Last night, Jack Kemp, who served as a Congressman, HUD Secretary, and as Bob Dole’s Vice Presidential candidate in 1996, succumbed to cancer. His loss is keenly felt at a time when the Right is seeking to overhaul its intellectual leadership infrastructure in order to adapt and respond to the Obama era. Patrick Ruffini explains:
What made Kemp different is that he had an original idea of what conservatism could be. The post-Reagan period leading up to the Contract with America was a period of intellectual ferment for the movement. Kemp led the way in advancing a conservative idea that could appeal to non-traditional Republicans, with enterprise zones and school choice lifting more of the poor into the middle class. It was compassionate conservatism — but actually conservative.
The Republican Party in the ’90s then faced many of the demographic problems it does now. Perhaps in contrast to today, there was an actual good-faith attempt made to solve those problems, led by Kemp. Building a GOP that could appeal to urban areas may not have been the most logical next step politically, but it created an ambitiousness in the realm of ideas that we lack today. In the ’90s, we were electing Republican mayors in big cities like Rudy Giuliani, Steve Goldsmith, and Bret Schundler who created a model for how conservatives could govern deep in Democratic terrain.
Now, more than ever, intellectual leadership of the kind Kemp provided is needed in order to ensure that the Republican party is a force to be reckoned with both in rural and urban areas. It is also needed to revitalize the small-government movement. Kemp helped give voice to that movement during the rise of Ronald Reagan to political prominence and in the course of helping the Reagan Presidency become the successful and consequential force that it became. Those who take up his mantle will be the ones who help bring the Republican party back from the aftermath of two consecutive national election losses. Would that Kemp were here to help them.
Requiescat in pace.