Jack Kemp wasn’t a political figure for as long as I’ve been interested. I was barely in grade school when he ran for vice president, and he had already run for president by the time I was born. But all the liberals I grew up talking about politics with adored the man. They disagreed with him on next to everything, sure, but for people whose political convictions are rooted in the belief that government has a role to play in ending economic injustice, there were few Republicans more honestly engaged in trying to end poverty and save our cities than Jack Kemp. John Judis explains better than I can:
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 in his circumstances, and he spent most of his political life trying to figure out a system where everyone could succeed. He was the original champion of enterprise zones – free trade, tax less havens in impoverished areas that could spur investment and jobs for the poor and unemployed. At HUD, he championed vouchers for housing and fretted about the homeless. Measured in his commitment to the job, he was, perhaps, the best secretary of housing and urban development ever.
May he rest in peace, and may the party he worked for remember that fighting for the poor can be something that transcends ideology.