Jack Kemp, RIP

His enthusiasm and optimism defined what conservatism meant for the generation after Reagan. He was one of the few idealists who saw his ideas turn into practical, workable, government policies. He was a natural leader, a visionary, a tireless proponent of a kind of conservatism that has fallen out of favor recently but that still resonates with many in the Reagan generation.

Jack Kemp was not taken seriously at first. A former jock, jokes about "one too many hits on the football field" were common. But eventually, his infectious enthusiasm and the fact that a president of the United States embraced his ideas convinced even dyed in the wool skeptics of his intellectual heft.

The former Buffalo Bills quarterback, long serving Congressman, and one-time GOP vice presidential candidate died yesterday at the age of 73.

This very nice obit by Patricia Sullivan in the Washington Post has this to say about Kemp's personae:

Football experiences, including rejections encountered by black players in New Orleans for the 1965 AFL All-Star game, fostered Mr. Kemp's recognition that the GOP needed to become more inclusive.

As a Republican congressman, he defied conservatives by pushing sanctions against South Africa. As HUD chief, he put the interests of poor tenants over housing developers. And as a vice presidential nominee, he campaigned hard for African American votes his ticket had little hope of winning.

It is good to recall that when Kemp first proposed "enterprise zones" in big cities where businesses who agreed to move into distressed areas were given tax breaks and infrastructure incentives was, at first, laughed off as conservative nonsense. The fact that today, every major city has adopted the concept to one degree or another is a testament to the visionary nature of Kemp's ideas.

I met Jack Kemp back in the early 1980's as his ideas moved from the drawing board to public policy. His enthusiasm was so obviously genuine, you couldn't help but get caught up in his vision. Of all the politicians I have heard, Kemp and Newt Gingrich had the ability to inspire by the power of their ideas alone. Both of those men possessed a messianic sense of mission when it came to turning their ideas into practical policy.

A good and decent man who helped change the world is gone. Irreplaceable and irrepressible - two words that describe both the man and his ideas.