"THE PURPOSE OF POLITICS IS NOT TO DEFEAT YOUR OPPONENT AS MUCH AS IT IS TO PROVIDE SUPERIOR LEADERSHIP AND BETTER IDEAS THAN THE OPPOSITION." —JACK KEMP
The late 1970s were miserable for America. It was the post–Vietnam, post–Watergate era, a time of high unemployment, ruinous inflation, gasoline lines, Communist advances, and bottomed-out U.S. morale. In the 1980s, it all turned around: "stagflation" ended and nearly two decades of prosperity ensued. The Soviet Union retreated, then collapsed. America again believed in itself. And around the world, democratic capitalism was deemed "the end of history."
Ronald Reagan’s policies sparked the American renaissance, but the Gipper’s leadership is only part of the story. The economic theory that underpinned America’s success was pioneered by a star professional quarterback turned self-taught intellectual and "bleeding-heart conservative": Jack Kemp.
Kemp’s role in a pivotal period in American history is at last illuminated in this first-ever biography, which also has lessons for the politics of today. Kemp was the congressional champion of supply-side economics—the idea that lowering taxes would foster growth. Even today, almost no one advocates a return to a top income tax rate of 70 percent.
Kemp didn’t just challenge the Democratic establishment. He also encouraged his fellow Republicans to be growth (not austerity) minded, open their tent to minorities and blue-collar workers, battle poverty and discrimination, and once again become "the party of Lincoln."
Kemp approached politics the same way he played quarterback for the Buffalo Bills: with a refusal to accept defeat. Yet he also was incapable of personal attack, arguing always on the level of ideas. He regarded opponents as adversaries, not enemies, and often cooperated with them to get things done. Despite many ups and downs, including failed presidential and vice-presidential bids, he represented a positive, idealistic, compassionate Republicanism.
Drawing on never-published papers and more than one hundred Kemp Oral History Project interviews, noted journalists Morton Kondracke and Fred Barnes trace Kemp’s life, from his childhood through his pro football career to his influential years as a congressman and cabinet secretary.
As the American Dream seems to be waning and polarized politics stifles Washington, Kemp is a model for what politics ought to be. The Republican party and the nation are in desperate need of another Kemp.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
MORTON KONDRACKE served as the executive editor and columnist for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call and was the Washington bureau chief of Newsweek and a senior editor of The New Republic. He was a regular commentator on the Fox News Channel, a panelist on The McLaughlin Group, a cohost of The Beltway Boys, and a columnist for The Wall Street Journal. He conducted the Kemp Oral History Project and held the Jack Kemp Chair in Political Economy at the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress. He contributes a blog, Pennsylvania Avenue, for Roll Call. His book Saving Milly was a New York Times bestseller.
FRED BARNES is the cofounder and executive editor of The Weekly Standard. He was the national political reporter for the Baltimore Sun from 1979 to 1985, then senior editor and White House correspondent for The New Republic for ten years. He was a McLaughlin Group panelist from 1984 to 1998. He is a political commentator on Fox News and was a cohost, along with Morton Kondracke, of The Beltway Boys on FOX News. He is the author of Rebel-in-Chief: Inside the Bold and Controversial Presidency of George W. Bush.
Read an Excerpt
Jack Kemp was the most important politician of the twentieth century who was not president, certainly the most influential Republican.1 No one has yet written the story of his impact on America and the world. His life and legacy need to be recognized—and that’s starting to happen. In this era of political bleakness, both Republicans and Democrats are citing him as a model of what politicians ought to be. That is one of the four reasons why we have written this book.
Above all, Jack Kemp merits a prominent place in American political history because he was Congress’s foremost advocate for supply-side economics and the man who steered Ronald Reagan toward adopting it. Hence, he deserves partial credit for not only pulling America out of the deep malaise of the 1970s but also for helping to win the cold war and convert much of the world to democratic capitalism.
The ’70s were a dismal decade. It was the era of stagflation—simultaneous high unemployment and soaring inflation. And also of geopolitical reverses: it was the post–Vietnam era, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan; its Cuban allies advanced in Africa and Central America; and revolutionary Iran held Americans hostage for 444 days. And it was an era of bottomed-out national morale—its nadir when President Carter blamed the acquisitiveness of the American people for the country’s seemingly incurable ills.
In the 1980s it all turned around. The “misery index” (unemployment plus inflation) fell from 23 in 1980 to 7.7 in 1986.2 The Soviet empire retreated, tried to reform itself, and then collapsed. Among American citizens, satisfaction with the condition of the country rose from a low of 12 percent in July 1979 to 69 percent in June of 1986.3 And around the world—especially in Eastern Europe, but also in Latin America and Asia—democratic capitalism was deemed to be “the end of history.”
