clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Here's the full text of Jeb Bush's "right to rise" speech in Detroit

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Thank you. I am delighted to be here. You are part of a great story - the revival of a city that means so much to all Americans. In these past few years, when confronted with grave challenges, you have seized the opportunity to reform the city you love.

And you have begun to repair the damage done by decades of mismanagement and empty promises.

I want to congratulate Governor Rick Snyder for his leadership. I want to acknowledge Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, and Attorney General Bill Schuette. And Mayor Mike Duggan for his determination to serve the city of his birth.

I want to recognize as well the hard work of Kevyn Orr, who I am proud to say is a son of Florida.

And finally, I want to recognize all those who were involved in making difficult and often painful decisions. Your work is not complete. But your efforts have captured the attention of our nation. Because across the U.S., we are asking ourselves the same questions:

How do we recapture the prosperity and opportunity that once defined cities like Detroit?

How do we restore America's faith in the moral promise of our great nation that any child born today can reach further than their parents?

This is an urgent issue: Far too many Americans live on the edge of economic ruin.And many more feel like they're struck in place, working longer and harder, even as they're losing ground.

Tens of millions of Americans no longer see a clear path to rise above their challenges. Something is holding them back. Not a lack of ambition. Not a lack of hope. Not because they are lazy or see themselves as victims.

Something else. Something is an artificial weight on their shoulders.

Today and in the coming weeks, I will address this critical issue.

And I will offer a new vision. A plan of action that is different than what we have been hearing in

Washington D.C. It is a vision rooted in conservative principles and tethered to our shared belief in opportunity and the unknown possibilities of a nation given the freedom to act, to create, to dream and to rise.

We see that belief every day in action.

In oil and gas fields once given up for dry we are now assuring America's energy security. In hospitals, we are extending life and beating back once untreatable diseases. In charter schools, we are connecting students to their potential. In labs and hacker spaces, invention comes from every corner of society and the world still comes to America to learn how to create and innovate.

People know this country can be more than it is today. And that each one of us can, and must, be a part of it.

But they know this as well: We have a lot of work to do.

Today, Americans across the country are frustrated. They see only a small portion of the population riding the economy's up escalator... It's true enough that we've seen some recent and welcome good news on the economy.

But it's very little, and it's come very late.

Six years after the recession ended, median incomes are down, households are, on average, poorer ... and millions of people have given up looking for a job altogether. Roughly two out of three American households live paycheck to paycheck. Any unexpected expense can push them into financial ruin. We have a record number of Americans on food stamps and living in poverty.

The recovery has been everywhere but in the family paychecks. The American Dream has become a mirage for far too many. So the central question we face here in Detroit and across America is this: Can we restore that dream -- that moral promise -- that each generation can do better?

If we can't answer that question, no tax, no new welfare program, will save our system or our way of life. Because America's moral promise isn't broken when someone is wealthy. It's broken when achieving success is far beyond our imagination.

America is a place where, as Lincoln dreamed, any person may look forward and hope to be a hired laborer this year...and the next, work for himself... and finally, to hire men to work for him!

America, though discouraged, has not given up on the dream of Lincoln.

The dream of Lincoln is alive at 5 a.m. at a bus depot in a distant suburb or in an inner city as workers get to jobs in hotels and restaurants and hospitals. The dream is alive in the breath of a construction worker running cable under a city street in the bitter night air.

The dream is alive in the college student driving an Uber car part-time to graduate debt-free.

Lincoln's dream is alive every day nand at every moment when people choose to buy a home, start a business, enroll in school, save for the future. They know such commitments aren't easy and don't pay off right away. But they're worth doing. If Americans are working harder than ever earning less than they once did, our government and our leaders should step up, offer a plan, fix what's wrong - or they should step aside.

Let's ask how we got to this point. Let's start in Detroit.

Because in a sense, the troubles Detroit faces are an echo of the troubles facing Washington, D.C.

Decades of big government policies, petty politics, impossible-to-meet pension promises, chronic mismanagement and broken services — combined with a massive loss of jobs and competitiveness in the auto industry — drove tens of thousands of people from this city and this region.

For example: Detroit under the previous administration was so proud of shutting down businesses that hadn't paid their licenses and fees, they bragged about it in press releases. The city threatened nearly 900 businesses with closure and followed through on nearly 400 businesses, shutting them down.

Many of these were small businesses run out of homes and alley-facing garages, run by people who just wanted to take that first step up the economic ladder.

One of those business owners, Derek Little, had a simple way to describe his frustration: I'm running a legit business... They could be doing something better.

