Brit Hume referred to Jack Kemp as the “original compassionate conservative” and, as much as I have always resented that term as unnecessarily redundant and wish that George W. Bush had never coined it, upon reflection, it is probably an appropriate characterization. For Kemp, more than anyone else in public life, championed conservative economic policies for exactly the right reasons–because they are reflective of the policy underpinnings that sustain a moral economic order and they inure most significantly to the direct benefit of those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.
If there ever was a time for reflection on the central ideas of a public figure, Kemp’s passing this past week is one of those, and I am pleased that several publications have devoted space to his work, thoughts, and ideas. For those who have forgotten, he is largely responsible for the introduction of supply-side economics into public policy at the highest level, an introduction that provided Ronald Reagan with the impetus for arguably the most successful domestic policy transformation of modern times, namely the 25% income tax rate cuts of 1983. These cuts, along with sound money Federal Reserve policy and regulatory relief, freed the entrepreneurial spirit of Americans that produced the longest peacetime economic expansion in U. S. history, providing upward mobility for millions here and around the world.
I have long thought that it was a mistake that Kemp was not on the ticket with Reagan in 1980, and I certainly believe that he should have been there with Bush 41 in 1988. What a difference that could have made in convincing the elder Bush not to forsake the winning supply-side formula, a decision that surely helped defeat him in 1992.
An even bigger shame is that the Republican leadership has completely abdicated the policies that produced the prosperity and political success of the Reagan Revolution. Bush 43 certainly had enormous success with it, but scarcely a sound could be heard during the 2008 campaign in defense of supply-side, tax cut economics properly understood and, since then, the loyal opposition seems to have completely lost any courage to boldly defend the most successful economic policy of the 20th century. In one of his last op-ed pieces just weeks before election day last year, Kemp strongly urged John McCain to refocus his economic message on tax policy, particularly a flat tax proposal. Alas, it was too late, and McCain had shown little interest in, understanding of, or ability to articulate supply-side policy as an engine of economic growth and a moral underpinning of a just economic order. We await the successor to Jack Kemp to do so. RIP.