Jack Kemp was at the center of the great turnaround. He did not invent supply-side economics: the combination of lower tax rates, particularly on individual income, and a stable dollar. That was the work of two young economists, Robert Mundell, later a Nobel Prize winner, and Arthur Laffer. But once converted by journalist-agitator Jude Wanniski of the Wall Street Journal, Kemp became the leading political evangelist of the supply-side movement. Lowering tax rates, he argued, would create incentives for work, savings, and investment—and produce booming growth in a way that Keynesian public spending programs had not. His tax bill—Kemp-Roth, a three-year, 30 percent across-the-board cut borrowed from John F. Kennedy’s 1963 proposal—became the vehicle for the supply-side revolution.
Kemp’s enthusiasm for supply-side economics was contagious, and he spearheaded a national movement that amounted to both a political and intellectual revolution in economics. In Congress, senior Republicans resented the presumptuous backbencher, still in his forties, who was treading on tax turf. They also doubted his economics. But junior Republicans unhappy with their party’s lack of vitality joined Kemp’s campaign—among them the future Speaker Newt Gingrich, the future Senate majority leader Trent Lott, future senators Connie Mack and Dan Coats, and longtime party leader Vin Weber. Kemp forged links with policy thinkers in Washington and New York, including Irving Kristol and Mundell, and Robert Bartley, editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal. Kemp’s office and living room became scenes resembling graduate seminars where the Washington‒New York nexus came together for debate, but with major policy change as its aim. That aim was achieved; Kemp-Roth became official party policy in 1978. Even GOP graybeards who had previously scorned him signed on.
Then he recruited Ronald Reagan, who made Kemp’s proposal a centerpiece of his 1980 presidential campaign and, once elected, the basis of Reaganomics. The Reagan tax cuts of 1981 and 1986—reducing the top rate from 70 percent to 50 percent, then 28 percent—set off an economic boom that lasted into the 2000s.
The achievements of the 1980s were mainly Reagan’s, but their economic underpinning was Kemp’s. No Republican politician of the twentieth century who was not president transformed the country the way he did—not Henry Cabot Lodge, Robert Taft, or Nelson Rockefeller. Earl Warren did, but as chief justice, not as governor of California. Nor did any Democrats except possibly Hubert Humphrey, the leading early advocate for civil rights, and Edward Kennedy, author or bipartisan coauthor of dozens of health, education, and civil rights laws.
Our second reason for writing about Kemp is that he embodied a spirit sorely missing in today’s politics—in both parties. Kemp was positive, optimistic, idealistic, energetic, growth- and opportunity-oriented. He was incapable of personal attack and negative campaigning, even when it cost him. “The purpose of politics,” he said, “is not to defeat your opponent as much as it is to provide superior leadership and better ideas than the opposition.”4 He criticized liberals and Democrats, but also “green-eyeshade,” austerity-minded, “Herbert Hoover” Republicans. His criticisms were always based on their ideas and policy proposals, never their motives or personal flaws. He believed—as he said again and again—that “ideas change history.” He wanted to change history for the better.
He wanted his own party to once again be “the party of Lincoln.” Even before very conservative audiences, he argued that the GOP should again become the “natural home of African-Americans,” as it had been from Lincoln’s time to Franklin Roosevelt’s. He insisted it could happen if Republican policies brought growth and prosperity to inner cities. It was unrealistic, probably romantic. But it was sincere. It was famously said of him that as a pro-football star, he’d “showered with more African-Americans than most Republicans had ever met.” He lamented that his party had been largely absent from the civil rights movement and regarded the “Southern strategy” to win white votes at the expense of blacks a “disgrace.”5
Kemp believed in what he called the American Idea—that the Declaration of Independence was a universal document, that everyone everywhere deserved the right to advance as far as his or her talent and effort would lead. The American idea was Kemp’s version of Lincoln’s bedrock principle that the “right to rise” was the central idea of the United States and applied to black slaves as well as white workers.6 And like Lincoln, he believed it was the job of government to enable people to achieve their aims and remove obstacles—especially, in Kemp’s view, high taxes.
We hope this book will inspire—or embarrass—present-day politicians to see there is a better way to conduct their business. To fight, yes, but over ideas for making America better. And to search for common ground to solve America’s problems and secure a future for every citizen.
