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The Last Moderate Republican May 3, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Arlen Specter, Jack Kemp, National Politics, Republicans.
Tags: , , , , , ,

jack-kempI was saddened today to learn of the death of Jack Kemp, 73, former Republican Congressman and Secretary of HUD.  Mr. Kemp, who represented Western New York in Congress for 18 years, died of cancer last night in his Maryland home. 

Kemp captured the heart of Western New York as the quarterback of the Buffalo Bills in the late 1960’s.  Though he was a son of California, he made Buffalo his home during and after his football career.  He is remembered as a measured Republican politician – he once called himself a “bleeding-heart” conservative – and the people appreciated his warmth to and care for his constituency.  Jack Kemp never forgot that he represented minorities, women, businessmen, and union workers.  He was a true moderate Republican voice in Washington.

I worked for Jack Kemp as a student aide in the winter and spring of 1984.  I had first registered to vote as a Liberal in 1980.  I thought it was the thing to do.  I was a pro-choice, women’s rights, no-nukes and save the whales tree-hugger in those days.  Besides, it really pissed my father off – a HUGE benefit.  As I went through college, however, I began to get caught up in the whole idea of supply-side economics.  I was a fan (then) of Ronald Reagan and I believed in all the flag-waving strong defense, anti-commie rhetoric.  I changed my registration to Republican in 1983.  I still believed in all those liberal causes – but I also thought that “trickle-down” could work; less taxes and government spending could (and to a certain extent did) spur investment and growth.  I continued to be a Republican until 2003 – when I again re-registered – this time as a Democrat.  I did it because I came to believe two things; one, supply-side economics did not work and two, the Republican party was hijacked by ideologues that wanted nothing to do with Republicans like me. 

Jack Kemp’s death coming on the heels of Arlen Specter’s defection is a metaphor for the larger death of the Republican party.  Kemp, though a true conservative supply-sider, believed that the Republican party was the “party of Lincoln” and it should “look like America”.  He believed in extending a hand to minorities and bringing them into the fold.  He believed that his economic policies would be the rising tide that lifted all boats and worked tirelessly to prove to minorities and women that it could be so.  His ideas of inclusion were so respected that Bob Dole tapped him to be his VP in the 1996 race for President. 

In today’s Republican party, Jack Kemp would be scorned and marginalized – just as Arlen Specter found himself to be.

In Kemp’s heyday, the Northeast and New England states were represented by lots of Republicans.  These were people – like me – who wanted a smaller and less expansive role for government but were pretty liberal when it came to social issues.  New Yorkers sent plenty of Republicans to the Congress in those years.  We sent Nelson Rockefeller – a liberal by many measures but also a Republican – to be Vice President.  What a difference a decade or three makes.

The New York Times reported Thursday that the debate inside the Republican party is whether to resuscitate the patient via inclusion of more moderate voices or to continue the purge of those voices that are not in complete lockstep with the party line.  So far, the hard-liners are winning – and to the party’s detriment.

“Though wise men at their end know dark is right; Because their words had forked no lightning they; Do not go gentle into that good night.”  – Dylan Thomas



1. The Last Moderate Republican - May 3, 2009

[…] Original post by Kate Ryan […]

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