In Memoriam: Jack Kemp – His Moment Came, And Went. What About America`s?

Jack Kemp`s death last night from what seems to have been a shockingly fast-moving cancer sends a chill over an entire generation of conservatives, and not just because of the empathy for his family natural at such a tragic moment, especially for those of us who have suffered similar loss.

Like Wall Street Journal editor Bob Bartley, also an early victim of cancer, Kemp and his promotion of tax-cutting supply-side economics was integral to the Reagan triumph in 1980, the crowning achievement of the historic American Conservative Movement, a success so total that the problems that finally brought it to power, the Cold War and stagflation, are now forgotten and discounted.

And like Bartley – and like Bill Buckley – Kemp was complicit in the subsequent corruption of the Movement, its hijacking by a peculiar blend of Big Government Wilsonianism, its failure to energize its base by responding to emerging issues like immigration, and its ultimate catastrophic defeat.

Kemp`s belligerant hostility to any discussion of immigration was no doubt partly due to his being taken up by the neoconservatives. About the first time I heard his name was when Irving Kristol boosted him at a New York investment conference in the 1970s, although I also remember an equally prominent neoconservative privately telling me Kemp was “a fool”. But Kemp was just as hostile to any discussion of Affirmative Action, which the neoconservatives had done heroic work in debunking. Even in private conversation, he would peremptorily brush it aside and actually express doubt that racial quotas existed. He obviously never thought about the issue at all. I am afraid that my second neoconservative friend was right.

In Washington, like Hollywood, once you`ve been accepted into the club, it is evidently possible to make a good living without discernably doing anything. Getting accepted was the effect of, if not the motivation for, Kemp`s incessant prattle about how much he liked minorities (embarrasingly unreciprocated, on all the evidence). Kemp seems to have had a profitable time in the years after his ignominious failure as vice-presidential candidate in 1996. I am happy for him.

Two quick memories: Kemp in his Congressional office in 1979, full of energy and enthusiasm, completely unable to concentrate, with aides and visitors waiting wandering in and out like supplicants at the majlis of a Arabic sheikh. (He offered me a job and later forgot about it. It would have been a disaster for both of us).

Kemp at a Hoover Institute Washington function during the first Bush Administration, raging at George I`s betrayal of his “no new taxes pledge”, blustering to his circle of admirers that he was going to resign his post as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in protest.

He never did. But had he and not Pat Buchanan challenged George I in the 1992 primaries, he might well have stood a better chance of regicide. (Jealousy was probably why Kemp was so energetic in badmouthing Buchanan`s 1992 convention speech, originally seen as a huge success and subsequently demonized. In effect, Kemp sabotaged Bush`s only chance at re-election).

Jack Kemp`s moment came, and went. If America`s has not, it is no thanks to him.

More VDARE.COM on Jack Kemp here.

In Memoriam: Jack Kemp—His Moment Came And Went. What About America`s?


[This is an expanded version of a blog I wrote this morning on hearing of Jack Kemp`s passing. In the interim, there has been flood of uncritical obituary notices, including this one from the leftist Nation magazine:


"I knew Kemp quite well, and liked him very much…My respect for Kemp was rooted in my experience with the antiapartheid movement in the US and South Africa.  While many leading conservatives in the US were busy making excuses for the racist and antidemocratic regime in South Africa, Kemp emerged as a bold and consistent critic of apartheid."


Jack Kemp vs. the Party of No, by John Nichols, May 3 2009


It was and is the job of realists and patriots to point out that American policy has set South Africa on the disastrous path of Rhodesia/ Zimbabwe and to wonder to what extent it could happen here. (We might also ask why Kemp wasn`t equally "bold" about the Palestinians). But that won`t get laudatory coverage in the left wing media. I have no doubt Kemp was happy with the choice he made. But it rendered him, after a brave beginning, useless to his party and his country—PB]


Jack Kemp`s death last night from what seems to have been a shockingly fast-moving cancer sends a chill over an entire generation of conservatives, and not just because of the empathy for his family natural at such a tragic moment, especially for those of us who have suffered similar loss.


Like Wall Street Journal editor Bob Bartley, also an early victim of cancer, Kemp and his promotion of tax-cutting supply-side economics was integral to the Reagan triumph in 1980, the crowning achievement of the historic American Conservative Movement, a success so total that the problems that finally brought it to power, the Cold War and stagflation, are now forgotten and discounted.


And like Bartley—and like Bill Buckley—Kemp was complicit in the subsequent corruption of the Movement, its hijacking by a peculiar blend of Big Government Wilsonianism, its failure to energize its base by responding to emerging issues like immigration, and its ultimate catastrophic defeat.


Kemp`s belligerent hostility to any discussion of immigration was no doubt partly due to his being taken up by the neoconservatives, with their notorious blind spot about immigration. Indeed, about the first time I heard his name was when neocon Godfather  Irving Kristol boosted him at a New York investment conference in the 1970s, although I also remember an equally prominent neoconservative privately telling me Kemp was “a fool”.


But Kemp was just as hostile to any discussion of Affirmative Action, which the neoconservatives had done heroic work in debunking. Even in private conversation, he would peremptorily brush it aside and actually express doubt that racial quotas existed. He obviously never thought about the issue at all. I am afraid that my second neoconservative friend was right.


In Washington, like Hollywood, once you`ve been accepted into the club, it is evidently possible to make a good living without discernibly doing anything. Getting accepted was the effect of, if not the motivation for, Kemp`s incessant prattle about how much he liked minorities (embarrassingly unreciprocated, on all the evidence). Kemp seems to have had a profitable time in the years after his ignominious failure as vice-presidential candidate in 1996. I am happy for him, and now for his bereaved family.


Two quick memories:




  • Kemp in his Congressional office in 1979, full of energy and enthusiasm, completely unable to concentrate, with aides and visitors waiting wandering in and out like supplicants at the majlis of a Arabic sheikh. (He offered me a job and later forgot he had done so. It would have been a disaster for both of us).



  • Kemp at a Hoover Institute Washington function during the first Bush Administration, raging at George I`s betrayal of his “no new taxes pledge”, blustering to his circle of admirers that he was going to resign his post as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in protest.


He never did. But had he and not Pat Buchanan challenged George I in the 1992 primaries, he might well have stood a better chance of regicide. (Jealousy was probably why Kemp was so energetic in badmouthing Buchanan`s 1992 convention speech, originally seen as a huge success and subsequently demonized—Marcus Epstein tells the story here, in the context of the GOP`s exclusion of Ron Paul from the 2008 convention, unprotested, of course, by Kemp. In effect, Kemp sabotaged Bush`s only chance at re-election).


Jack Kemp`s moment came, and went.


If America`s moment has not yet irretrievably passed, it is no thanks to him.


More VDARE.COM on Jack Kemp here.


Peter Brimelow (email him) is editor of VDARE.COM and author of the much-denounced Alien Nation: Common Sense About America`s Immigration Disaster, (Random House – 1995) and The Worm in the Apple (HarperCollins – 2003)