And while the city was shutting down people who were trying to build a business couldn't even do its job correctly: The city was losing money writing parking tickets.

Of course, on Amtrak they lose money on the snack car. They literally have a captive audience.

But government inefficiency isn't just irritating. It's instructive. If the government can't collect parking fines, or sell snacks on a train, why would government know how to enable every citizen to move up in life?

That's why I launched the Right to Rise PAC. So that someone would speak for people who don't want to wait for the government to deliver prosperity. They want to earn it themselves. Government isn't the only issue here. There is far more at work. But in a sense, fixing government policy is the easiest problem to solve. And it's the one most responsive to the demands of voters.

So, I am getting involved in politics again, because that's where the work has to begin. The opportunity gap is the defining issue of our time.

More Americans are stuck at their income levels than ever before. It's very hard for people to go from the bottom rungs of the economy to the top. Or even to the middle.

This should alarm you. It alarmed me. The problem starts when we fear the one thing that can help unlock the economic status quo: The freedom to compete and work as a team to build great things.

Competition is messy. But it's essential. We've all seen the battles: The taxicab companies fight against web-enabled car services. The restaurants fight against the food trucks. The brick-and-mortar retailers fight against the Internet companies.

I'm not here to take sides. And I don't think government should either. Because when government protects one business against another, or tilts the field of competition, there is a clear loser: Anyone who wants to create something as a team. Anyone who wants to innovate and shake things up. Anyone who wants more choices and better service. And we know that in the end, standing against competition and dynamism is a losing battle.

In 1955, 60 years ago, the Fortune 500 list first appeared. Of the companies on that list, fully 88% don't even exist today or have fallen away. Today's Fortune 500 will be replaced by new companies that are just starting today.

This is hard for some people to accept. Because entrenched interests do not like giving up what they have. That's why they fear small competitors who have nothing to lose. You know the stories: The president of Michigan Savings Bank imparted some wisdom to the young lawyer for a small start-up company: The horse, the bank president said,'is here to stay, but the automobile is only a fad.'

The small start-up that lawyer represented... was the Ford Motor Company.We can laugh about it now because Ford and the other innovators of Detroit had the economic freedom to compete and to prove the doubters wrong.

Our nation has always valued such economic freedom because in economic freedom, each citizen has the power to propel themselves forward and upward.

This really isn't understood in Washington D.C. And you can see why: It's a company town.

And the company is government. It's all they know.

For several years now, they have been recklessly degrading the value of work, the incentive to work, and the rewards of work.

We have seen them cut the definition of a full-time job from 40 to 30 hours, slashing the ability of paycheck earners to make ends meet. We have seen them create welfare programs and tax rules that punish people with lost benefits and higher taxes for moving up those first few rungs of the economic ladder.

Instead of a safety net to cushion our occasional falls, they have built a spider web that traps people in perpetual dependence. We have seen them waive the rules that helped so many people escape welfare.

The progressive and liberal mindset believes that to every problem there is a Washington D.C. solution. But that instinct doesn't solve any problem, other than the problem of how to keep

Washington's regional economy well-lubricated.

And the cost is enormous!

Let's say you're a hard-working middle-class family. You work hard. You pay your mortgage on time. As President Obama likes to say: You play by the rules.

But for President Obama, one of the rules is this: He reserves the right to change the rules.

Just last month, he thought it was a good idea to tax 529 college savings plans. Remember: 529s were created to be tax-free ways to save for college. Millions of people started them for their kids and grandkids. So it's no surprise people hated the president's idea. And he dropped it. But it was an instructive lesson in the liberal and progressive mindset. Saving for college is the responsible thing to do. But instead of embracing 529s, the liberals moved to tax them.

It's frustrating. But it shows you how they think.

And if you want to know how they act, ask Sharon DeLay. Sharon founded a recruiting company in Westerville, Ohio. Here's what she said: It's as if the politicians and regulators in Washington want me to fail - and spend all their time thinking up new ways to ensure that I do ...You either want me to be the engine of the economy or you don't!

Here's a message for Sharon and millions like her: There's a better way.Let's define this path first by the core principles of a Right to Rise society because once we do that, the policies, the laws and the way forward will be much clearer.

Let's start with the first principle: When it comes to ensuring opportunity and a chance at success, the most important factor isn't government. It's a committed family.

Social scientists across the ideological spectrum agree on this: If you want to predict whether someone will graduate from school, go to college and move forward in life, just find out one thing: Were they raised in a loving household by two parents? If you didn't, you can overcome it, but it's very hard. If you did, you have a built-in advantage in life.