Our third reason for writing this book is simply that Jack Kemp led a fascinating, inspiring life. His father, Paul, was his model of entrepreneurial capitalism. His well-educated mother, Frances, was his cultural and intellectual spur. They both were Christian Scientists, which produced in Kemp a lifelong optimism, a faith that thinking positively can change the future, that failure is never final, that “when one door closes, another opens.”
Kemp grew up a sports fanatic, deciding at age five that he wanted to be a professional quarterback. By will and determination, he overcame repeated obstacles and became one, a star quarterback, first for the San Diego Chargers, then the Buffalo Bills. He remained a quarterback in mentality all his life. He was a natural leader, the captain of nearly every team he ever joined and president of the American Football League Players Association. In the turbulent 1960s, he fostered racial integration of AFL teams and cities. He never stopped applying lessons from football to life and politics—quarterbacking as capitalism, the huddle as cooperative endeavor, booing as no big deal, the next play as the chance to win.
He was a physical education major and a mediocre student at California’s Occidental College, but he became a self-taught intellectual—deeply read in economics, an expert in defense and foreign policy, and an avid consumer of history books, especially biographies of his heroes Lincoln and Winston Churchill. After Reagan won the presidency, Kemp became the number three leader of House Republicans. He was a Reagan loyalist but had the courage to oppose his president—and took heat for it—when he thought Reagan was being led astray on economic and foreign policy.
In 1988, he was deemed by many to be Reagan’s natural political heir. He ran for president urging voters to join him in “the progressive, conservative, radical, revolutionary Lincoln Emancipation wing of the Republican Party.”7 He finished a distant third behind conventional Republicans George H. W. Bush and Bob Dole. As Bush’s housing secretary, he fought a losing battle to make the plight of the urban poor a national priority. He also could not resist meddling in foreign and economic matters not in his portfolio. His fellow cabinet members were not amused.
After Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1992, Kemp started out as the clear favorite of the party faithful for 1996. But he lost support by opposing California’s anti-immigrant Proposition 187 in 1994 and otherwise flouting conservative Republican orthodoxy. He passed on running. Then he was plucked from near obscurity by Dole, his long-standing foe, to run for vice president. But he couldn’t do what number twos are expected to do—attack the opposition. Bill Clinton’s ethics, personal and political, were a ripe target, but in debate with Vice President Al Gore, he whiffed.
The Dole-Kemp candidacy was doomed in any event because the president was popular and peace and prosperity reigned. But Kemp made a statement late in the race in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that summarized his experience and mentality:
“Wow, almost forty years ago, I started my professional career with the Detroit Lions as their third-string quarterback. And they said I would never make it. I came from the wrong schools. I was too short. I threw too hard. I was too optimistic. I didn’t have it. I tell you what. I never gave up. I got traded, sold, hurt, cut, booed, knocked out, but I never gave up. Bob Dole in his career never gave up. . . . Bob Dole and Jack Kemp are fighters. We believe in the American dream.”8
Personally, writing this book has given us the opportunity to revisit our experience as journalists. Barnes, who became a conservative in the 1970s and was a close friend of Kemp’s foremost journalistic booster, columnist Bob Novak, got to know Kemp in 1981. Curious about what supply-side economics was all about, he traveled with Kemp to Buffalo for a weekend and scarcely got to ask a question. Kemp talked nonstop, determined (as always) to make a convert. Thereafter, Barnes interviewed Kemp numerous times, got close to his staff, and wrote dozens of articles about him, his favorite issues, and his political prospects, first in the BaltimoreSun, then in the New Republic. He and his family became friends of the Kemps as well. His wife, Barbara, still attends Joanne Kemp’s weekly Bible study meetings, and his daughter, Karen, was active in Kemp’s presidential campaign in Virginia in 1988. She was slated to attend the Republican National Convention, but didn’t after Kemp lost the state’s primary.
Kondracke, once a liberal (though not very), was pitted every week against Bob Novak on TV’s McLaughlinGroup and was a longtime supply-side skeptic who thought Reagan’s admitted economic successes were the result of Keynesian deficit spending, not tax cuts. Kondracke knew Kemp, admired his “bleeding heart” predilections and obvious sincerity, and wrote about him intermittently for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. Then, in 2011, he was retained by the Jack Kemp Foundation to conduct more than a hundred recorded interviews for its Oral History Project. He then spent two academic years holding the Jack Kemp Chair in Political Economy at the John W. Kluge Center for Scholars at the Library of Congress researching Kemp’s career. He’s read Kemp’s words and seen him through the eyes of fellow football players, staff members, congressional and cabinet colleagues, other journalists, and the Kemp family.9 All of which has deepened his respect, especially for Kemp’s courage in bucking his party and even his president, his inclusiveness, and his refusal to see politics (in Newt Gingrich’s phrase) as “war without bloodshed.” Kondracke asked numerous interviewees how it was that this competitive star, playing one of America’s most violent sports, wouldn’t “hit” a political opponent. The repeated answer was: “Because he was a quarterback!”
