We as a movement, we as a country, lost part of our heart this weekend. Jack Kemp, who we lay to rest later today, stood for so many things: The GOP and the Conservative Movement simply would not be what it is today, what it was at any point from 1980 on, without Jack Kemp. We think of “Jack” (to anyone who knew him even a little, it was always “Jack”) as a “man alive,” alive with ideas, alive in the mind, alive physically. A mover of mountains and people. As for what he’s done for the movement and party, suffice to say we are in a movement and party Jack built — he was not bigger than Reagan, but he was as close as one gets to Reagan’s level and without him, Reagan’s views of tax cuts would not have had their quarterback. We all live in the house of Lincoln, Reagan, and Jack.
He moved the party and movement from the ideas of better fiscal management to supply-side growth and pride in ownership. His lodestar was Lincoln and he, more than anyone else in the modern GOP, was responsible for reminding us of Lincoln and his legacy within the party. He lived and breathed the idea of equality and few people had the ability to reach into and bring with them so many in the minority community. When he spoke, he made you feel better about the country — he was always the optimist. And he was ever the true believer. He often would say “I truly believe this stuff,” because he did — he didn’t need talking points and didn’t use them because what he said was always from his core.
One of the great football players of all time, Jack said that was his best training for politics, and why so many of his opponents liked him so much as well. He understood what non-lethal combat was, and that an opponent was an opponent, not an enemy. Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose, but you don’t hate those you try to move the ball against. “Pro football gave me a good perspective,” he said. “When I entered the political arena, I had already been booed, cheered, cut, sold, traded, and hung in effigy.”
And he would go anywhere to make his case; no stadium was too small for Jack. He was as comfortable speaking in an urban renewal center or inner city as he was at an Aspen Ideas Festival — and his message was always the same, a conservative message of tax cuts, ownership, wealth creation, growth, and a Lincolnesque and Frederick Douglass love of America. He didn’t tailor his message — I know, I heard it a million times. He just took it to places a lot of Republicans haven’t. To sum some of this up, when he became Secretary of HUD he said they were in the middle of conducting a big study on poverty. He canceled it. He didn’t want a study on poverty, he said we don’t need to understand more of what causes poverty, we need a study on wealth and growth and how to cause more of that. He said, the more you study poverty, the more poverty will be your focus. The more you study wealth and opportunity, the more that will be the focus. Adam Smith, he said, didn’t care about the poverty of nations; he was concerned about creating the wealth in nations. Kemp wanted to know what worked, not what failed. That was his view of America, he was the original believer in and promoter of the opportunity society.
As they still ask about Reagan (“Who is the next Ronald Reagan?”) they will now ask about Jack. It was nothing short of a true honor to have been able to work with and know this giant of the 20th and 21st Centuries.