Jack Kemp was supposed to read this column. A dinner in his honor was scheduled for next week and I had timed the column to appear just prior. The last his friends had heard, he was improving. Now it's too late.
Jack Kemp was deserving of tribute in so many ways -- as a leader, as a thinker, as a family man, and as a Christian (are you still allowed to say that?).
In 1986, when the chessboard was being arranged for the 1988 presidential race, I chose to leave my post in the Reagan White House and go to work for the most exciting political figure in the Republican Party -- Congressman Jack Kemp. A speechwriter for Jack Kemp learns many things -- superfluity being first. I'm not sure why Jack ever hired speechwriters. We all had the same experience. You labored over a 30-minute address. He would go over it and suggest changes (he once corrected my prose by telling me that it "read like an article in Commentary" rather than a campaign speech) and we would proceed to the event. Jack would mount the podium, put the speech on the lectern, and talk for 30 or 40 minutes without once referring to the text in front of him. He would pull articles out of his jacket pocket or respond to something that he heard on the news that morning. His fertile mind was always working. When I was introduced to supporters, they would say "Oh, you write Jack Kemp's speeches!" and I would reply "I write them. He seldom delivers them."
But what Jack had to say would change the Republican Party forever. An autodidact, he had studied economics and history, and became a tireless evangelist for supply-side economics. He peppered his speeches with references to "capital" and "labor" -- which this speechwriter found a little dry -- but he also preached "opportunity" and "growth," which resonated. He recognized that capitalism, and the unique opportunities it can foster, was far more important for those in the middle and at the bottom of the economic pyramid than it was for those at the top. Jack truly and deeply wanted to give people the chance to improve themselves. He had seen how it could work close up. His father had started with nothing. He borrowed money to buy one truck and eventually developed his business into a profitable trucking company. Jack wanted to distribute that kind of opportunity as broadly as possible. As the author of the Kemp/Roth tax cutting legislation, Jack became the godfather of the Reagan domestic agenda.
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