Michael Gerson

The direction of Jack's career was set by two events. In the 1960s, he saw the American civil rights movement from the perspective of sports. As a quarterback and leader of the American Football League players union, he stood up for African- American teammates victimized by segregation on their travels. The experience left a deeply rooted impatience with bigotry.

For this reason, Jack criticized the failures of urban liberalism -- the high-rise horrors of the projects, the economic desolation of the inner city, the schools that betray minority students without consequence. He became the nation's leading advocate for educational vouchers, housing vouchers and enterprise zones -- applications of his philosophy of freedom to the needs of the poor. But Jack was nothing if not consistent. The same impulse led him to assert that the party of Lincoln would never be healthy or complete without the support of African- Americans -- and to oppose outbreaks of anti-immigrant sentiment among Republicans, often at political cost to himself.

The second event that shaped Jack's career was a stroke of intellectual lightning in the 1970s that became known as supply-side economics. Jack was an amateur economist of broad reading, convinced he knew exactly the way the world works. National wealth depends on productivity, which depends on low tax rates that reward work, enterprise and investment. So as a backbench congressman, he proposed 30 percent across-the-board tax reductions, persuaded Ronald Reagan to embrace them, and helped spur decades of prosperity. Some dispute this version of economic history. Yet few would recommend a return to the 70 percent tax rates and stagflation of America before Jack Kemp.

Jack's ideals and priorities never really changed over the years, as a congressman, as a Cabinet secretary, as a vice presidential nominee. This is a contrast to many Republicans, and former Republicans, who will leave no mark beyond the vague, unpleasant memory of their opportunism. Even in Jack's absence, we know precisely what he would say: You can't divide wealth you don't create. Don't punish the rich, enable everyone to become rich. Value the dreams and contributions of immigrants. Be a happy warrior, not an angry one.

But as much as we need it, we won't hear that voice again. It left a massive silence when the bleeding heart stopped.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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