Finally, and most important, we have written this book because we believe that America is in trouble, perhaps more deeply in trouble than in the 1970s. And we think that Jack Kemp’s spirit—and his policy ideas—could again help the country turn around.
The American Dream is dimming. Workers have the right to rise, but they are not rising. The median income of American households in 2013 was 8.7 percent below what it was in 1999 after climbing by 20 percent during the ’80s and ’90s.10 At the same time, workers’ contributions toward health-care premiums have risen almost four times faster than their wages.11 People born in the lowest fifth in income distribution have just a 9 percent chance of reaching the top fifth, showing no improvement over the past thirty years. And there has been no progress in fifty years in closing the wealth gap between whites and minorities.12 As the economy recovers from the Great Recession, 95 percent of the nation’s income gains have been reaped by the top 1 percent of earners.13 Meantime, while the official unemployment rate has dropped, the underemployment rate has recovered much less.14 And millions have dropped out of the labor force.
The slowing of economic opportunity has deleterious psychological, social, and political effects. In 1992, 41 percent of Americans were confident that their children’s lives would be better than theirs; in mid-2014, only 21 percent were optimistic. A CNN/ORC (Opinion Research Corporation) poll showed 59 percent believed “the American dream has become impossible for most people to achieve.”15 Whether it’s a cause or an effect, America’s social capital is also flagging. The out-of-wedlock birthrate, heavily correlated with a life of poverty, has doubled since 1980.16
In a speech to the 1979 International Longshoremen’s Association convention, Kemp said that “in a stagnant or contracting economy, politics becomes the art of pitting class against class, rich against poor, white against black, capital against labor, Sunbelt against Snowbelt, old against young.”17 The increasingly savage polarization of American politics today is at least partly the result of citizens’ fear and anger that “others”—“the 1 percent” or “the 47 percent”—are profiteering at their expense.
This polarization makes it impossible for Democrats and Republicans to solve other deep problems: an immigration system that everyone agrees is “broken”; an education system that costs double per pupil what it did in 198118 yet produces high school graduates only a quarter of whom are ready for college;19 infrastructure ranking nineteenth in the world;20 a health-care system that costs more per capita than any country in the world except Switzerland’s;21 and a gross federal debt already 103 percent of GDP, nearly as high as at the end of World War II,22 and destined to climb as the baby boom generation ages.23
We do not doubt that poor leadership is heavily to blame for the country’s condition. Good leadership turned a bad situation to good in the 1980s. But it’s not obvious who can provide it today. We hope today’s would-be leaders will try to follow Kemp’s example.
Conditions are different from those in the Kemp era. Kemp could be careless about the size of the national debt and he opposed nearly every effort to reform entitlements or reduce benefits. For much of his career, he thought the supply-side formula—reducing marginal tax rates and returning the dollar to the gold standard—would guarantee growth, prosperity, and hope. Until he was HUD secretary, he believed in John Kennedy’s dictum, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Then he became convinced that “some boats are stuck on the bottom” and can’t rise without government help.
We suspect we know some of what Kemp would favor now—for certain, “family friendly” tax reform; lowering rates for individuals, capital gains, and corporations; eliminating special interest loopholes but providing generous credits for families with children and expanding the earned income tax credit for the working poor. At times he called for making workers’ payroll taxes deductible from their income taxes. He was and would be for education vouchers to give families maximum choice in selecting their children’s schools. He did and would favor comprehensive immigration reform that offered a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants with clean records. He always backed expanded free trade. He would continue advocating a new gold standard.24 He would have persisted in favoring enterprise zones and vouchers to enable the poor to find housing in the private market. He would certainly urge his party to promote growth, not austerity, and be concerned with the advancement of all Americans, not just the GOP base. He was a “big tent” Republican, ever urging expansion of the party’s appeal.
