I know Jack Kemp. Well, “know” loosely.
Back in 1996, Kemp headed out on the campaign trail with Bob Dole as Dole’s Vice Presidential pick. For those of you who don’t really remember that time period well, Kemp did for Dole what Palin did for McCain among conservatives — excited a conservative base distrustful of the then Senate Majority Leader.
Never mind the gold standard business. Kemp was tax cuts, liberty, and free enterprise zones.
In the summer of 1996, Kemp came through Macon, Georgia. Being Chairman of the local College Republicans, the Dole-Kemp campaign asked me to drive in the motorcade. In a pre-9/11 world, I got to drive the lead car behind the limo — chief of staff and press secretary in the car.1
Kemp came off the plane aloof and focused. After a few hours riding around in the car, eating at the Bear’s Den (where I’ll have to go this week in his honor), and pounding the pavement downtown, Kemp transformed into one of the guys. He was as nice as he could be — and had I been more mature at the time, I’d have noticed how much trouble he was for Dole too.
Kemp wasn’t afraid to speak his mind and call a dumb idea “dumb.” His press secretary and chief of staff were raising hell because Kemp wouldn’t keep to the talking points, not that they disagreed with him. Kemp wanted to talk freedom — freedom for small business owners like the guys who owned Cassidy’s garage, freedom to go to the school of your choice, freedom in general. It was and is a message that resonates.
I got to chat with Kemp that day and after. He remembered me even though he did not have to. In fact, in 1994, I’d written Kemp to tell him I thought he was misguided on his opposition to California’s Proposition 187. He wrote back and expressed his concerns that the opposition to illegal immigration, which he largely shared, would tarnish legal immigrants. He was adamant in his opposition and argued on grounds of freedom. In any event, in 1996, he remembered me.
I’ve run into Kemp since starting RedState. We are acquaintances, not friends. But growing up overseas in the 80’s, Kemp was one of the guys I followed. He was instrumental in passing Reagan’s freedom expanding tax cuts. It was cool to one day drive in his motorcade and even cooler to know that he knew who I was and knew RedState.
Kemp was a mighty warrior for freedom. We’re losing too many of those these days and not replacing them. I suspect Kemp would have given Jim DeMint’s op-ed in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal a ringing endorsement because Jack Kemp never wavered from the idea that freedom wins.
Hon. Jack French Kemp, Member of the United States House of Representatives for the State of New York, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Republican Vice Presidential Nominee. Requiescat in pace.
Funny side story here. I called my friend Christy from the mini-van I was driving. “You’ll never guess what I’m doing,” I told her excitedly. “What,” she asked. “Driving in Jack Kemp’s motorcade!,” I proclaimed. “Wow,” Christy replied. “That’s really cool. Who is Jack Kemp?” I deflatedly explained it all to her. About that time, my roommate, who I recruited into also driving, tapped on my window as we were stopped at the Bear’s Den while Jack went in to eat fried chicken.
“Erick,” Brian said. “This is impressive. Is this guy running for office or something?”
A few years later I got the chance to tell Kemp those two stories. He replied, “The Dole camp probably wanted to know if I was running for office too.” And yes, the Christy in this story is now my wife.