In 1988, I supported Jack Kemp’s bid for President. I was moved by his energy and passion and charisma, by the powerful way he argued for individual empowerment, limiting government, privatization, and the powerful force of individual freedoms. Even then I knew that the anti-abortion stance was an inconsistency with the rest of his platform but I also picked up the vibe that Kemp was not particularly interested in prosecuting that plank of his platform; he had to mollify a bloc of voters with it and that was about all.
I was quite disappointed when he fared so poorly in the early GOP primaries, and the contest turned into a duel between George Bush (the Elder) and Bob Dole. I was excited to see him in the administration trying out new ideas in the world of social welfare and reaching out to non-traditional Republican constituencies. He still seemed like a vision of what the Republicans could look like, how they could grow and improve. Even in 1996, I’d hoped he could summon up the political strength to put on a bid for President and his selection as Bob Dole’s running mate was about the highest point in that dismal campaign for me.
I have to wonder how things could have been different had he become Ronald Reagan’s successor instead of George Bush. His domestic agenda would have been very different than Bush the Elder’s, although I think his foreign policy would have been largely the same.
Jack Kemp died last night. His death underlines, at least in my mind, the need for Republicans and conservatives to start thinking about ideas again. Kemp’s political moment had long passed, of course, but that was something he had grown to be comfortable with after the predestined failure of the 1996 Presidential campaign. Kemp was content to enjoy his family and his role as an out-of-the-game “ideas man.” Ideas were his strong suit; political machinery, not so much. Which is why he was never President — but should have been.