He would surely oppose the big government, Keynesian drift of the increasingly liberal Democratic Party, which deems high-tax, rich-benefit, and highly regulated European social democracies as model societies in spite of their chronically high unemployment rates.25 Kemp said that the goal of Lincoln’s Republican Party was not “the construction of a safety net under which people should not be allowed to fall, but . . . of a ladder upon which people can climb.” He said, “Yes, we need a safety net, but it should be a trampoline, not a trap. And, right now, it’s a trap.” The measure of compassion of the party of Lincoln, he said, “should not be how many people need help, but how many people do not need to be on government assistance because they’re now on that ladder of upward mobility that Lincoln called the desire to improve one’s lot in life.”26
Kemp opposed the impulse of liberals to redistribute wealth rather than create it and to disparage those who get rich rather than see them as entrepreneurs and job creators. But he was equally dismayed at the tendency of some in his own party to exclude blacks, Hispanics, union members, the poor—and the tendency to award subsidies and tax breaks to wealthy interests while imposing austerity on the less favored. When Reagan’s deficit-obsessed budget director, David Stockman, sought to raise taxes on beer and gasoline, Kemp demanded, “Dave, if we truly face a ‘budgetary Dunkirk,’ why are food stamps, AFDC, Medicaid and Head Start touchable, but not Exxon, Boeing and Gulf Oil?”27 Had he been alive, he would have asked the same in 2014 when House Republicans attempted to reduce food stamp spending but maintained crop subsidies for rich farmers.
Kemp had his flaws. He was undisciplined and impatient. He could not force himself—or be forced by aides—to make a short speech, and it hurt him politically. He mystified audiences with references to obscure historical figures and lost them with lectures on the gold standard. He overpromised when asked to help GOP candidates, driving his schedulers crazy. He was chronically late and sometimes reckless behind the wheel trying to make it to events or airports. He barked at aides and blamed them when something went wrong, then made up (usually without apologizing). He played one staff member off against another—evidently to maintain control. His loyal congressional staff worked around it.
He was mistaken on some key issues, especially policy toward the Soviet Union. Reagan, much wiser than nearly every international affairs “expert,” understood that the Soviet Union was fundamentally weak and could be defeated if pushed hard enough. He also wanted to bargain with adversaries, though only from strength. Reagan proved more of an optimist than Kemp, and also more of a pragmatist. And he won the cold war.
But Kemp’s virtues far outweighed his faults. He was passionate about ideas—relentless, in fact, to the point that members of Congress sometimes hid to avoid his lectures and importuning. He held no grudges and had no enemies, thinking there was no one he couldn’t convince if he worked on them long enough. On the football field, he looked at opponents—“the people who tried to knock my head off on Sunday”—as friends. His political adversaries were “opponents, not enemies.” A close friend, ex-education secretary and drug czar Bill Bennett, once told him, “Jack, if you believed in original sin, you’d be president.” Kemp did not believe anyone was a hopeless sinner.
Above all—and this is the main reason we have written this book—he was positive, optimistic, and in the best sense of the words he used to describe himself, “progressive,” “populist,” “radical,” “conservative,” and “liberal minded.” He thought large: about changing the whole basis of U.S. economic policy, fiscal and monetary; about government as “the Good Shepherd” leaving no lamb to be lost; about spreading freedom and prosperity around the world. His was a spirit that barely survives in the mean politics of the present day. We hope this book will help change that.
In the San Diego Chargers’ second game of the 1962 season, Jack Kemp, the team’s quarterback, threw an eighty-yard touchdown pass. As he released the ball, he crashed his hand onto the helmet of a blitzing defender, severely dislocating the middle finger of his right hand. Kemp kept playing and put the finger back in place between plays, but the injury turned out to be serious, requiring doctors to fuse the finger’s main joint. When the doctor asked how he wanted it, Kemp told him to bend it in the shape of a football so that he could keep on passing. He had a “football finger” for the rest of his life.1
Kemp’s finger wasn’t the only part of him that was permanently devoted to the quarterback position. His whole personality and leadership style, whether on the field or in the Capitol, would forever reflect his time in team leadership. Years after his football career was over, his GOP adversary Bob Dole referred to Kemp as “the Quarterback.” Dole didn’t mean it as a compliment. He was implying that Kemp was a dumb jock, out of his league making tax policy, Dole’s specialty. In fact, Kemp was anything but stupid or uneducated. In a deep sense, though, Dole was right. A quarterback is who Kemp was and always wanted to be—from his childhood through his career, and all the way to the end of his life.
The quarterback uses his brain as much as his body. The quarterback is the leader. He has a vision of how victory will be won. The quarterback calls the plays—or at least did so in Kemp’s day, the 1950s and 60s—and then executes with the help of ten teammates. A team’s success or failure depends more on the quarterback than any other player. “He never denigrated other positions,” said Kemp’s son Jeff, also a pro quarterback. “He knew you needed everyone. . . . But he also said that someone has to take the risk, someone has to step up, someone has to cast the vision, someone has to have confidence when others are faltering or worried or fearful.”2 Whether on the field or in the Capitol, Kemp aspired to be that person.
