidence of African-Americans and other people of color. By pushing these types of policies, Bush is laying out the welcome mat for African-Americans to return home to the Party of Lincoln - and now, Bush.