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.