GOP could learn from Kemp’s legacy

by Jim Longworth

I grew up in the 1950s, when being a Republican was something special. Dwight Eisenhower was recruited by both parties, but chose to run as a Republican. He was a reluctant candidate and a man of moderate means. He was a military hero who despised war and warned against the militaryindustrial complex as a corrupting influence on our political system. Under Ike’s administration, schools were desegregated and the table set for civil rights legislation in the next decade. He was a leader who harbored no ill will toward his enemies, but who knew how to stand his ground. Republicans fell into disgrace in the Nixon era, but found a genuinely nice candidate in Ronald Reagan to put the party back on track. True, Reagan took deregulation to new heights which set in motion the modern day “greed is good” philosophy, and he fell victim to the influences of cronies who helped to strengthen the military-industrial complex against which Ike warned. But like Eisenhower, Reagan held no grudges, kept no enemies lists and refused to engage in personal attacks or dirty politics. Earlier this month we lost Jack Kemp, and with him the last link to the Eisenhower/Reagan legacy of fairness, civility and strength. And, had Kemp succeeded Reagan into the White House, the Republican party would have looked much different today. Jack Kemp’s first career was as quarterback for the Buffalo Bills of the old AFL where he led them to two straight championships. Upon retiring from pro football in 1970, Kemp ran for and won a seat in Congress. There, he almost singlehandedly reformed our tax system whose top rate tumbled from 70 percent in 1981 to 28 percent in 1988. Kemp was also a crusader for minorities whose career in sports helped to shape his outlook on politics and social reform, and that meant confronting members of his own party when it came to race. Said Kemp, “I have showered with more African Americans than most Republicans have met.” It was that kind of frankness and an absence of any hidden agendas that garnered Kemp respect from people of all races, genders and political persuasions. And that brings me to where the Republican party went wrong. In1988, the GOP nominated George Bush the elder for president instead ofKemp. That was mistake No. 1, and that’s when I left the party. Bushwas the consummate Washington insider with ties to big oil, big defensecontractors and even the big Bin laden family. Bush’s only smart movewas to appoint Kemp as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development,where he set out on a crusade to promote home ownership by residents ofpublic housing. He also helped to establish Urban Enterprise Zones andgave tax breaks to inner-city businesses. He broke down a lotof barriers by adhering to one of his favorite axioms: “The only way tooppose a bad idea is to replace it with a good idea”. Kemp was on aroll, and should have been the Republican candidate for president in1996. Instead the party tapped Bob Dole simply because it was Dole’sturn at bat. That was mistake No. 2. Kemp obligingly accepted Dole’soffer to run as VP, but he couldn’t steer the party out of a dive bydriving from the back seat. Then came mistake No. 3. The GOP could havepersuaded Kemp to run in 2000, but instead it turned to George Bush Jr.The Republican party became increasingly more right wing, more whiteand more nasty. The result was eight years of corruption,civil rights abuses, incompetence, an illegal war and failed oversightof the financial industry. What’s even more frightening isthat the GOP hasn’t learned anything from its mistakes. Sarah Palin andNewt Gingrich are still touted as the frontrunners for the nominationin 2012, and the Republican party is doing nothing to broaden its tent.Jack Kemp walked the walk on inclusiveness, having once said that hisgoal was for half of all African Americans to be registered Republicanby the year 2000. As a presidential candidate or as president, he mighthave made that dream come true. No. 15’s legacy will never be forgottenby intelligent people. Too bad it was squandered by ignorant ones.

JimLongworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m.on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cablechannel 15).