Saturday, May 2, 2009

Jack Kemp, 1935-2009. R.I.P.

Former quarterback, Republican Congressman, Presidential aspirant, Cabinet member and Vice-Presidential candidate Jack Kemp has died of cancer. He was 73. It was announced that Kemp had cancer back in January although he had apparently been battling the disease for some time.

After bouncing around with several NFL teams, the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL and the Los Angeles Chargers of the AFL, Kemp found a home with the Buffalo Bills. Kemp led the Bills to 2 AFL championships in 1964 and 1965. He would win the AFL MVP in 1965.

Kemp became politically active during his football career volunteering on both Barry Goldwater's Presidential campaign in 1964 and Ronald Reagan's gubernatorial campaign in California in 1966. So Republicans in Buffalo knew Kemp was no political novice when they approached him to run for Congress in 1970.

Kemp was a champion of supply-side economics. When conservatives speak of the Reagan tax cuts they owe a certain amount of gratitude to Kemp, who along with William V. Roth, Jr, co-authored the legislation that brought about tax cuts in the 1980s. If there was ever a time we could have used Jack Kemp now would surely be it.

The tax cuts gave Kemp considerable gravitas and for a time he was seen as someone to whom Reagan would pass the torch. However, his bid for the Republican nomination in 1988 was unsuccessful finishing a distant fourth behind George H.W. Bush, Robert Dole and Pat Robertson.

However, Kemp was still an important figure in the Republican Party and Bush appointed Kemp as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Kemp, who often described himself as a bleeding heart conservative, was a strong advocate of establishing enterprise zones in poor neighborhoods and tenant ownership of public housing.

Some expected Kemp to make another bid for the White House in 1996. Although he did not do so he ended up on the Republican ticket anyway. Bob Dole named Kemp as his running mate despite Kemp's earlier endorsement of Steve Forbes. However, the Dole-Kemp ticket never caught fire and Bill Clinton and Al Gore were easily re-elected to a second term in office.

Kemp never again sought elected office but remained an influential figure behind the scenes. In January 2008, Kemp endorsed John McCain and along with Phil Gramm would advise him on economic issues. In one of his last public acts, Kemp would write an open letter to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and other conservative talk radio hosts were unwilling to get behind McCain when Mitt Romney suspended his campaign in February 2008.

In light of President Obama's creep toward socialism the contributions of Jack Kemp to supply side economics and free market conservatism deserve a second look. It would be perhaps the best tribute we could pay him.

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