Friday, May 8, 2009

Remembering Jack Kemp

Jack KempI have been out of town on vacation and was in London when I read in the Financial Times that Jack Kemp had died. It saddened me. Jack Kemp along with William F. Buckley, Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, Jean Kirkpatrick, Milton Friedman, Margaret Thatcher and a couple others, was on my short list of people whom I think had vision and passion and who I greatly admire and respect.

When he ran for President against George H. Bush and then later against Bob Dole, I was pulling for Kemp. I was much more enthusiastic about Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign after he chose Jack Kemp as his running mate. For many years I kept hoping that Jack Kemp would become President.

Jack Kemp had a brilliant intellect and was a passionate and articulate defender of free markets. He was a strong proponent of supply side economics and tax cuts and smaller government. One thing I especially liked about Kemp was that he advocated a Republican urban policy and was concerned about Black poverty. As Secretary of Housing and Urban Development he advocated programs designed to spur intercity investment and programs to reduce but improve public housing and increase homeownership opportunities among the poor.

While Kemp was a solid conservative, I am not so sure that he would be welcome in some conservative circles today where being conservative often means being vitriolic and angry. Jack Kemp was not an angry man; he did not ridicule his political opponents or make personal attacks. Jack Kemp always seemed reasonable. He genuinely seemed to want to understand the views of those with whom he disagreed and then try to find common ground and then convert them.
He described himself as a "bleeding-heart conservative" and had compassion for the poor, which I think seems to be missing from many in the Republican Party today. While he opposed abortion and supported school prayer, he also advocated immigration reform and a system of worker permits for those illegal immigrants already here. That alone would disqualify him as a “real” conservative in the minds of many contemporary conservatives. If that did not disqualify him, then advocacy of homeownership opportunities for the poor would do it.

Jack Kemp was comfortable around black people and worked to try to make Republican inroads among Blacks. As a former professional football player, he had played sports with Black men and once remarked that he had showered with more Blacks than most Republicans even knew. He once remarked that he would have gladly spoken at Farrakhan’s Million Man March if he had been invited.

As one who works in a field were most of my clients and many of my peers are Black, I believe the right salesman could bring the conservative message to Blacks and win converts. While few Blacks would describe themselves as conservative, on both economic and social issues many Blacks hold surprisingly conservative views but still vote Democratic. Demographers tell us that at some not-too-distant point in the future that America will be a majority minority nation. If the Party cannot make inroads among minorities we are doomed to be a permanent minority party. Jack Kemp was on the right track but we have abandoned that quest.

Kemp could appeal to people who are not normally Republicans. Kemp was elected and served nine terms as a Congressman from upstate New York. Can anyone imagine a conservative Republican winning that seat today? As the Republican Party continues to spiral downward into insignificance, there is much talk about finding a new face and voice of the Party. I wish there was another Jack Kemp to be that voice and face. A Jack Kemp is what today’s Republican Party needs. I will miss Jack Kemp.

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1 comment:

  1. I find it rather ironic that President Jefferson is heralded as being a hero of the Democratic Party when most of his policies would be utterly rejected by the Party today, and President Lincoln is heralded as being a hero of the Republican Party when very few of his policies would be acceptable to the Party today. Alas, oh how time changes things, which makes me wonder how long it will take before the Republican Party is willing to truly embrace leaders like former Represenative Jack Kemp.