Jack Kemp has often been called an optimist. It would be more accurate to say he is a man driven to make the optimists' view of America come true. He is an indefatigable (if sometimes scatterfire) seeker of solutions for the nation's problems.
In picking Kemp as his running mate, Bob Dole seeks to prove that his growth-promoting 15 percent tax cut is no campaign gimmick. Now the two have to convince the American people that the plan will really work to speed growth into the next century, not just escalate deficits and debt.
America has weathered two world wars, major depression, and the cold war by focusing full national purpose and resources on each. The knock today is that national leaders cannot unite the nation on a plan of action because there is no great cause to enlist in. That's not so.
It's true that the technicalities of preventing terrorism, protecting the global environment, and halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction are the domain of specialists. But closer to home there are two great needs to be met by uniting the nation:
1. Making sure that major segments of US society are not left behind in the global-trade, high-tech age.
2. Controlling the spiraling cost of rescuing those segments of society, in order to be ready for the sticker shock of the baby boom retirement era.
Jack Kemp has made his name as an exuberant source, and salesman, of plans to deal with the first problem - i.e., inner-city enterprise zones, ways to use the talents of immigrants.
Bob Dole has made his name dealing with the second problem.
Much - too much - has been made of the two men's economic differences. It seems likely that Kemp will help sell fresh ideas for policy and Dole will vet them for realism. That's essentially the reverse of the incumbent team, where Bill Clinton is the economic idea-spouter and Al Gore often the reality check.
Liabilities? Kemp is sometimes a stream-of-consciousness speaker - not unlike early Clinton. And his enthusiasm for affirmative action and criticism of immigration restriction are not popular with many voters.
But the American people should feel pleased. They now face a choice between two teams with serious ideas about the major needs facing the nation. Jack Kemp should make the debate over those serious ideas much more interesting.