In the first week of December, there was something called the Kemp Foundation Leadership Award Dinner. This excited conservative hearts. Paul Ryan especially excited them, I think. I saw this quoted, from his speech:
As it stands, our party excels at representing the aspirations of our nation’s risk-takers. We celebrate that part of the American Dream that involves finding your passion and making a living from it.
But there is another part of the American creed: When our neighbors are struggling, we look out for one another. We do that best through our families and communities — and our party must stand for making them stronger.
This was supposed to have been deeply wise — also novel. Me, I was thinking, “Does anyone know anyone who does more for his neighbor than Mitt Romney? Does anyone know anyone who gives more time or money?”
Has there ever been a more charitable and philanthropic candidate in the history of candidates? Goodness gracious. What’s more, has there ever been anyone more modest about his charity and philanthropy?
Let me quote the Sermon on the Mount (assuming that’s still legal in Sotomayor’s America): “. . . when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”
Think for a second about Joe Biden, whom everyone credits with great generosity and “heart.” I quote from a USA Today article published during the ’08 campaign: “The Bidens reported giving $995 in charitable donations last year — about 0.3% of their income and the highest amount in the past decade. The low was $120 in 1999, about 0.1% of yearly income.”
Here’s a line from a Politico article published in September: “Biden and his wife, Jill, gave 1.5 percent of their income away in 2011, with charitable donations totaling $5,540 out of $379,035.”
Romney, of course, is the “plutocrat” and Scrooge. Our national conception of morality is grotesque.
Back to this “middle class” business, and Romney’s supposed failings — his supposed indifference. We conservatives are schizophrenic. What I mean is this: When someone comes along talking about “compassionate conservatism,” we dump all over him. We recoil in horror. “Like freedom isn’t good enough, you big pansy? What are we supposed to do, change the nation’s diaper? Toughen up!”
Then we dump all over Romney for not being cuddly enough — for being too “capitalist.”
Republicans and conservatives are babies — maybe we need to be diapered. We’re always bitching that no politician is good enough to represent us. This is not only wrong, it’s ungrateful. We should be grateful that so fine a man as Mitt Romney wanted to throw his hat in the ring and carry the water for our sorry behinds.
Around the time of this Kemp dinner, the refrain was, “Oh, Jack, oh, Kemp, where have you gone? We need you. Why can’t today’s Republican party be like Jack Kemp?”
Let me tell you something: There was a lot to admire about Jack Kemp. But he was also a flake. Or rather, he had a big ol’ streak of flakiness. His enthusiasms could be shallow and embarrassing. In the 1990s, he was complaining that the Clinton administration was being far too beastly to that misunderstood Saddam Hussein.
And he was not so hot a politician. Could he get elected dog-catcher, outside of Buffalo, where he had been a football hero? On the 1996 ticket, he proved maybe the worst candidate in memory. Bob Dole, at the top of the ticket, who everyone says was a lousy candidate, was much, much better than his running mate. Much.
Moreover, Kemp would never run for anything — anything besides president and vice president. He would never run for senator or governor. Would never challenge Moynihan or Cuomo. Would not stick his neck out in this way. He preferred to swan around Washington, being a celebrity and whatnot.
Fine — we all make choices. I’m not exactly setting the world on fire. But Kemp as our role model? In my view, the dumped-on Romney is much the more impressive man.
I spend half my life dumping on politicians — including Republican standard-bearers, including Mitt Romney. Look what I have just done to poor Kemp, who’s long dead!
But I try to remember this: Politics is hard. Vote-getting is hard. Have you ever tried it? How many votes would you get? How many votes would any of us at National Review or National Review Online get?
We always think we know better than the men in the arena. Jack Kemp made himself an important congressman and an important national figure, and here I am, weeing on his grave. I’ve never so much as manned a phone bank.
Look: Sometimes you sell your product the best you can, and the people aren’t buying. They don’t want it. So much the worse for the people. Romney is supposed to be a “failed” candidate. In a sense, sure. I think of the electorate as failed.