Kemp was way ahead of Republicans and Southern Democrats on race. He would visit housing projects like the notorious Cabrini-Green in Chicago, a nest of poverty and gang activity that even Chicago police officers were afraid to enter. It is now in the process of being torn down and its residents relocated. Whatever replaces it should include a plaque with a tribute to Kemp.
Kemp was an idea man, not caring who got credit so long as people's lives were improved. He disliked those who demonized people on "the other side." He saw all Americans on the same side and this put him at odds with certain people in his party who made enemies out of those who held different beliefs in order to raise money and attract votes. Some had a divide-and-conquer approach. Kemp's approach was to unite for the benefit of all.
This attitude was most evident during his 1996 vice presidential debate with Al Gore. Kemp began his remarks by promising no personal attacks and pledging to conduct himself with civility. The approach angered some on the Right, who wanted blood, but Kemp was true to himself.
Kemp regarded the football teams he played against as opponents, not enemies. His politics displayed the same attitude, which is why his opponents admired him on and off the field. It is also why his funeral Friday will be held at Washington's massive National Cathedral (the service was moved from his church to accommodate the large crowd that's expected). The cross-section of attendees will be a testimony to the value of his approach to politics and to life.
Jack liked people and if there was anyone who didn't like him, he worked overtime to change their opinion.
As Republicans hold public forums on how best to rebuild their party, they could do a lot worse than consider the ideas and attitude of Jack Kemp. His approach to problem solving, not destroying opponents, ought to be the GOP's strategy for building a better future ... and a better America.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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