I am really sad to learn that Jack Kemp has passed away after a battle with cancer.
I first heard of Jack Kemp in 1988, when he ran for the Republican nomination for President. In the U.S. Congress, he was one of the early proponents of supply side economics, the idea that cutting taxes would stimulate economic growth and lead to an increase in federal revenue. Saturday Night Live in 1988 had a good parody of this concept, in which the actor playing Kemp (maybe it was Phil Hartman) said: “On the Buffalo Bills, I encouraged my players to give their 100 per cent. Now if we can get the economy to give its 150 per cent, that would mean 30 per cent for education…” His approach to government was not exactly “starve the beast” a la Grover Norqhuist, but rather “you can have your cake and eat it too.”
Before entering politics, Jack Kemp played football for the Buffalo Bills. My dad actually remembers watching him play on TV!
Also, when I was a young lad developing my political beliefs, I collected autographed photos of conservative politicians. One of them is of Jack Kemp when he was Bush I’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
What I especially like about Jack Kemp was that he was an advocate of freedom and opportunity for all people, including the poor. He desired for everyone to have the liberty to unleash their creativity and full potential, while enjoying the fruit of their labors. Yes, he wanted rich investors to be able to keep more of their money, but he also favored enterprise zones, giving businesses tax incentives to locate in poor areas. Although he backtracked from his support for Affirmative Action in his 1996 run for Vice-President, he believed in giving minorities a hands-up so they could pursue their potential and partake of the American dream. And, when most Republicans were saying that we should crack down on illegal immigrants, Kemp said in an interview that he didn’t understand that sentiment, since he viewed America as a land of opportunity for all who want to make a better life for themselves. I’m not sure if I agree with his stance, but he certainly made me rethink my position on the issue (even to this day)!
Jack Kemp was a pioneer who saw some of his ideas become policy. He was responsible for the Reagan tax cuts, and Bill Clinton actually implemented and expanded the ideas that Kemp had proposed. In his 1996 debate with Al Gore, Kemp said we should have enterprise zones, and Al Gore said they already existed under Clinton.
At the same time, Jack Kemp also had ideas that weren’t exactly in the mainstream. He supported the Gold Standard, for instance. Too bad America doesn’t follow his advice on that! We had quite a bit of inflation because W. sought to print more money.
Although Kemp was solidly pro-life, he tended to focus on economics, not the social issues that the religious right values. I remember him saying in his 1996 debate with Gore that tax cuts could make people more polite. Part of me sees that as a stretch, since there are plenty of rich jerks out there. And yet, isn’t it possible for freedom and opportunity to be consistent with morality and good character? God promises in the prophets to create a world in which each person sits under his own vine and fig tree. Jack Kemp worked to make that type of society possible in America, even for those who usually lacked a piece of the pie. Yet, he desired to give people a hands-up, not a hand-out, since hard work is a part of good character and the American dream.
We’ll miss you, Jack Kemp!
UPDATE: Read Felix’s beautiful commemoration: IN MEMORIAM.