Jack Kemp, RIP
It seemed as if Jack Kemp was capable of only one speed: enthusiasm. He was as sunny and ebullient a politician as we have produced. Before anyone was talking much about compassionate conservatism, Kemp insisted that conservatives not only needed to show that they cared about the poor, particularly African Americans. He believed, devoutly, that conservatives had to be engaged with the marginalized and the left-out as a matter of principle and obligation.
Politics in recent years has often been a breeding ground for hatred. Kemp was the opposite of a hater. He was all positive energy. If there was one thing he did hate, it was racism. Over and over, he tried to get his party to reach out to African Americans -- not simply the more affluent in their ranks, but the very poor whom he really did believe would benefit from policies geared toward enterprise, including supply side tax cuts, enterprise zones and tenant ownership of public housing. He was serious about this mission when he served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
I got to know Kemp when I covered his ill-fated 1988 presidential campaign. I couldn't help but appreciate a politician who really did believe what he said and thought politics should be about ideas -- and that it should be fun.
Kemp and I profoundly disagreed on those tax cuts for the rich, as I would call them, or those marginal rate cuts, as he would call them. I thought, and still think, that supply side economics didn't work and that supply side theory was simply a rationalization for giving wealthy people tax cuts. Kemp believed with everything in him that we should cut taxes on "work, savings and investment." Over and over, he would say: If you lower taxes on the things you want, you'll get more of them.
I've regularly criticized supply side thinking, and I would periodically get scolding notes from Kemp wondering why I didn't see the light. But his scolding was in keeping with his character: those notes were always friendly, warm, hopeful. Kemp truly believed in his capacity to preach and persuade. He wanted everyone to come around. He never persuaded me, but he did convince me that he was a superb human being. Those who disagreed with him will miss him at least as much as those whose ideas he championed.
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