The seeds of that destiny were planted in Kemp’s childhood. He was born in 1935 in Los Angeles to Paul and Frances Kemp and grew up in the Melrose neighborhood, next door to Hollywood, along with three brothers—Paul Jr. (seven years older), Tom (five years older), and Dick (four years younger).
Paul Kemp was a quiet man. He quit high school to join the navy during World War I, but his entrepreneurial flair and belief in hard work made up for his lack of formal education. After the war, along with his brothers Jack and Willard, he started a company that sold Henderson motorcycles in the western states. When the Depression hit, the company failed, partly due to Willard’s mismanagement, but the brothers refused to declare bankruptcy. Despite nearly being evicted from their home, they paid off all their debts. Financial integrity became a point of pride in the Kemp family.3
Brothers Paul and Jack proved resourceful in starting over, and their example planted the seeds of Jack’s respect for free markets and entrepreneurs. They used their leftover inventory of motorcycles to open a messenger and delivery service. By the late 1930s they had developed a successful, six-truck delivery service that could support their families. The brothers had breakfast every morning during their working careers and, after retiring, talked by phone every day. Their affection deeply impressed Jack and his brothers.
Frances had an even greater impact in shaping the lives of the Kemp brothers, especially Jack’s. “We were a matriarchal family,” said Dick Kemp, who described her as having “an assertive intellect.”4 Frances was an unusually well-educated woman for her time. She graduated from the University of Montana and earned a master’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley, then worked as an administrator and social worker for the Los Angeles school system, a job that often had her practicing her fluent Spanish when she hauled truants from the barrio back to school. She was no less assertive in teaching and correcting her sons.
She encouraged her boys to debate at the dinner table and took them to concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. “She was . . . very much in tune with the world’s affairs, and pushed us intellectually all the time,” Paul Jr. said. “We’d sit there at the dinner table and what started out as a discussion would end up as a big battle . . . between us. Mother would foster that. . . . She would ask questions and we’d tease each other about pronouncing words. Dad would get up and throw his napkin down in disgust and walk away. He couldn’t take the dissension.”5
Jack thrived on the back-and-forth. He was aggressive and argumentative. Paul Kemp thinks he inherited his competitive instinct from his mother. She “encouraged a winning attitude, saying, ‘You will win. You can win. Don’t worry about it. You’ll win.’”6 She distrusted the influence of other boys and told them not to run with the crowd. “She liked the fact that [her sons] would think for themselves and be independent thinkers,” Paul said. Jack absorbed her advice totally. When her sons left the house each day, she’d tell them, “Be a leader!” Kemp did the same to his children.
Jack’s mother and father were Republicans. The family joke was that in 1932, Jack’s father was still driving voters to the polls hours after Franklin Roosevelt had been elected. Jack inherited the Republican gene. He also inherited a faith gene. It was Jack’s grandmother, Elva Kemp, who led the family to Christian Science. According to family legend, when Elva was a young woman in pre-statehood South Dakota, a horse fell into a hole and couldn’t be rescued. The owner was about to euthanize it when someone suggested calling a Christian Science practitioner to pray. He came, and the horse was rescued. Elva converted on the spot.7 When her husband died, Elva rented a railcar and moved her eleven children to California. In her later years, she lived with Jack’s family. She was known as Grandma Sunshine.
Elva’s religion influenced both of Jack’s parents, and their faith intensified when their first son, Paul, was sick with asthma. According to Christian Science, all reality is spiritual; thus sickness, evil, and failure are illusions. As a result, will and effort can overcome any obstacle. From this belief, Jack got his extraordinary drive to turn his hopes into reality. Later in life, when one of Jack’s daughters said she was ill and couldn’t go to school, Jack admonished her: “You can! You can do anything if you think you can do it.”8
Under the influence of his wife, Joanne, a strong evangelical Presbyterian, Kemp formally left Christian Science and regularly attended her church. But privately he drifted in and out of Christian Science in later years. And its teachings were the underpinnings of his view of life. If he was losing a game, his son Jeff said, his father’s attitude was “this is a temporary distraction to the ultimate goal. We will win next week. We will turn it around in the 4th quarter. We’ll win next season.”9
Winning was one of Kemp’s obsessions from an early age. He described his childhood as “all sports, all the time.” When he wasn’t playing games with his brothers—football, baseball, basketball, or made-up sports—he’d play by himself.
