What Might Have Been
Jack French Kemp (July 13, 1935 – May 2, 2009)
I have always been a Democrat, even before knowing what a Democrat was, I was a Democrat. The idea that you look out for the least fortunate. The belief that everyone has a right to have a seat at the table. The philosophy that welcomes different views and perspectives. This to me is the hallmark of what I call MY PARTY.
Because I understand the importance of having opposition, the challenge from the Republicans has always been welcomed. How best to define who you are than by your opposition. In fact, as a moderate Democrat it can honestly be stated that there are aspects of the conservative movement that I can find common ground. What I can not abide by is the hypocrisy of the Republicans.
The Grand Old Party has been whittled down to a group of neoconservatives that preach the love of God, but display little of His compassion; that defends the rights of the unborn but cuts funding that serves these same children after birth; that praises Democracy but work to insure not all share in it equally. They are hypocrites. This is why I dedicate today's post to a person who could have steered the Republican Party in a different direction, Senator Jack Kemp (R-NY) who passed away last Saturday.
I remember writing about Jack Kemp in my college ethics class during President Reagan's term in office. What I admired about him was that he practiced what he preached. It seemed to me at the time that while the Reagan administration was creating a class system in America, Kemp was trying to bridge different socioeconomic classes together. I recall a friend saying Kemp would succeed Reagan as our next President. It was clear to me the Republicans had the momentum and would take the White House, but I knew it wouldn't be Kemp but Vice President Bush, Sr. Kemp was much like the earlier John McCain, too progressive for the conservative end of the party and a poor campaigner unable to get his message across. In the end Kemp would not be the successor to Reagan.
Kemp swam against the Reagan Era where the goal was to strengthen its ties to rural whites with, State's Rights and traditional values speeches. Both of which were codes for anti-Civil Rights Laws. Kemp was a conservative who believed in cutting taxes. But he also believed in the big tent where all Americans could find a place. He saw blacks as conservatives at heart and in many ways he was right. African Americans were very religious, supportive of "fair" law enforcement, and had not taken sides on the pro-choice or, gay movement. Blacks were concerned about social programs and Kemp knew that. He championed Civil Rights legislation, push to improve public housing, supported creating Enterprise Zones that would work to create jobs in urban areas. If there was a moment in time where the Republicans could have made inroads into the black community it was during the first term of President Reagan and they had the man to do it, Jack Kemp.
The Republicans didn’t see a need for blacks. They had their growing numbers of disenchanted white democrats fleeing from an ever growing liberal Democratic Party. Kemp was seen as a misguided radical. In truth, Kemp saw the future.
Today Republicans are members of a party without a message. As their tent grows smaller and smaller, they may need to look back and draw on the vision of a man who not only spoke his conviction but lived it.