Jack Kemp, 1935-2009


When Jack Kemp — the former Buffalo Bills star, Congressman, HUD Secretary, and Republican Vice Presidential candidate, who died of cancer this weekend — was derided at a function as a mere football player, his daughter retorted, “My daddy wasn’t a football player: He was a quarterback.” Kemp was a natural extrovert and born to lead, though his great accomplishments outside of football (he was a seven-time AFL All-Star and led the Bills to two league championships) came in supporting roles, but these he performed with the ebullience of a man who knows the crowd is with him. Representing western New York in Congress, he became convinced that tax-cutting was the tonic his economically moribund country needed, and successfully drove those policies for the Reagan Administration. As the first Bush’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, he spent much time in the field, rallying politicians and citizens to “enterprise” policies meant to give HUD’s failing charges a stake in their own futures. As is often the case with Republican tickets, he was the ideological half of the Dole-Kemp team that ran unsuccessfully in 1996, but fulfilled this part more cheerfully than most. (“Reagan was sunny,” said National Review‘s Richard Brookhiser; “Kemp was a perpetual solar flare.”) In his later days Kemp sought to conciliate between Republicans and Democrats, and sometimes between Republicans, ever convinced that in common sense there was common ground. If the tributes you read today from his former opponents are warmer than you might expect, given the savage nature of our politics today, it’s not only traditional respect for the recently departed that motivates them.

Photo (cc) Ray Gronberg.