Fitting in as the third of four boys was both a challenge and motivator for Jack. He especially wanted to match Tom, a great athlete and his lifelong hero. Paul said Kemp was always a fierce competitor, “pushing, pushing to win, pushing to achieve,”10 and he accepted no less from his brothers. Dick once lost a game and said, “So what if I lose?” Jack was appalled. He teased Dick about it for years afterward.11
Kemp decided at age five that he wanted to be a professional quarterback. As a sixth grader, he was assigned to compose an essay on a great invention. He wrote about the origin of the forward pass.12 At LA’s Fairfax High, he became quarterback and captain of the football team, and he dreamed of going further. “You have to understand my brother,” his brother Tom said. “When Jack was a kid he would fantasize about what he wanted to do with his life. He had a mental picture of himself playing football, and he wasn’t going to rest until he got there. He believed it was his destiny.”13
Jack was a successful football player in high school and was named second team All City, but he was not recruited by a single major football school. Tom had played quarterback and baseball at USC. But USC—and UCLA—ignored Jack, deeming him too small (five feet ten, 175 pounds). He settled on attending Occidental College, also in LA, to train under freshman coach Payton Jordan,14 whom he greatly admired.
Kemp’s chief interest at Oxy, as it is called, was football. He majored in physical education and was a mediocre student at best. But he showed talents outside the classroom. His roommate, Jim Mora, a tight end on the football team and later coach of the New Orleans Saints, says, “There was always something special about Jack. Maybe it was his leadership qualities, but he was always somebody that you knew was going to be maybe beyond the ordinary.”15
Despite his drive, Kemp did not start for the freshman team. But one day Coach Jordan summoned him for a “confidential” talk. He told Kemp that if he was willing to work hard, he had the talent to make the National Football League. Kemp was thrilled. He took Jordan at his word and began working harder at practice and workouts. In those days, quarterbacks were not supposed to lift weights on the theory they’d develop the wrong muscles. But Kemp lifted anyway, to bulk up and build the strength that would make him a professional. With Kemp the conversation had the desired effect. And the weight training paid off. Before long he was able to throw a football eighty yards, and throw it hard.16 On his very first play with the Occidental varsity, Kemp completed a sixty-yard touchdown pass. He was a sixty-minute man, playing safety on defense. He also punted. By his junior year he was the varsity starting quarterback. As a senior, he became team captain and was the third-leading passer among small colleges and was named honorable-mention Little College All-American.
Kemp was fortunate that Oxy’s football team used a pro-style offense that allowed the quarterback to pass a lot. Other schools in Southern California used a single-wing formation that relied on a running attack, and the quarterback was essentially a blocker who ran occasionally but rarely passed. That wasn’t Kemp’s style. His childhood hero was Los Angeles Rams Hall of Famer Bob Waterfield, a pure passer. That’s what Kemp wanted to be.
Kemp’s passing was his ticket to professional football. By his senior year, Kemp, six feet tall and weighing two hundred pounds, had finally grown to NFL quarterback size, though making it in the NFL was still a long shot. But his arm caught the attention of professional teams, and he was chosen in the seventeenth round of the NFL draft by the Detroit Lions, the 203d player picked.
Kemp’s professional career did not get off to an easy start. He was not an instant hit at the Lions’ training camp. Bobby Layne, the team’s hard-drinking Hall of Fame quarterback, dismissed Kemp as a ninny when he ordered a soft drink at a quarterback’s meeting. Layne informed Kemp he wouldn’t make it in pro football until he started drinking alcohol, which Christian Scientists avoid.
Further complicating Kemp’s early career, Lions head coach Buddy Parker quit the team in the middle of training camp and moved to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He took Kemp with him, but not because he was convinced of Kemp’s talent. Parker’s home town was Kemp, Texas, and he’d latched onto Kemp as a kind of good luck charm. He didn’t keep Kemp for long.
