One of the biggest regrets in my political career is not participating in the 1996 Iowa caucuses. Back then, I was a freshman at St. Ambrose University in Davenport and had no clue what the caucuses even were, let alone that they were being held on a Monday night in February. I thought our primaries we held on the first Tuesday in June.
While I was politically naïve, I did plaster the back of my 1988 Grand Am with a bunch of Steve Forbes’ bumper stickers. I guess you could say that I made up for not voting for Forbes in the 1996 caucuses by working for his 2000 campaign. Missing the 1996 caucus taught me an important lesson. If you want your candidate to win, you better turn out to support him/her and encourage others to do so in at the caucuses.
I was never a big Bob Dole fan, so needless to say, I was a little disappointed that he was the Republican nominee in 1996. That changed when Dole selected Jack Kemp as his running mate. The selection of Kemp added some excitement and relative youth to the ticket, and Kemp reminded me of why I identified myself as a Republican.
Jack Kemp was an idea man. Like Forbes, Kemp also advocated for the elimination of the IRS and replacing it with a flatter, simpler, and fairer tax system. More importantly, however, Jack Kemp believed that conservatism had no limits. It didn’t matter if you were black or white, rich or poor, male or female, Kemp’s conservative message was meant for all people, and he made sure everybody knew that.
Some Republican insiders and activists are advocating that the party tone down or dilute some of the core principles that have been at the foundation of the party since the Reagan revolution. Those people have met strong opposition from the base of the party. Jack Kemp never compromised on his pro-life beliefs, but he artfully used fiscal issues to reach out and grow the Republican Party.
This past Friday, Kemp was laid to rest after losing his fight against cancer. While conservatives mourn one of their greatest leaders, the Republican Party would be wise to resurrect Kemp’s brand of conservatism. Republicans need to reach out to all Americans by offering free-market, conservative solutions to the problems we face as a country, while never compromising on the party’s core principals.
Over the past week a few Republicans have written about the impact that Jack Kemp has had on them. Christopher Rants, a possible 2008 gubernatorial candidate, wrote the following about Kemp on his web site last week.
“One of the things I most respected about Kemp was that he was always evangelizing for the GOP. He preached a message of inclusion of minorities, of economic growth and opportunity, of free-markets, of the foundation our forefather built upon the Judeo-Christian ethic in this country, of America’s role in the world as that shining city on a hill. And he preached it with enthusiasm!
Above all, I saw Jack as a unifying force within the Republican Party. Today, when our party seems to want to divide itself between social conservatives and economic conservatives, I look back and see in Jack a role model for the unification of the two wings within our party that allowed it to soar. Jack did not see the issues as exclusive of one another – but each necessary to truly make the other whole.”
Former 2nd District congressional candidate Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks also wrote about Kemp on her blog recently. Both echo the sentiments that the Republican Party would be well served to emulate Kemp’s brand of conservatism.
If there is one thing that we should take away from the icons of the conservative movement who now all of a sudden seem to be passing on, it is that they never once compromised on their core principles. Doing so may win you an election here and there on a few occasions, but it will certainly ruin the party in the long run.
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