The death of former pro quarterback and former Republican vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp at 73 of cancer yesterday almost seems a bitter irony of history — timed at a particularly pointed time.
During a week when some pundits were warning that “big tent” Republicanism was figuratively dying off, Kemp — who successfully pushed Reagan-era conservatism and the idea of supply side economics forward into the country’s political mainstream — was an unabashed, enthusiastic advocate of “big tent” Republicanism that would try to win over, convince and embrace all persuasions and races and invite them to work with – and vote for the GOP. And now he is literally gone.
His approach was the antithesis of his party’s present talk radio political culture approach which seems to put a premium on exclusion, ideological purification and, in the case of moderate Republicans, Democrats and even some independents and non-Republican moderates (branded as wishy washy or closet Democratic partisans in attempts to discredit their criticism) demonization.
Kemp was sometimes dissed as a Jackie One Note on taxes, supply-side economics and several other issues and by some as perhaps not the brightest light bulb in the conservative chandelier. But he was doggedly persistent and energetically affirmative in his efforts to seek to build a broader conservative GOP that would try to win over and embrace everyone. And today friends, foes and allies remember him.
For instance, on the site Democratic Stategist, in a long post that needs to be read in full, J.P. Green writes:
I note the passing of Republican Jack Kemp with some ambivalence about his legacy. On the one hand the Kemp-Roth tax cut arguably did more damage to America than any other piece of post-war legislation this side of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. On the other hand, Jack Kemp was a sincere advocate of interracial justice and goodwill, the last of the big tent Republicans in that regard.
….What has not been well-reported in the obits in the major rags is that Kemp also provided pivotal, perhaps decisive support for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday legislation, twisting the arms of GOP moderates and even some conservatives to support the bill. He remained a friend of Black leaders, including Coretta Scott King, even while she campaigned against the Kemp-Roth legislation.
…As Democrats, we tend to celebrate the weakening of the Republican Party because it usually adds to our numbers. But having weakening adversaries is not such a great thing in terms of keeping us honest, sharp and focused on creative policy solutions. Better in this sense to be challenged by a strong adversary.
With Kemp’s passing and Specter’s departure, however, the GOP looks even less like a Party that offers reasoned alternatives to minorities and working people and strong, principled opposition, and more like a demolition derby.
The moderate Republican Ripon Society issued this press release:
The members of the Ripon Society today mourned the death of former Congressman, Cabinet Secretary, and Vice Presidential Candidate Jack Kemp, and expressed their condolences to his wife and family upon the passing of this remarkable man.
“This is an obvious loss for the country,” stated Lou Zickar, the Editor of The Ripon Forum. “But it’s an even greater loss for the GOP. Jack Kemp reminds us of a time when Republicans were known more for their optimistic vision than their capacity for saying ‘no.’ He embodied Reagan Republicanism — positive, hopeful, always looking for the better idea, and always believing a better day was just ahead. He will be missed.”
The Ripon Society also offers THIS LINK to a Feb. 2008 Q&A with Kemp. Read it and ask: how does this compare in content, tone and problem solving suggested solutions compared to the current message and tone of today’s GOP? And ask a “switch” on an old question: Which one would Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater prefer?
Here’s a cross section of some other reaction from the new and old media:
—The LA Times has a long obit but it’s worth running this chunk:
In many ways Kemp was ahead of his time in Republican circles, calling for the party to embrace all races and ethnicities and pushing for inclusion of blacks, Latinos and Jews.
“He was viewed very much as not only the carrier of supply-side economics, going back to the Reagan days, but he was really the guy who always talked about the ‘big tent,’ ” Feulner said Saturday.
Kemp always thought about how to “add and multiply” the party, Feulner said.
Viewing himself as a neo-conservative, Kemp forged a new conservative activism among younger Republicans, breaking with the moderate old guard of the party that included George H.W. Bush, Dole and House stalwarts like Robert Michel. In the process, he became an ideological model for a generation of leaders that included future House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi.
