Two Men on a (Vice) Presidential Mission
Kemp Sells Moral Imperative of Capitalism
BOSTON — Jack Kemp can be found in the stories he tells of two impoverished boys.
One hails from the dilapidated hulks of Chicago public housing, the other from the rough streets of East Palo Alto in California. On the verge of adolescence, each faces the difficult and often lonely maze of temptation and peer pressure that is a young man's life in the inner city: gangs, violence, drugs.
Each is asked what they want to be when they reach adulthood.
The Chicago child, with grim uncertainty, replies, "If I grow up, I'd like to be a bus driver." The Palo Alto lad, beaming with confidence, says, "I'm going to be a marine biologist."
For the man who would be the next vice president of the United States, the difference has to do with the presence - or absence - of the private sector in their lives.
Last week, during a campaign stop in California, Mr. Kemp sat in a Menlo Park classroom beside the boy with ocean-sized dreams as he surfed the Internet. The computer was provided by the company Oracle, which runs a program to improve education in some depressed urban schools. For Kemp, such dreams exemplify what can happen when government steps aside and communities take over.
The two anecdotes also illustrate Kemp's greatest passion outside of football: the moral imperative of economic growth.
"Two children with similar backgrounds," says Sal Russo, a long-time friend and GOP strategist, who accompanied Kemp to the school. "One untouched, the other touched by a program opening up opportunities to him. Which is more likely to take drugs or join a gang? Jack feels strongly that, in a moral context, we are at risk of creating two societies, and he is committed to ensuring that the ladders of opportunity reach all people."
Perhaps more than any other Republican, Kemp has blazed a trail into the inner cities of America and reached out to troubled minority communities with an alternative vision of renewal wherein the private sector, if spurred, can create better programs than the government.
From his freshman days as a congressman representing Buffalo, N.Y., to his tenure as Housing secretary in the Bush administration, during which the department's budget doubled, he has been a passionate advocate of creating such opportunities. Now he is leading the effort to take GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole's message into depressed urban neighborhoods, where Democrats enjoy an overwhelming advantage.
Kemp sees economic growth as the key to reviving hope in the inner cities. He was a driving force in Ronald Reagan's supply-side revolution in the early 1980s, which rested on the theory that lower taxes spurred investment and prosperity at all levels of the economy. And even before Mr. Dole chose him to round out the GOP ticket, Kemp strongly urged the campaign to make tax cuts and economic growth its central message.
Kemp's passion for empowerment germinated in the streets where he grew up, the stadiums where he played professional football, and the struggling communities of his Buffalo constituents.
When Jack Kemp was a quarterback in the American Football League in the 1960s, athletes didn't make seven-figure incomes. They found jobs in the off-season. And Kemp, for one, prepared for a future after his days on the field. There were stacks of books in his motel rooms. Tocqueville and other classical philosophers at first, then Adam Smith and a library of economists. He spent four summers at the San Diego Union, writing about politics and youth. In 1967, he spent the off-season in Gov. Ronald Reagan's office.
It was part of the education of a man who knew he'd end up in government. "He'd come over on Sundays," recalls Herb Klein, who hired Kemp to work at the Union. "I'd want to talk about football. He'd want to talk about politics."
Kemp learned the economic potential of capital investment early, when his father and uncle scraped together enough money to buy a truck and start a delivery service in Los Angeles. As business grew, his father reinvested the profits, buying more trucks and employing more people. It's a simple lesson Kemp never forgot: The less government taxes, the more entrepreneurs have to work with to expand and create jobs - or opportunity - for others.
Finding a moral component in such economics took Kemp longer.
In the 1950s, when he drove trucks for his father, East Los Angeles was not as clearly segregated by ethnicity as it is today, and Kemp was exposed to a mix of orthodox Jews, Russians, and Hispanics. He noticed things like varying living standards. Later, as a football player, it bothered him that his black teammates were treated differently, or that seating in some stadiums was influenced by economic status and race. As a Republican congressman in a predominantly Democratic urban district, he saw political opportunity in advocating new ideas for hard-pressed neighborhoods.
Kemp's record, however, is mixed. As Housing secretary, he pushed the concept of "empowerment zones," a policy designed to attract companies (and jobs) to inner cities by using tax breaks. He also tried to initiate home-ownership of public housing. Both policies achieved meager results.
But his friends say these efforts reflect a single word. "Opportunity is a key word in football," Mr. Klein says. "The opportunity to move the ball, to score. He gained a strong sense of opportunity from watching his father succeed in business. The word reflects his own innate optimism."