The Prophet of Positivism

Jack Kemp wasn’t a particularly good vice presidential candidate. He was a happy warrior, which made Bob Dole’s sourpuss more pronounced during his losing effort to gain the White House.

But Kemp was a prophetic leader of the Republican Party, whose efforts to expand the party base are all the more significant today.

Yes, Kemp pushed for tax cuts, and his supply-side philosophy would later become criticized as “trickle-down” economics. But Kemp never pushed to cut taxes because he wanted to help the rich. He pushed for tax cuts to help the economy grow, which in turn would help the poor.

As an NFL football player, Kemp understood better than most Republicans the value of relationships with all kinds of people, and especially with black Americans. He continuously preached in favor of civil rights, affirmative action, and for an honest dialogue on race.

I don’t think that affirmative action works in the long run, but I value Kemp’s thought process when it comes to reaching out to expand the Republican base to include more African-Americans.

It was Kemp who often said that poor America needed not a handout, but a hand-up. And it was Kemp who called himself a bleeding-heart conservative.

All too often, Republicans preach the gospel of tough love, with a special emphasis on tough and with the love part pretty much forgotten. That leaves them vulnerable to being called the party of the rich (even though most rich people are Democrats these days).

The irony, of course, is that if the Republican Party spent time thinking about it, they could come up with a pretty good anti-poverty program. It would include education reform, with an emphasis on accountability; criminal justice reform, aimed at making the streets safer; enterprise zones (first dreamed up by Kemp) to inspire more investment in impoverished areas; and housing reform, an idea first championed by Kemp.

But Republicans have all too often decided that since black people don’t vote for them, there is no percentage in tackling poverty. Of course, that is a losing strategy, because if one part of our society is rotting away, it infects the rest of our society eventually, either through crime, drugs or urban blight.

Kemp understood all of that. He was a happy warrior, and he was a prophet of positivism. He will be missed by all.

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