Jack Kemp has passed away. Kemp was a longtime Republican Congressman, HUD Secretary under President George H.W. Bush, a two time presidential candidate, and the Republican nominee for vice president in 1996. In the 1960s, he was a star quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. Others can better assess Kemp’s career and legacy than I can. However, I wish to say a few words because Kemp was one of my superiors when I was an intern at Empower America during the summer of 1993. a I was a college sophomore at the time. EA was a public policy organization that Kemp co-founded with William Bennett and Jeane Kirkpatrick. My work was principally focused on school choice, which was also a major interest of Kemp’s.
There are three things I will always remember about Kemp. First, unlike most politicians I have met or heard of, Kemp had a genuine interest in ideas. His office was filled with books about politics, history, and economics, most of which had the look of actually having been read and carefully studied. He was always interested in having discussions about policy issues – sometimes even with lowly interns like me. Kemp was much more knowledgeable about policy than most public officials with far more elite educational credentials.
Second, Kemp was one of those rare individuals who is genuinely at ease with people from all walks of life. Most politicians can affect an air of friendliness when necessary. But Kemp seemed to genuinely enjoy talking about a wide range of matters with all sorts of people. He was equally at home with policy wonks, athletes, and just ordinary voters.
Third, he had a serious and longstanding commitment to school choice, enterprise zones (a longtime focus of his efforts), and other policies by which market mechanisms can be used to advance the interests of the poor and disadvantaged. This came through both in his well-known public actions and in the passion he showed for these issues behind closed doors. Many Republican political leaders have endorsed similar policies at various times, but few showed anything like the same degree of genuine commitment to them.
I did not always agree with Kemp. For example, I did not fully share his faith in supply-side economics, and I thought that he was insufficiently attentive to the dangers of excessive government spending. Kemp was also more socially conservative than I am. However, I did greatly respect him, and there are precious few other politicians about whom I can say the same thing.
In closing, I would like to extend my condolences to Secretary Kemp’s family, friends, and colleagues.