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Remembering Jack Kemp – “Bleeding Heart Conservative”

In Part 1 of 2 of our special interview with both Fred Barnes and Mort Kondracke, we discuss their new book on the iconic Jack Kemp! Today’s interview is with Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, and long-time Fox News all-star panelist.


Congratulations Mr. Barnes and Mr. Kondracke on your new book, The Bleeding-Heart Conservative Who Changed America! You became a household name after consistently appearing on Fox News’ All-Star Panel on Special Report with Brit Hume. You two had debated each other for years! How did you find yourself writing a book together about, of all people, Jack Kemp?

The book was Mort’s doing and he did most of the reporting. Midway through, he asked me to join him as co-author and I agreed. It was a great opportunity. I knew Kemp very well and had written about him often.

Mort was great to work with. He is a journalist I admire and have known since we both covered the Gerald Ford presidency. We spent decades appearing together on TV chat shows. I was delighted to find that Mort converted to supply-side economics.

What three takeaways would you like readers to leave with after reading your book, and how can the legacy of Jack Kemp help us in today’s toxic political environment?

One, Kemp taught himself free market economics. Other political figures should copy him since many falsely believe that government action is the answer to economic trouble.

Two, leadership matters. Kemp put together a movement that led to a quarter century of prosperity. It was crucial that he was a dynamic actor, not just a thinker.

Three, Kemp didn’t favor outreach to minority and immigrant communities merely to aid the Republican Party. He knew they belonged in the “Party of Lincoln.” Today, a new supply-side revolution is desperately needed. That means serious income tax rate cuts, as proposed by Paul Ryan and Jeb Bush.


Would it be a fair assumption that Jack Kemp was the impetus of what would become Reagan’s Supply-Side Economics policy? And should Kemp get the actual credit for leading the congressional battles for Reagan’s big tax cut proposals in congress?

Reagan was inclined to cut taxes, but all tax cuts are not the same. So-called targeted tax cuts would not have revived the economy or America’s spirits. In addition, waiting for the deficit to shrink before cutting taxes would have prolonged stagflation.

“Growth” was Kemp’s favorite word. He always chose growth in a choice between cutting tax rates to promote growth and attacking the deficit. He persuaded Reagan to champion a particular kind of tax cut, including across-the-board reductions in income tax rates. That made all the difference. Kemp was a leader in getting those passed, but in 1981, President Reagan’s influence was even more powerful.

Jack Kemp was also a famous quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. What leadership skills do you believe he brought to the political arena from his experiences playing professional football?

The quarterback leads his team in football. He takes responsibility. He’s in charge. His teammates follow him, and must be confident the he will carry them to victory. He alone is expected to bring about a better future.

Kemp held no position of power in Congress, but he had a big idea – tax rate cuts to spur economic growth – and took charge in imposing his idea on the nation. He didn’t wait until he chaired a committee or was president. Quarterbacks don’t wait. They overpower their opponents, and implement the changes they see fit.


Many people have forgotten the 1996 presidential race where Bill Clinton defeated Bob Dole. But one of the interesting highlights of the race was Dole’s selection of Jack Kemp to be his Vice Presidential running mate, even though the two were not particularly fans of each other, and had even run against each other for president in 1988. Why was Jack Kemp selected to be Dole’s VP running mate in 1996?

Kemp was picked to balance the ticket as a younger, bolder, more dynamic running mate. Vice presidential candidates are supposed to attack the opposing party’s presidential nominee, and Kemp was ill-suited for this. He declined to carry out that task, thus failing as a running mate.

What was your favorite moment or debate you had with your co-author, Mort Kondracke, when you were both on Fox News’ All-Star Panel on Special Report with Brit Hume?

Spending. Mort thought the government should do something “nice” if it could. I believe the government ought to do only what’s necessary for prosperity and the nation’s security. I’d say Mort and I agreed on more than we disagreed. Immigration reform and support for the contras in Nicaragua are two examples of agreement.

What books, authors, or conservative-themed books, influenced your political philosophy and outlook on life?

I read Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative as a teenager and loved it. More recently, I’ve been influenced by George Gilder’s books on economics, especially Wealth and Poverty. The greatest book of the 20th century was Witness by Whitaker Chambers. Chambers saw the conflict between communism and Christianity. It was, and to some existent, still is.


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