Monday, May 4, 2009

Quarterback Jack

Jack Kemp, a longtime pro-life advocate, Vice-Presidential hopeful, and member of the Reagan Revolution, passed away over the weekend.

Kemp was originally known as a NFL football player and parlayed his success there into a career as a New York congressman. In Washington, Kemp maintain a consistent pro-life record and served a term as housing secretary for President George H.W. Bush.

Kemp became a hero for both pro-life and economic conservatives and a large segment of the pro-life movement hoped he would become the Republican presidential standard-bearer. Eventually, he made it onto the national ticket as Bob Dole's running-mate against pro-abortion President Bill Clinton in 1992. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called Kemp "one of the nation's most distinguished public servants. Jack was a powerful voice in American politics for more than four decades." Kemp's name remains on the Kemp-Kasten amendment, an anti-coercion population control provision that prohibits funding of any groups that engage in or support forced abortion programs.

Here is the latest on Kemp's passing from "National Review":

A Democrat tells the story. Some time in the 1980s, there was a big GOP bash in D.C. The Democrat (a neighbor) watched the glittering elephants arrive, one of them being Jack Kemp, who, alone among the guests, stopped to chat up the cops on duty outside before going in. He did it with the manly bonhomie of an ex-jock and the ease of a born politician. Oh, no, thought the Democrat gloomily, another Republican with the common touch.

The other Republican the Kemp-watcher had in mind was Ronald Reagan, and the two men’s careers were intertwined. As a young congressman from the suburbs of Buffalo, Kemp was instrumental in converting Reagan to supply-side economics in the late 1970s. He backed Reagan in the 1980 election and backed his program to the hilt in the House — more strongly, sometimes, than Reagan himself. Many conservatives (including the editors of this magazine) saw him as Reagan’s heir.

Kemp was an autodidact. He focused on sports in his early life, becoming quarterback of the Buffalo Bills in the old AFL. Yet he nourished a nascent interest in politics by reading, reading, reading — WFB, Ayn Rand, economics, history. He honored ideas with the fervor of a young lover. His second passion, equal to his devotion to tax cuts, was his concern for black advancement. This was part conviction, part experience: As his friend Newt Gingrich liked to say, Jack had showered with people that most Republicans never meet. Kemp believed that the party of Lincoln had to regain its role as the champion of black America. The welfare state had not completed the civil-rights revolution; free-enterprise programs targeted at the inner city (such as enterprise zones) would do the trick instead.

Kemp never completed the touchdown drive of his career. When he sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, he was squeezed between Vice President George H.W. Bush and the Rev. Pat Robertson. Bush tapped Kemp to be his secretary of housing and urban development, where he served loyally even after Bush abandoned the tax-cutting gospel. When Bob Dole tapped Kemp to be his running mate in 1996, it came as a shock — Kemp already seemed emeritus — and indeed his campaign did the ticket no good and him little credit.

He had his flaws: a vein of pep-talk oratory that bled and bled; a tendency to pat himself on the back for his racial views (the wages of virtue can be as corrupting as the wages of sin); an indifference to the effects of 25 (and 35, and soon 45) years of unrestricted immigration, legal and illegal. But he was a bright and earnest man, and a great friend of NR — and did anyone else ever have his enthusiasm? Churchill said that being with FDR was like having a glass of champagne. Being with Jack Kemp was like chugging a can of Red Bull. How could someone so alive be gone? And yet it is so. R.I.P.

Kemp also wrote a letter to his 17 grandchildren following the election of Barack Obama:

A Letter to my Grandchildren
November 12, 2008

Dear Kemp grandchildren -- all 17 of you, spread out from the East Coast to the West Coast, and from Wheaton College in Illinois, to Wake Forest University in North Carolina:

My first thought last week upon learning that a 47-year-old African-American Democrat had won the presidency was, "Is this a great country or not?"

You may have expected your grandfather to be disappointed that his friend John McCain lost (and I was), but there's a difference between disappointment over a lost election and the historical perspective of a monumental event in the life of our nation.

