"You gotta have hope; mustn't sit around and mope." -- "Damn Yankees"
Sitting in the room at the Jack Kemp Leadership Award dinner last week,
listening to Senator Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, and Rep. Paul Ryan,
Wisconsin Republican and of late the GOP vice presidential candidate, I
sensed more than a generational shift in party leadership.
It was a "back to the future" moment as the mostly, but not exclusively,
conservative gathering considered the optimism that defined Kemp, the late
Buffalo congressman, former vice presidential candidate, HUD secretary and
enterprise zone promoter. At my table were two African-American
Republicans who answered the familiar question about how Republicans can
win a larger percentage of the minority vote. "Just show up," said one,
who works as a Republican staffer on Capitol Hill. The other nodded in
Kemp showed up, visiting public housing and other places Republicans often
refer to disparagingly. Shootings sometimes occur there, you know, and
drugs. You hear about it on the local news.
When Rubio spoke about these forgotten (by Republicans) Americans, the
waiters paused for a moment to listen. Rubio mentioned his parents who
came to America with little and worked in the "service industry" so they
could provide for their children, who have turned out well.
Rubio's message was an appeal that goes beyond cable TV sound bites and
white America. Kemp didn't view America in categories. Neither did he
identify them with hyphens. He saw the potential for one America in which
race and class would be complementary, not divisive. If Republicans are
looking for an example of how this works out practically, they can rewind
to the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans where more black
people attended a Kemp reception than were visible among delegates in the
Republicans remain nostalgic for Ronald Reagan, perhaps the most
optimistic president in Republican history. Even in his final "letter to
the American people," announcing he had Alzheimer's disease, Reagan spoke
of his great love for this country and his optimism for its future. That
optimism was catchy. Reagan ignited faith in the American people that
they, better than government, could improve their lives.
Zig Ziglar, who died last month at age 86, was one of the best
motivational speakers in that genre. Ziglar could fire up an audience with
his "Born to Win" seminars and "Success Rallies." This Ziglar zinger is
one that Republicans should adopt: "You can get everything in life you
want if you will just help other people get what they want."
Republican principles work, but they must be shown to work, not just
talked about, if they are to be embraced by people who now reject them
because Republicans don't "show up" like Jack Kemp did. Too many
Republicans are known for what they oppose, not for what they propose. For
too many, the power of positive thinking has been turned into the weakness
of negative thinking and opposition to the liberal agenda.
Jack Kemp once told me, "You don't beat a thesis with an antithesis; you
beat it with a better thesis." That must be the "new" Republican theme if
the party wants to secure future victories. Jack Kemp understood this. I
sense Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan do, too. Kemp, after all, was Ryan's
mentor and inspiration.
Moses led the ancient Israelites out of Egypt, not by looking back, but by
pointing the way to a "Promised Land." Republicans can do the same. Kemp
and Reagan would agree.
Johnny Mercer wrote, "You've got to accentuate the positive. Eliminate the
negative Latch on to the affirmative, don't mess with Mister In-between."
Republicans need to start "singing" from this songbook. Hope and a
positive attitude are the keys to anyone's success, including a political