He was the most influential congressman in 50 years
Even with all the nice words being written in tribute to the late congressman and football player Jack Kemp, who died Saturday at age 73, it is easy to underestimate the man’s great positive effect on recent world history. We’ve all been told about his tax cutting and his optimism and generosity of spirit – all of it true and important – but what is missed is that the reach of Mr. Kemp’s influence extended far beyond a sunny mood and a less painful April 15.
Yes, it was Mr. Kemp more than anybody else who sold Ronald Reagan on supply-side economics. And it was supply-side economics that provided the basis for the longest peacetime economic expansion in American history. But Mr. Kemp also was trumpeting the anti-communist cause in Latin America long before it was a major conservative focus, and he was pushing for recognition of anti-communist regimes in Eastern Europe before the first President George Bush had realized that those regimes were viable. Wherever freedom showed signs of life, anywhere in the world, Mr. Kemp was there to urge moral and material support. And he was right.
I first met Jack Kemp 30 years ago in an oak-paneled room of the Wisconsin Club, a private venue for businessmen in downtown Milwaukee. He was there to address a luncheon meeting of the Pachyderm Club, obviously a Republican gathering, and I was there as a cub reporter for The Milwaukee Journal.
Kemp held forth for the better part of an hour on something he called “supply-side economics.” The audience of traditional, Midwestern conservatives looked skeptical.
They were fine with Kemp’s drive to cut taxes, especially the taxes investors pay on capital gains and dividends. They had no problem with the notion that these tax cuts would unleash freshets of capital and refresh economic growth.