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Jack Kemp, RIP

May 3rd, 2009 by Myrhaf · 1 Comment · Politics

Jack Kemp died of cancer at the age of 73. He was a huge figure in American politics in the late ’70s and early ’80s, when the Republican Party was the one with all the new ideas and the Democrats offered nothing but the same old tax and spend.

Jack Kemp said this:

When you tax something you get less of it, and when you reward something you get more of it.

He also said this:

The Constitution establishes freedom for religion, not from it.

And in those two quotes lies the tragedy of conservatism. They have some good economic ideas. Supply side economics gave us the last quarter century of prosperity that President Obama is now intent on ending. But the conservatives’ defense of liberty is fatally undermined by the altruism of their religious morality.

Any movement that believes the individual is not free of religion cannot be a movement of freedom and individual rights. Even if the conservatives argue in their politics for less taxation and regulation, their movement is destroyed in the long run by their more fundamental metaphysical, epistemological and ethical premises. It’s either-or: liberty and unreason cannot coexist.

For awhile it looked as if Jack Kemp would be the next Goldwater, but the promise of his days as a tax-cutting Congressman never fulfilled itself. He petered out, just as conservatism did — just as any party that tries to integrate religion and liberty must in the end.

(NOTE: I’m in dress rehearsals for the Redlands Shakespeare Festival. We’re opening next week. This is the busiest time in the schedule, the time of maximum stress. Posting will remain light for awhile.)

UPDATE: Slight stylistic revision.

UPDATE II: From an obit:

When he was chosen as Kansas Republican Bob Dole’s vice-presidential running mate in 1996, Mr. Kemp insisted on campaigning in America’s Spanish-speaking barrios, even though frustrated advisers kept telling him few potential Republican votes were to be found there. He did it anyway, because he thought it was the right thing to do.

The right thing to do? By what standard? Was not winning the election and sparing America a second Clinton term the right thing to do? Or was Jack Kemp’s moral preening more important than the presidential race?

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