In this July 3, 1967 picture, California Gov. Ronald Reagan and his special assistant Jack Kemp discuss football in his office in Sacramento, CA. Kemp, who had been working as member of the governor's staff since February, will leave California the following week to begin training for his 11th year in pro football.
Kemp was secretary of housing and urban development under the first President George Bush and the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 1996. But his greatest legacy may stem from his years as a congressman from Buffalo, especially 1978, when his argument for sharp tax cuts to promote economic growth became party policy, one that has endured to this day.
Mr. Kemp, having embraced a supply-side economic theory, told the House that year that the nation suffered under a “tax code that rewards consumption, leisure, debt and borrowing, and punishes savings, investment, work and production.”
Ronald Reagan adopted the issue as a central one in his 1980 presidential campaign, and in 1981 he won passage of a 23 percent cut over three years. The legislation was known as Kemp-Roth, named for Mr. Kemp and William V. Roth Jr., the Delaware Republican and his Senate co-sponsor.
Mr. Kemp’s other great cause, in his 18 years in the House and for three decades thereafter, was to get his party to seek more support from blacks and other minorities.
“The party of Lincoln,” he wrote after the 2008 election, “needs to rethink and revisit its historic roots as a party of emancipation, liberation, civil rights and equality of opportunity for all.”
Mr. Kemp won his House seat in 1970 because of his celebrity as an all-star quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, twice champions of the American Football League. He connected his concern for minorities with his respect for his black teammates, especially the linemen who had protected him from pass rushers.
Vin Weber, a former congressman from Minnesota and a close friend, said Mr. Kemp would often say, “I can’t help but care about the rights of the people I used to shower with.”
Kemp was a good and decent man; certainly as decent a Republican as they came during his time in politics. However misguided his tax policy has turned out to be, he was a fine HUD secretary -- better than some Democrats.
In a letter to his grandchildren following the 2008 election, he wrote:
(A) little over 40 years ago, blacks in America had trouble even voting in our country, much less thinking about running for the highest office in the land.
A little over 40 years ago, in some parts of America, blacks couldn’t eat, sleep or even get a drink of water using facilities available to everyone else in the public sphere.
We are celebrating, this year, the 40th anniversary of our Fair Housing Laws, which helped put an end to the blatant racism and prejudice against blacks in rental housing and homeownership opportunities.
As an old professional football quarterback, in my days there were no black coaches, no black quarterbacks, and certainly no blacks in the front offices of football and other professional sports. For the record, there were great black quarterbacks and coaches — they just weren’t given the opportunity to showcase their talent. And pro-football (and America) was the worse off for it.
I remember quarterbacking the old San Diego Chargers and playing for the AFL championship in Houston. My father sat on the 50-yard line, while my co-captain’s father, who happened to be black, had to sit in a small, roped-off section of the end zone. Today, we can’t imagine the NFL without the amazing contributions of blacks at every level of this great enterprise. ...
When President-elect Obama quoted Abraham Lincoln on the night of his election, he was acknowledging the transcendent qualities of vision and leadership that are always present, but often overlooked and neglected by pettiness, partisanship and petulance. As president, I believe Barack Obama can help lift us out of a narrow view of America into the ultimate vision of an America where, if you’re born to be a mezzo-soprano or a master carpenter, nothing stands in your way of realizing your God-given potential.
Both Obama in his Chicago speech, and McCain in his marvelous concession speech, rose to this historic occasion by celebrating the things that unite us irrespective of our political party, our race or our socio-economic background.
My advice for you all is to understand that unity for our nation doesn’t require uniformity or unanimity; it does require putting the good of our people ahead of what’s good for mere political or personal advantage.
The party of Lincoln, (i.e., the GOP), needs to rethink and revisit its historic roots as a party of emancipation, liberation, civil rights and equality of opportunity for all. ...
Let me end with an equally great historical irony of this election. Next year, as Obama is sworn in as our 44th president, we will celebrate the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. I’m serving, along with former Rep. Bill Gray of Pennsylvania, on the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Board to help raise funds for this historic occasion. President-elect Obama’s honoring of Lincoln in many of his speeches reminds us of how vital it is to elevate these ideas and ideals to our nation’s consciousness and inculcate his principles at a time of such great challenges and even greater opportunities.
President-elect Obama talks of Abraham Lincoln’s view of our nation as an “unfinished work.” Well, isn’t that equally true of all of us? Therefore let all of us strive to help him be a successful president, so as to help make America an even greater nation.