“Jack rose to be a major national political figure and somebody considered as a presidential candidate on the strength of his personality, his drive and ideas,” Norman J. Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told The Times some years ago. “That’s not something that happens very often for House members.”
But despite his looks and charisma, he did poorly on the national stage. His economic concepts, which he sold on the stump with the zeal of a fundamentalist preacher, seemed wonkish and failed to convert voters. His campaign style was seen as undisciplined and impatient. Political analysts saw him as unwilling to play politics in a manner what would bring victory at the polls.
“If I could remove two-thirds of your knowledge and three-fourths of your vocabulary, I could make you into a decent candidate,” veteran Republican consultant Edward J. Rollins recalled telling him.
Jack Kemp has died. He was certainly influential in his time, a leading policy light of the Republican Party in an age of GOP ascendancy. But reading his name again after so long, and under current political circumstances, one may tender the melancholy thought that Jack Kemp was the future once. Tempus fugit. And R.I.P.
Kemp had the courage to move beyond the usual issues for conservatives, choosing to work on poverty and housing issues, and challenging his fellow conservatives to make conservatism work across the board. It’s one of the reasons why Kemp will be missed.
AJC mourns the passing of former Representative Jack Kemp, a cherished friend of Israel, a steadfast voice for civil rights, and a champion of the Soviet Jewry movement. The nine-term Buffalo Republican, who went on to serve as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and was his party’s vice presidential nominee in 1996, died Saturday at 73.
“Jack Kemp was a man of exceptional conscience, vision, and accomplishment,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris, who first met him nearly thirty years ago. “He was a strong and trusted friend of Jews who sought freedom from Soviet oppression, of the State of Israel and the valued U.S.-Israel relationship, and of all who yearn for a secure peace in the Middle East.”
AJC worked closely with Kemp in the course of his remarkable career in public service. He addressed the organization on several occasions.
“He was fortunate enough to lead and excel in several careers – in Congressional leadership, as a visionary in the rescue of inner cities, as a voice for change in American politics, and in international human rights, not to mention his distinguished career in sports,” said Harris.
AJC extends heartfelt condolences to Jack Kemp’s wife, Joanne, who for years served as a Co-Chair of Congresssional Wives for Soviet Jewry, and their extended family.
Sad and unexpected (to me, at least) news.
Kemp was older than I thought but, of course, the math adds up easy enough. I’m too young to remember him from his quarterbacking days but he was a major political figure from the earliest days I paid attention to public affairs.
The “Kemp-Roth” tax cuts were at the cornerstone of Ronald Reagan’s early legacy as president and his brand of fiscal conservatism and innovative ideas to spur the entrepreneurial spirit were a huge part of the Republican Party of my formative period. By 1996, when he ran with Bob Dole, has was becoming an outlier in the party because of his relative moderation on social issues like affirmative action (thus the “bleeding-heart” descriptor).
Heritage Foundation President Edwin Feulner tonight issued the following statement on the death of former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp:
“Jack Kemp was a leader – whether it was in a football huddle, a national political campaign or a policy discussion about the Austrian school of economics.
“I first met Jack nearly 40 years ago, during his freshman year in Congress. When he introduced The Jobs Creation Act – a major legislative advance of supply-side economics – I knew I had found an ally. That ally soon became my friend
“Jack was a ‘bleeding-heart conservative.’ He wanted to make it possible for every American to succeed and eagerly worked with people of all races, colors and creeds toward that end.
“Across-the-board tax cuts and ‘enterprise zones’ for blighted neighborhoods are now common economic prescriptions – especially during these hard times. But to make these ideas respectable, Jack had to fight for them constantly during his years in Congress, as Housing and Urban Development secretary, as chairman of a national tax reform commission, and during his presidential and vice presidential campaigns.
“He won those fights, and millions benefited. The tax cuts that Jack helped engineer in the 1980s gave Americans unprecedented prosperity for decades. His commission also boldly proposed a national flat tax. Those policies also helped spread freedom around the world.
