Thursday, January 08, 2009


Here's hoping Jack Kemp can jump-'n'-pass back into good health

I can't tell you how quickly my heart sank when I learned that Jack Kemp is battling what is probably a pretty aggressive cancer. I became a confirmed Jack Kemp fan after watching his speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention. An uplifting and inspiring speech -- "[Republicans] don't believe compassion should be measured by the size of the safety net, but by the number of rungs on the ladder of opportunity" -- I remember thinking at the time, "Too bad Kemp couldn't be the GOP's nominee."

Sometime in early 1993, I procured a signed copy of Kemp's An American Renaissance in a used bookstore in Clarksville, TN. I read the thing three times through over the course of about four days. It was at that time that I started identifying myself as a "supply-side conservative," which I continue to do to this day. (For a time in the late 1990s, I would only wear Jack Kemp-style "snap-collar" dress shirts.)

Kemp's book, which was published when Jimmy Carter was president, was a foreshadowing of what would happen in the 1980s: he said cutting marginal tax rates would ensure economic growth (true), and he said a full-bore effort to strengthen the U.S. military would eventually end Soviet adventurism (true). Oh, and for good measure, Kemp suggested that there should be a total reform of America's welfare system (which would eventually take place, when a GOP-led Congress forced the issue on President Bill Clinton).

I was one of the happiest sombitches on earth when Bob Dole picked Jack Kemp to join his presidential ticket in 1996. I was bummed that Kemp didn't run for president himself in '96, but I figured he'd be first in line to be the next president if Dole got elected that year. The Dole campaign - as we all know - never took off, and the VP debate that year was a complete disappointment. Kemp, who'd never been known as a hyper-partisan sort, brought kid gloves to his fight with Veep Al Gore and was almost too respectful during the debate. Gore, by comparison, shed his gloves about three lines into his opening statement, and he more or less accused Dole and Kemp of wanting to turn America into a right-wing dictatorship.

As disappointed as I was in Kemp's '96 debate performance, I had by then developed a deep respect for him for co-founding Empower America, a public policy outfit that published heavily-footnoted essays in which it was suggested that supply-side, free market principles could be used to solve social problems. Empower America proposed Enterprise Zones -- which would encourage the creation of small businesses with promises of low-to-no taxes and little regulation -- to revive American. In addition, Empower America was big supporter of charter schools and vouchers. And let me tell you, my fellow College Republicans couldn't keep enough Empower America materials on hand; indeed, EA's glossy brochures and stickers were the first to be snatched from our membership-drive tables.

If you read the whole of Jack Kemp's Wikipedia entry you'll think that he's a liberal - due to his many statements over the years in which he's expressed sympathy for the poor and for racial reconciliation - masquerading as a conservative. It's always been a canard that conservatives don't care a whit for what happens to poor folks and minorities; but, as Kemp has pointed out in the hundreds of op-eds he's penned over the years (practically all of which I've read), just handing out checks ain't gonna help nobody. America should be constructing ladders of economic opportunity, with supply-side, pro-growth fiscal policies. Which brings me back to that 1992 speech ...

Get well soon, Jack Kemp. My prayers are with you.

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