Sadly this weekend, Jack Kemp, the former football player, turned congressman, turned 1996 GOP vice presidential running mate, sadly lost his brave battle with cancer. Kemp was always an honorable and decent man of high integrity. He was also part of a vanishing breed of mainstream conservatives which are disappearing faster from the Republican Party faster than the dinosaurs.
Kemp's low tax, supply side economics became a hallmark of the Reagan presidency. If anything, this proved that government can provide a temporary stimulus to the economy by several different means, either boosting spending on projects or by a temporary cut in taxes. However, the history of this tax cut only provided a few boom years and weren't enough to maintain a strong economy during the George H.W. Bush Administration. Bush became a one-term president when the economy hit the skids during his administration, The fact of the matter is that Kemp's short-sighted approach to economics would only provide a temporary economic boost to the country. There was no real plan to provide for a long range economic growth or expansion of the economy in the plan. Yet, even today many in the Republican Party still cling to this short-sighted economic view.
Just like his own brand of short-sighted economics of which the truth was that really was very little substance actually there, Kemp was always something of a disappointment as well. At one time some fans of Kemp even attempted to brand him as some sort of a GOP version of "John Kennedy". Unfortunately Kemp was nowhere near as substantial as these beliefs of some of his fans. In his ill-fated run for vice president with Robert Dole in 1996, Kemp turned out to be a real political lightweight compared to even Al Gore in the debates as well as on the campaign trail. And Kemp wasn't above saying more than few goofy things once in a while, which made you wonder if he simply lacked good judgement, or whether he was something of a kook. The unfortunate truth might well be that Kemp was actually a little of both things.
Kemp did have a real and genuine sense of compassion towards both minorities and immigrants that you don't always see as a major trait in many GOP candidates. And as HUD Secretary, Kemp did offer up a few positive changes as well as commitment to keep the programs basically intact and certainly did not attempt to completely dismantle the agency or ax many programs as some Republican HUD officials might be inclined to do. Quite the opposite, Kemp's plans to increase home ownership by low income persons were perhaps his finest of moments, although both the White House Budget Director Richard Darman as well Congress both either opposed these proposals, and only allowed Kemp a fraction of the $4 billion he sought to fund these proposals. In the end, Kemp only was awarded $361 million for the HOPE project(Home-ownership And Opportunity For People Everywhere). Kemp's further plans to improve inner city economic conditions with some sort of economic empowerment zones also suffered in budget battles with Richard Darman as well with the competing costs of the Gulf War. Like all classic "guns vs. butter" fights, guns usually win out at the expense of more butter.
Kemp wasn't a huge success as HUD head partially due to economic constraints put on his spending plans both inside the Bush White House as well as by Congress. Further, his economic empowerment ideas never seemed to really work as well as Kemp had envisioned either, but the lower level of funding could have been part of the problem as well. But Kemp did stand out as a mainstream conservative who did at least offer some fresh new GOP answers to some of old War On Poverty programs of the Lyndon Johnson era.
The ill-fated Dole/Kemp 1996 ticket was a strange marriage of two GOP politicians who did not entirely see eye-to-eye on many things, especially many economic issues. Dole was never a fan of many of Kemp's HUD spending proposals or projects, and the two formed a far less than ideal or perfect ticket where both awkwardly attempted to seem in sync with other, but not really. The Dole-Kemp ticket fared poorly against the stronger economy with Bill Clinton, that seemed to give Clinton enough cover with most voters to overlook his character shortcomings. Kemp just wasn't as impressive of a GOP candidate on a national ticket as many had hoped.
Despite plenty of shortcomings, Kemp at least offered some fresh approaches to poverty issues not normally seen in many Republican candidates, and if only his HUD proposals had more funding, then perhaps they might have worked out better than they actually did.
Kemp was a little bit of unfulfilled potential. He was a pretty good advocate of a few new ideas, although many even in his own party did not always support them. He probably wasn't exactly as good as presidential material as many of Republicans might have thought Kemp to be either. His voice seemed to wilt during the 1996 campaign, where he was really little real help to Robert Dole, who only seemed too much like some cranky old man compared to the much younger President Clinton. It was hardly a fair race at all.
Kemp shouldn't be remembered so well for his shortcomings, as much as he was a voice for a Republican alternative version to some traditional Democratic compassion issues. And Kemp seemed to be a strong advocate for fairness and economic equality for those in poverty stricken minority communities.
Kemp's desire to put many low income people in homes, or to improve the economic climate of many ghetto inner city areas by putting people into business might have been very noble goals. But the reality was really very success stories.
It was actually far more difficult to make poverty stricken members of an inner city community into business operators than Kemp had ever dreamed. Providing jobs and business opportunities to an inner city population seemed far less successful than many minority persons simply leaving that community and living in other parts of the city where safer housing and better jobs existed. More integration of minorities seemed to do far more than some of Kemp's proposals by far. Kemp was largely idealistic, and not really always entirely realistic in some of his views.
But Kemp should be best remembered as the sort of Republican that brought respect to his party, and stands as a sharp contrast to some like Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin of today, both of which are sharp-tongued as well as short on fresh ideas. Kemp was never without new ideas, or a reasonable tone when he spoke. Compared to the shrillness of some today, that was pretty responsible. Jack Kemp also never really turned out to be the Republican "John Kennedy" other than some hair resemblance. But he was a still a far more decent GOP leader than some today. And that's certainly saying a great deal in favor of Jack Kemp.
God bless him and give comfort to his family in their hour of sorrow.
Note: Wizbang Blue is now closed and our authors have moved on. Paul Hooson can now be found at Wizbang Pop!. Please come see him there!