Remembering Jack Kemp

After working in Jeff Bell’s campaign during the summer of 1978 (as well as interning with the state GOP), I importuned Kemp’s folks and secured an internship in DC for the Fall. Every Thursday and Friday, off to DC on the rickety old local, to room 2244 (or was it 4422?) RHOB. Kemp was something of an icon among College Republicans; he attended numerous meetings throughout the DC area and always tarried after speaking to mingle with awestruck teens. He brought passion and enthusiasm to politics, as well as a willingness to chat on policy with any 19 year-old who wished to engage.

The office, of course, featured many reminders of his previous vocation, including Pat Summerall’s daughter as his receptionist. One picture in particular stood out: a defensive lineman about the size of a truck towering over, and apparently about to squish, a cringing, diminutive QB.

Interns, generally, enjoyed little face time with The Boss, but toward the end of my brief tenure, the student union at JHU decided to run a fund-raising auction and asked each student group to donate some object to the enterprise. As an officer of the College Republicans, it fell to me to secure an autographed football from the erstwhile quarterback.

I chose an inauspicious day. It seems that the Democrats, then in control of Congress, had placed the Kemp-Roth tax cut up for a vote. Unsurprisingly, the measure failed – when do Democrats ever cut taxes? – and when Kemp stormed back to the office after the vote, he was in a somewhat aggrieved mood; the only time I ever saw him agitated. Pursued by members of the Fourth Estate eager for a quote, he turned at the threshold and bellowed, "your taxes are going up!!" and retreated to his sanctuary. Fine thing; I have to impose upon him for his signature TODAY? Great.

So, tremulously, I approach the Congressman, ball in hand, and ask him, meekly, if he would mind signing. Tonic, apparently. His eyes lit up and he removed the ball from its cardboard box, happily signed it, and then spent about 15 minutes demonstrating how to spike it so that it always came right back into your hands, and throwing perfect spirals through three sections of the office a fraction of an inch under the top of the doors to a receiver (me) not even remotely as adept as the passer.

Kemp brought as much enthusiasm to politics – the politics of freedom – as he did to his game. He would have made a fine president himself. He brought the only excitement to an otherwise tedious 1996 campaign. He understood the power of ideas, the power of freedom, and – to quote a supply side author – he understood "The Way the World Works". The ideas he advanced, adopted by Ronald Reagan, helped produce one of the greatest economic expansions in history.

Now, as we, as a country, embark down precisely the opposite path – increasing taxes, massive borrowing, huge debt, astonishing spending, unconscionable irresponsibility – it will become increasingly obvious that Kemp was right, and that Obama and the left are wrong. Kemp understood that freedom produces prosperity, and he proved it. Now, obviously, the GOP needs more dynamic, articulate, passionate advocates for freedom to soldier on, in the face of adversity, so that, someday, we will speak of the present dark days as akin to 1978: merely the socialist dark before the free and prosperous dawn. Remembering Jack Kemp