Sunday, May 3, 2009

Jack Kemp

The first time I saw a professional football game, back in 1965, it was the Jets at Shea Stadium, with Joe Namath, against the Buffalo Bills, with Jack Kemp. I think the Bills won. Kemp certainly had a more interesting post-football career than Namath. He was, arguably, the most important New York State politician on the national scene in the second half of 20th century. (Hillary might give him a run for the money for the 21st.) And he was the most important politician from western New York since Grover Cleveland, I think. He was one of only three New Yorkers to be a national ticket in the past sixty years (a paltry sum considering the Roosevelt-rich sixty years before) all in losing causes, Kemp in 96, Ferraro in 84, and William E. Miller in 64. Don’t speak ill of the dead—if anyone ever truly deserved the title of “compassionate conservative,” it was Kemp, who seemed genuinely concerned about the plight of the poor and minorities, and tried, with little or no success, to rekindle the affection between blacks and the Republican Party. And perhaps, some of his ideas, such as Empire Zones, helped, at least at first, more than they hurt. Certainly almost any helping hand was welcome in the 1980s, when our cities slowly started to climb out the morass into which they fell in the 1960s.

But to speak ill of the dead: compassionate conservatives are probably more dangerous than the uncompassionate ones, first, because they provide cover to the garden variety conservative who believe that anyone who is poor and black or Latino is that way because they deserve it, and because nothing is less helpful than rescuers people who encourage to jump into a safety net with a big hole in the middle. Jack Kemp will be forever associated with supply side economics, and the belief that tax cuts can pay for themselves, and that the lower the taxes, the better the economy, are two of the cardinal principles of the economic philosophy that led to the great crack-up of America, from the sub-prime mortgage crisis (related, in various ways, to compassionate conservatism) to the Wall Street bankruptcies. From what I have observed, and what I have read, Jack Kemp was a decent enough guy. But Jack Kemp came on the scene when the Republican Party was chock full of “ideas,” to turn back liberalism, and Kemp’s ideas, as much as anyone else’s over the past three decades, have gone a long way to ruin the United States of America. Or, to make a bad and by now somewhat obscure pun, "what has Kemp Roth?"

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