Ummm... This Should Not Be Happening
Justice Souter’s Retirement

John Judis: Jack Kemp. R.I.P.

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Jack Kemp. R.I.P.: Kemp, a former congressman who ran for president in 1988 and for vice president in 1996 with Bob Dole, never quite had the deep abiding ambition that it takes to become president, and the reason had a lot to do with that photograph on his wall. When Kemp grew up in Los Angeles in the 1950s, he had one ambition in life--to be a pro football quarterback. And it wasn’t obvious that he was going to succeed.

Kemp was barely six feet tall--too short to see over on-rushing linemen. He wasn’t recruited by any big college programs, and ended up starring at Occidental, a small Southern California school better known for its political science than its touchdowns. He wanted to play in the pros, but he was drafted in the 17th round by the Detroit Lions and was cut before the season began. Kemp's friends advised him to quit but he persisted.

Finally, in 1960, when he was signed by the Los Angeles (later San Diego) Chargers of the fledgling American Football League, and given a chance to star, he made up in savvy and determination what he lacked in size. In 1962, as a result of a front-office slip-up, he was waived to the Buffalo Bills, whom he then led to two AFL championships. In 1965, Kemp was the league's most valuable player....

Kemp... had very little of the cut-throat, I’ll-do-anything-to-win quality that sometimes characterizes successful politicians. He was a Reagan Republican, but unlike Reagan, he did not cultivate the façade of the happy warrior. That’s pretty much who he was. Quarterbacks don’t fit the stereotype of the dumb jock.... It shouldn’t have been surprising that Kemp ended up a conservative Republican, especially on economics. His father had built a trucking business from the ground up, and Kemp himself had succeeded in his own business of football entirely on his wits and ability. He worshipped at the shrine of entrepreneurial capitalism, and when capitalism faltered in the 1970s, he naturally looked to government as the villain, and found it in high marginal tax rates.  

But unlike George W. Bush, Kemp was really a compassionate conservative. He called himself a “progressive conservative bleeding heart Abraham Lincoln Ronald Reagan George Bush Republican.” (He included George Bush out of courtesy to his employer.)  From his own experience, he didn’t draw the conclusion that he was special, but that he was fortunate... and he spent most of his political life trying to figure out a system where everyone could succeed....

By the 1990s, Kemp had a feeling that his time was past--that the Republican party was headed in a direction that he wasn’t going to be able to follow. He liked to cite Winston Churchill--not the Churchill of the Iron Curtain speech, but Churchill the Tory who in the early 1900s quit the Tory party for the Liberals because he thought it had become too conservative. I don’t think Kemp ever considered switching parties, but he was clearly dissatisfied with his own...

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