The evidence is overwhelming. Every child has a greater chance at opportunity when they are raised by loving, caring and supportive parents and a committed family. That isn't the work of government. But it's critical that governmental leaders recognize that and support it.

A second principle: Growth above all. A growing economy, whether here in Detroit or throughout this country is the difference between poverty and prosperity for millions. If you want to close the opportunity gap, grow the economy. This is a principle that concentrates the mind.

If a law or a rule doesn't contribute to growth, why do it? If a law subtracts from growth, why are we discussing it? And for what it's worth, I don't think the US should settle for anything less than 4% growth a year — which is about twice our current average. At that rate, the middle class will thrive again.

And in the coming months, I intend to detail how we can get there, with a mix of smart policies and reforms to tap our resources and capacity to innovate, whether in energy, manufacturing, health care or technology.

Third: The right to rise depends on a government that makes it easier to work than not work.

That means fewer laws restricting the labor market and reducing the penalties that come with moving up from the lowest rungs of the ladder.

Fourth: To address the income gap, let's close the opportunity gap, and that starts with doing everything we can to give every child, from every neighborhood, a great education. This won't happen overnight — trust me, I know. But I also know it works. And it takes every tool we have.

Accountability for teachers and school administrators, assessment of student learning, high standards, and choices. These key elements of school reform work and we have the results to prove it.

Finally, let's embrace reform everywhere, especially in our government. Let's start with the simple principle of who holds the power. I say give Washington less and give states and local governments more.

We make multi-billion dollar infrastructure decisions based on a labor law written in 1921. President Obama proposes making rules on the Internet using laws written in the 1930s. We regulate global airlines using laws written for railroads. Our immigration laws were written a half-century ago.

Governmental policy seems frozen, incapable and fearful of change. It is in the way. And we deserve better than this.

If we don't transform ourselves to meet new challenges and seize new opportunities, we know what happens next. Look around this city. In its history there is a warning to all of us.

A century ago, Detroit was America's great innovation hub. The Silicon Valley of its age.

It was bigger than Chicago. It was the nation's wealthiest city in 1960.

Detroit put the world on wheels and created the jobs that lifted millions of Americans into the middle class.

This city was the arsenal of Democracy and delivered the arms needed to defend freedom across two oceans.

Detroit promised prosperity and it delivered.

Sons of sharecroppers coming up from the South, farmhands from the Upper Midwest, immigrants who spoke Polish, Yiddish, Greek and Arabic.

Their children settled. They prospered. And some of their grandchildren are in this room today.

And now, you are rebuilding this city. I know you will be that great city again. Because Americans by nature work and strive to succeed.

It is already happening.

In the Madison Building, not far from here, new companies are rising. One of them, iRule, is led by two young men, one born in Russia, the other in Israel. They left secure jobs as automotive engineers to start their business in 2009. At the very bottom of the recession. Here's what one of them, Itai ben Gal said: ‘We know Detroit has its baggage, but we believe we're part of the solution.'

Three years later, they have 21 employees, including Itai's father, who is the CFO.

And this activity is happening downtown, in an area once ignored.

Another Detroit entrepreneur grew up in the suburbs. He rarely came downtown as a child. But today, he works here. He lives here. This is what he said: 'We see the city for what it can be... not for what it was.'

That's how we should see everything. Not just Detroit.But in all of America.

I know some in the media think conservatives don't care about the cities.

But they are wrong. We believe that every American and in every community has a right to pursue happiness. They have a right to rise.

So I say: Let's go where our ideas can matter most. Where the failures of liberal government are most obvious. Let's deliver real conservative success.

And you know what will happen?

We'll create a whole lot of new conservatives.

I know, because I've lived it.

I come from Miami, another city that faced the same struggles as Detroit.

In my city, the schools were failing, opportunity was scarce and for too many, simply being born in the wrong neighborhood meant the American Dream was cruelly out of reach.

I joined with my friend, Willard Fair, a courageous leader in the civil rights movement.

We decided that the right to rise, was also a civil right. So we went to work to change education in Florida.

While there's much more to do, we saw lives changed and hope restored.

You can do it, here in Detroit. We can do it, across America.

Because this morning, 320 million Americans got up ... and they are on 320 million different paths of life.

It's our goal to see them succeed.

And it's our responsibility to do everything possible to help them.

Because by their success, they will not only build prosperity for themselves. They will renew the promise of this nation when everyone, has the right to rise.

Those are the stakes. That's why we're here. Please join me in this great cause.

Thank you and may God bless you, and may God bless America.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.