04 May, 2009

What a difference a decade or two makes

Now that Jack Kemp is gone, everyone's talking about what a great guy he was, a credit to his party—and, tsk tsk, what a shame it is that the Republican Party of today doesn't have room for people like him. I agree.

But of course I agree. Unlike most of the writers singing Kemp's praises today, I turned a lever for Kemp in the voting booth. That doesn't mean that I agree now with ever stance he ever held, nor that I agreed then with every stance that he held then. Likewise the vote I cast for McCain last year, or the money I donated to Lieberman four years prior: politics should be about finding someone to stand with, not to stand against, nor to hope in. In Kemp's case, I found myself attracted to his optimistic belief that market forces could be directed to help the poor. So I once turned a lever for Kemp as vice president, and I'm proud of it.

A few years earlier, I had a subscription to American Heritage magazine, and remember receiving an issue whose cover advertised an interview with him inside that turned out to be great. Of course I remember almost none of it, but I did enjoy it.*

Funny thing: I vaguely remember what people said about Kemp during that electoral campaign, and what people wrote in letters to American Heritage magazine. I remember more the tone than the actual substance, and the tone sounded a lot like what people said about McCain and/or Palin last year. Indeed, a casual Google search turns up 80s- and 90s-era articles from Time and the Times that associate Kemp with the "extreme" or "far" right wing. What a difference a decade or two make!

Today, instead, I read a left-wing writer's assertion that Kemp was possibly the best secretary of Housing and Urban Development ever.** You might think that's not a high bar, but considering that housing and urban development are supposedly Democratic priorities: think how many Democratic Presidents have had the chance to put their party's best and brightest in control of a department. As if to prove my point, the Clinton appointee who succeeded Kemp at HUD eventually left office in a cloud of scandal. Kind of like most of the Clinton administration, come to think of it.

As for Kemp, God rest his soul.

* The one quote I remember: "We had a great history, and we turned aside," he said, referring first to the Republican Party's work to liberate slaves, then to its dereliction of its duty to solicit votes from freedmen and other minorities.

**See the comments to that article for some evidence of what the press used to say about Kemp in an earlier day.

1 comment:

Clemens said...

Think what they will say when John McCain dies... in about 20 or 30 years.