Let me explain. First of all, the election was free, fair and transformational, in terms of our democracy and given the history of race relations in our nation.

What do I mean?

Just think, a little over 40 years ago, blacks in America had trouble even voting in our country, much less thinking about running for the highest office in the land.

A little over 40 years ago, in some parts of America, blacks couldn't eat, sleep or even get a drink of water using facilities available to everyone else in the public sphere.

We are celebrating, this year, the 40th anniversary of our Fair Housing Laws, which helped put an end to the blatant racism and prejudice against blacks in rental housing and homeownership opportunities.

As an old professional football quarterback, in my days there were no black coaches, no black quarterbacks, and certainly no blacks in the front offices of football and other professional sports. For the record, there were great black quarterbacks and coaches -- they just weren't given the opportunity to showcase their talent. And pro-football (and America) was the worse off for it.

I remember quarterbacking the old San Diego Chargers and playing for the AFL championship in Houston. My father sat on the 50-yard line, while my co-captain's father, who happened to be black, had to sit in a small, roped-off section of the end zone. Today, we can't imagine the NFL without the amazing contributions of blacks at every level of this great enterprise.

I could go on and on, but just imagine that in the face of all these indignities and deprivations, Dr. Martin Luther King could say 44 years ago, "I have an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in mankind." He described his vision for America, even as he and his people were being denied their God-given human rights guaranteed under our Constitution.

You see, real leadership is not just seeing the realities of what we are temporarily faced with, but seeing the possibilities and potential that can be realized by lifting up peoples' vision of what they can be.

When President-elect Obama quoted Abraham Lincoln on the night of his election, he was acknowledging the transcendent qualities of vision and leadership that are always present, but often overlooked and neglected by pettiness, partisanship and petulance. As president, I believe Barack Obama can help lift us out of a narrow view of America into the ultimate vision of an America where, if you're born to be a mezzo-soprano or a master carpenter, nothing stands in your way of realizing your God-given potential.

Both Obama in his Chicago speech, and McCain in his marvelous concession speech, rose to this historic occasion by celebrating the things that unite us irrespective of our political party, our race or our socio-economic background.

My advice for you all is to understand that unity for our nation doesn't require uniformity or unanimity; it does require putting the good of our people ahead of what's good for mere political or personal advantage.

The party of Lincoln, (i.e., the GOP), needs to rethink and revisit its historic roots as a party of emancipation, liberation, civil rights and equality of opportunity for all. On the other hand, the party of Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and now Obama must put forth an agenda that understands that getting American growing again will require both Keynesian and classical incentive-oriented (supply-side) economic ideas. But there's time for political and economic advice in a later column (or two).

Let me end with an equally great historical irony of this election. Next year, as Obama is sworn in as our 44th president, we will celebrate the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth. I'm serving, along with former Rep. Bill Gray of Pennsylvania, on the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Board to help raise funds for this historic occasion. President-elect Obama's honoring of Lincoln in many of his speeches reminds us of how vital it is to elevate these ideas and ideals to our nation's consciousness and inculcate his principles at a time of such great challenges and even greater opportunities.

In fact, we kick off the Lincoln bicentennial celebration on Wednesday, Nov. 19, in Gettysburg, Pa. The great filmmaker Ken Burns will speak at the Soldier's National Cemetery on the 145th anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. On Thursday, Nov. 20, at Gettysburg College, we will have the first of 10 town hall forums, titled "Race, Freedom and Equality of Opportunity." I have the high honor of joining Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., Professor Allen Guezlo and Norman Bristol-Colon on the panel, with Professor Charles Branham as the moderator.

President-elect Obama talks of Abraham Lincoln's view of our nation as an "unfinished work." Well, isn't that equally true of all of us? Therefore let all of us strive to help him be a successful president, so as to help make America an even greater nation. is an independent site and is not affiliated with any official web sites, associations, or organizations associated with President Reagan. Any views expressed or content included on this site do not necessarily reflect the views, positions, or opinions of any of the organizations or individuals named, linked, or advertised.

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