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Archive for May 3rd, 2009

Jack Kemp, RIP

jjSeems only fitting that as the Republican Party does its best to become a permanent minority party that one of the men most responsible for the GOP’s towering successes of the 80s and 90s passes from the scene.

I met Kemp several times over the years, interviewed him several more and in retrospect he was a tragic character. Jack Kemp really believed that if he just poured a little more enthusiasm into his arguments for low marginal tax rates, for removing roadblocks from entrepreneurs, for high-quality public schools, for the opportunity society he believed was America’s gift to the world, then the gate-keepers and the side-dealers would come around to his views.

Such stubborn naivety was wholly organic to a man who had hacked a record-setting pro football career out of toughness and willpower much more than any physical gifts. I also firmly believe that Kemp’s sports background laser-cut his belief in a level playing field allowing the talents of all contributors to rise to the very top.

In many ways Kemp was the true heir to Ronald Reagan, but he resisted the crown. Kemp’s 1988 presidential campaign was hampered by audibles from the old quarterback which diluted his message and opened the door for Bush the Elder. Talk about an inflection point in American history.

Even though Kemp would go on to serve as Bush’s HUD secretary and Bob Dole’s running mate in 1996, the intellectual energy had been sapped from Kemp’s ideas. His was just another set of competing interests within the GOP rather than its organizing principle. Kemp seemed to accept this fate, although he would still rise to preach his gospel on occasion.

Changes in politics and culture mean the Republican Party will not produce another Jack Kemp, a man equally comfortable preaching freedom and risk-taking to black, blue-collar workers or white, suburban CEOs. And because America is doubtful to see another politician like him, Jack Kemp will be so sorely missed in the years ahead.

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May 2009
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