The Reagan revolution might never have occurred without the leadership of Jack Kemp. His co-sponsorship of the Kemp-Roth capital-gains tax cut in 1978 opened the door for Reagan’s supply-side tax-cut message of the 1980 presidential campaign. Pres. Jimmy Carter led that race early on, but Reagan took the lead in the polls once the shape of his tax-cut plan became well known.
At every turn, Kemp was an unwavering advocate of tax-rate reductions to stimulate economic growth. He also believed in the little guy, and he was able to carry his tax-cut message to the blue-collar voters in Buffalo, New York. He rejected the notion that Reagan’s tax-cut strategy favored the rich, and he recognized — as did President Kennedy — that a policy of tax-rate cuts “raised all boats.”
The former pro-football player also was a diligent student of the supply-side game plan. Kemp spent many hours with economist Arthur Laffer, learning exactly how tax-rate cuts for the rich actually increase tax revenues from the rich. It was a testament to Kemp’s supply-side credentials that he was asked to join the Dole presidential ticket in 1996. (Dole sorely lacked those credentials.)
In 1982, during the heyday of the supply-side movement, I had the opportunity to introduce Jack Kemp to a group of institutional investors at an Art Laffer conference in Washington. Kemp’s personal history and achievements were well known to the attendees, and this fact led me to a somewhat unusual introduction. After taking the podium and telling the audience who I was, I said simply, “Here’s Jack.”
Kemp was taken aback by my brevity, and he said so in his initial remarks. And as he went on to detail how the Reagan tax-cut program would result in an economic boom, I started to get the feeling that I made a big mistake. I didn’t give Kemp his due by reciting his many successes within the supply-side movement.
It wasn’t until a couple years later that I realized I had made the right call. One night I found myself watching Billy Crystal emcee the Academy Awards. Throughout the show Crystal heaped lengthy praise on actor upon actor. Yet after one interminably long commercial break, Crystal changed gears for his next introduction: He simply looked into the camera, smiled, and said, “Here’s Jack!”
Of course, Crystal’s “Jack” was Jack Nicholson, one of the foremost actors of our time. But I felt vindicated. For me, as for Crystal, there was only one Jack.
— Thomas E. Nugent is executive vice president and chief investment officer of PlanMember Advisors, Inc., and principal of Victoria Capital Management, Inc.