Meet Mr. Right

An American Renaissance: A Strategy for the 1980s

by Jack Kemp
Harper and Row, 207 pp., $8.95

Jack Kemp
Jack Kemp; drawing by David Levine

The professional athlete in politics isn’t the same as a gladiator the emperor put in the Senate, but there is enough residual, last-century snobbism in us to squirm at the play-for-pay chaps getting into high places. It’s well enough to have the Throwin’ Samoan open up a ribs joint, if he ever does, or Broadway Joe pitch perfume on TV, which he does all the time, but, by God, the only first team player to reach the White House was Jerry Ford, and one of the few things to be said in the Kennedy boys’ favor is that none of them was good enough for the football varsity.

Nevertheless, you’d never know that Bill Bradley, the Senator from New Jersey, played basketball for money. In like manner, it would be a mistake to dismiss Jack Kemp, the Republican Congressman from Hamburg, New York, because it was as a professional football player that he first built up a reputation among the electorate. Kemp may soon become the leading political figure in American conservatism.

With Phil Crane’s campaign for the presidential nomination having fallen on hard times, thanks to gossip about the Illinois Republican congressman’s family and sectarian feuding among his right-wing constituency, the baton will pass to Kemp, faute de mieux, should anything happen to Ronald Reagan, a man who has been able to outlive his dubious beginnings in show business. The smallest stroke or sign of enfeeblement will finish the sixty-eight-year-old Reagan as a presidential possibility and leave forty-four-year-old Kemp as the best known and most plausible right-wing figure.

Whether or not his party will turn to him is conjecture, but the large body of opinion he speaks for is significantly different from that of the Jerry Fords and John Connallys. Nor is this simply a dispute between right and further right. The people in the Kemp camp reject the Fords and Connallys as “statists,” which is the Republican version of the Democrats who believe in using government power to intervene in the private sector. The Connallys and the Fords do it on behalf of big business, the Democrats perhaps on behalf of the poor, the black, etc., but either way, the important segment of Republicanism which might be denominated quasi-libertarian doesn’t like the idea.

They can identify with the entrepreneurial America that Kemp grew up with and that taught him incentive incites hard work, which breeds growth and success:

Before I was born, my father had sold seed to the farmers in our area of Southern California, and then after a number of years started a motorcycle sales business with my uncle. During the Depression, when, I suspect, motorcycle sales were not at their peak, my father and uncle wisely decided to branch out. They began a “same-day” service that delivered packages by motorcycle. In a few years this sideline of theirs had grown to the point that the motorcycles…

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