Read the obit in the Buffalo News today. It’s a great picture of a great man. Unfortunately, he was somehow eclipsed by lesser men. But that’s not why I’m writing this belated note of appreciation for Jack Kemp. And let me note that I wanted him to be Reagan’s VP nominee in 1980 and 1984 and supported him for President in 1988 and 1996.
There are two notes in the obit that capture the Jack Kemp I appreciated and supported…
The first, he left his ego somewhere far away from where he was.
In his pro career, he sustained a dozen concussions, two broken ankles and a crushed hand — which Kemp insisted a doctor permanently set in a passing position so that he could continue to play.
“Pro football gave me a good perspective,” he was quoted as saying. “When I entered the political arena, I had already been booed, cheered, cut, sold, traded, and hung in effigy.”
He was the rare politician who focused on conservative issues and their impact on society rather than himself. And he was passionate about his core values – and unlike the people who’ve passed for leaders in the Republican Party since Reagan he actually HAD core values.
Dole’s more sober demeanor contrasted sharply by Kemp’s high-spiritedness, which was recalled in various accounts, including one by Marlin Fitzwater, Bush’s press secretary.
Fitzwater wrote in his memoirs about a time when Kemp lunged at Secretary of State James Baker III in the Oval Office. The housing secretary was “nagging, nagging, nagging” Bush to recognize the breakaway Soviet satellite of Lithuania and Baker, the color rising in his face, screamed an epithet at Kemp, Fitzwater recalled. Kemp bounded across the furniture and grabbed at Baker’s throat. They were pulled apart to avoid a fistfight.
Jack, we miss you. We’ve missed you for a long time. Rest in peace.