Jack Kemp was the Republican Party’s happiest warrior. As a professional football player in the American Football League, he was a force that could not be denied, an overachiever who made himself a star through indomitable will. His turn with the Buffalo Bills led to his congressional career.
Representing his western New York District for nine terms in the House of Representatives, he studied economics, history, and politics. He was a voracious reader. In the House he was a maverick, at least at the outset, defying Republican fiscal orthodxy while touting the incentive effects of cuts in the marginal rates of income taxes and on capital gains.
He played a key role in persuading Ronald Reagan to support tax cuts in the 1980 campaign against Carter. In any event, Reagan supported the tax cuts that Kemp had promoted. First introduced in the House in 1977, the tax cut bill that Reagan signed in November 1981 was known by Kemp’s name along with that of the late William Roth. When the Kemp-Roth tax cuts kicked in, the long Reagan boom began.
Perhaps Kemp’s leading quality was the one recognized by the ancient Greeks as spiritedness. In Marlin Fitzwater’s anecdote of Kemps’s service in the administration of George H.W. Bush, related in Kemp’s Buffalo News obiturary, one can vividly observe Kemp’s sense of honor and love of freedom supported by his spiritedness:
Fitzwater wrote in his memoirs about a time when Kemp lunged at Secretary of State James Baker III in the Oval Office. The housing secretary was “nagging, nagging, nagging” Bush to recognize the breakaway Soviet satellite of Lithuania and Baker, the color rising in his face, screamed an epithet at Kemp, Fitzwater recalled. Kemp bounded across the furniture and grabbed at Baker’s throat. They were pulled apart to avoid a fistfight.
The death of Jack Kemp of cancer yesterday at age 73 represents a great loss for his family and our country. RIP.