The Corner

In Defense of Jack Kemp

No, he wasn’t an outstanding veep candidate. A real disappointment, actually. But something that continues to amaze me is how important he was to pulling a number of young conservatives into the movement two decades ago, back in the heyday and aftermath of Kemp-Roth (a genuine legislative accomplishment, by the way–something Edwards doesn’t have). I certainly went through a period where he was one of my favorite pols on the Right. I also recall the day Dole picked him for the veep nomination. I was at the Heritage Foundation and witnessed a profound scene of excitement. The excitement turns out to have been misplaced, but it was sincere, and it wasn’t rooted in a desire simply to win. I can’t speak with any authority on what Edwards inspires among Democrats, but something tells me it’s not much deeper than a sense that he is a ticket to power. Winning is important in politics and Edwards may yet prove to be a winner. On the national stage, Kemp was a loser–but his reputation, ultimately, was built on a substantial foundation that Edwards doesn’t even come close to having.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.

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