“I remember standing with him in Moscow’s Red Square in 1990. The Cold War was starting to thaw, but few even suspected that the Soviet Union’s days were numbered. Jack knew. As we stood on the square, in view of the Kremlin, he pointed out an astonishing sign: The line for the new McDonald’s restaurant was longer than the line for Lenin’s tomb.
“Many people will remember Jack as a great football player – and rightly so. But he was also a great player in the world of ideas, with a mind as strong as his arm. I will miss his strength and friendship greatly.”
–-Newsbusters’s post is titled: AP’s Kemp Obit Follows Recent Pattern: Find Something (Anything) Negative, Mention Wealth of the Deceased. Read it in full.
–-The American Spectator blog has a post that needs to be read in full. It’s point is intriguing:
His many young fans held out hope his time would come. When Dole put him on the ticket as a running mate in 1996, it seemed like destiny for those of us who thought Kemp would rejuvenate the party. He would bring back Reaganomics. He would break the back of monolithic African-American support for Democrats and big government.
Instead, he lost the Vice-Presidential debate to Al Gore (truly performing with less verve than Dan Quayle in 1992, who BEAT Gore!) and the GOP ticket made way for Clinton’s second term.
After that, Kemp ceased to be the man many of us felt we were waiting for and the party has lacked a true iconic figure since that time. There was Reagan and then there was the one who would take up Reagan’s mantle. Kemp was supposed to be that man.
While Kemp failed to become the party’s leader (and, of course, the nation’s), his career was one of the most consequential in American politics in the second half of the twentieth century. Kemp was a winsome evangelist for the Reagan project in Congress when the need was great. He was part of a group that performed the near impossible in politics. They promised. They delivered.
What made Kemp different is that he had an original idea of what conservatism could be. The post-Reagan period leading up to the Contract with America was a period of intellectual ferment for the movement. Kemp led the way in advancing a conservative idea that could appeal to non-traditional Republicans, with enterprise zones and school choice lifting more of the poor into the middle class. It was compassionate conservatism — but actually conservative.
The Republican Party in the ’90s then faced many of the demographic problems it does now. Perhaps in contrast to today, there was an actual good-faith attempt made to solve those problems, led by Kemp. Building a GOP that could appeal to urban areas may not have been the most logical next step politically, but it created an ambitiousness in the realm of ideas that we lack today. In the ’90s, we were electing Republican mayors in big cities like Rudy Giuliani, Steve Goldsmith, and Bret Schundler who created a model for how conservatives could govern deep in Democratic terrain.
I wish to say a few words because Kemp was one of my superiors when I was an intern at Empower America during the summer of 1993. a I was a college sophomore at the time….There are three things I will always remember about Kemp. First, unlike most politicians I have met or heard of, Kemp had a genuine interest in ideas. ….He was always interested in having discussions about policy issues – sometimes even with lowly interns like me. Kemp was much more knowledgeable about policy than most public officials with far more elite educational credentials.
Second, Kemp was one of those rare individuals who is genuinely at ease with people from all walks of life….Third, he had a serious and longstanding commitment to school choice, enterprise zones (a longtime focus of his efforts), and other policies by which market mechanisms can be used to advance the interests of the poor and disadvantaged.
I’ve always liked Jack Kemp. Of course, I have seen him many times on television, and I heard him speak in person once or twice on college campuses back in the day (I cannot remember whether it was Princeton or Michigan). He was, like me, a big fan of the future, a believer in America’s bottomless spirit of enterprise and opportunity, and honest enough in his market conservativism to know that there are people out there who need help even to survive. Jack Kemp was a “big tent” Republican without compromising his core, and the sort of person who could revive the party today.
FOOTNOTE: As TMV columnist Tony Campbell notes HERE RNC Chair Michael Steele is increasingly showing he is no Jack Kemp.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.