At Occidental, Kemp’s most important moment was meeting, in his junior year, an attractive sophomore named Joanne Main. Jack and Joanne dated casually for a year and a half, sometimes going to Malibu in Jack’s red MG and eating in restaurants by the Pacific Ocean. “He was interesting to talk to and be around, and he was a strong personality,” Joanne said. When Kemp graduated and went off to play professional football, Joanne completed her senior year, dating others. “But about once a week or every other week he’d call, usually on Sunday nights . . . after a game. And we would write letters, too, probably once every other week.”17
When Jack came home in December after his first season in the NFL, he proposed. He arranged for his friends to leave him and Joanne alone for a few minutes at a New Year’s Eve party. And Jack brought an engagement ring. “I was absolutely stunned,” Joanne said, because they’d never discussed marriage. Nor had they talked about his plans for a career in professional football, and now he wanted to get married in July before he had to show up at the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp. “I had lots of other guys that I had gone out with who really did like me,” Joanne said. “But I didn’t have anybody else that I felt like I did about him. I don’t know why that was. I think it was just a conglomeration of who he was.” She said yes.
After proposing, Kemp did six months of army service. And following their wedding on July 19, 1958, at Joanne’s home church in tiny Fillmore, California, they flew to Pittsburgh. Though Jack was cut by the Steelers and moved from team to team, Joanne was happy. “I loved that football life,” she said.18
Kemp got to play in four games for the Steelers in the 1957 season and looked forward to more playing time in 1958. It was not to be. Kemp was an excellent punter, but in an exhibition game against the Rams in LA, Parker told him to kick the ball away from Jon Arnett, the premier kick returner in the league. Kick it out of bounds if you have to, Parker said. But Kemp wanted to impress his family and Joanne, who were in the stands, by punting over Arnett’s head. Kemp boomed the kick, but Arnett caught it and returned it for a touchdown. As Kemp walked off the field, Parker promptly fired him. “Kemp, you may make it in the NFL, but not with the Pittsburgh Steelers,” he barked.19
Kemp was not discouraged. The New York Giants quickly signed him to their taxi squad, whose players practiced with the team but didn’t suit up for games. He was on the sidelines for the 1958 NFL championship game, which the Giants lost to the Baltimore Colts in overtime in the so-called Greatest Game Ever Played. But he got a full share of the loser’s bonus—$1,230—thanks to star running back Frank Gifford’s intervention on behalf of the taxi squad. The bonus allowed the Kemps to buy their first house, in Orange County, California.20
The next season, the Giants found themselves with too many quarterbacks, so they dispatched Kemp to the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. However, the CFL required teams to carry a quota of Canadian citizens, so he was ruled ineligible. The San Francisco 49ers signed him as their third-string quarterback behind Y. A. Tittle and John Brodie. But Kemp was again ruled ineligible because he’d played in Canada that year. It was his fifth cut in two seasons.
For once, Kemp was crestfallen. His parents drove to Calgary to bring him home. His mother refused to let her son be discouraged. “She expected him to grow in the experience,” Dick Kemp said. “Mom said that when one door closes, another door of opportunity would open,” a precept familiar to Christian Scientists and a byword for Kemp and his family.21
The door that opened was the American Football League, the junior rival to the NFL created in 1960. For Kemp, the AFL was a godsend. Kemp came close to signing with the Buffalo Bills in 1960, but the team balked at his demand for a no-cut contract, and the deal fell through. Having been cut so many times, Kemp wanted job security. Fortunately, General Manager Frank Leahy and Coach Sid Gillman of the Los Angeles Chargers gave it to him, and he moved back to California.
Kemp was thrilled to play in Coach Gillman’s pass-oriented offense, and the two became close friends. “Sid Gillman was like a surrogate father to Jack,” Paul Kemp said. Gillman said numerous times publicly that if he’d had a son, he’d want it to be Jack Kemp. “It caused quite a stir in the press.”22
Kemp caused a stir on the field too. As starting quarterback for the Chargers in 1960, Kemp led the team to a 10‒4 record and a Western Division championship. He set his career highs for pass attempts, completions, pass yardage, and touchdowns. His career was finally taking off—and seeds for something more were also being planted.
The league championship game against the Houston Oilers was a revelation to Kemp. He was shocked to discover that the families of black players had to sit in end zone seats while white players’ families were in sideline seats. And though Chargers’ owner Barron Hilton owned a hotel in Houston, the black players roomed separately in a dormitory at the University of Houston. As an NFL player, Kemp had seen very little racial segregation because the league had no teams in the South. The experience in Houston stunned him.
Next time a racial problem arose, Kemp wasn’t quiet. In 1961, the Chargers—now the San Diego Chargers—played a game in Dallas, where Hilton also owned a hotel. The white players were supposed to stay there, while the black players were to be housed in a hotel miles away in Grand Prairie. “Jack went to Sid Gillman and said, ‘This is not acceptable,’” said punter Paul Maguire.23 “‘Either we stay as a team or we don’t play.’ And Kemp was the guy that actually did it. We all ended up in the crappiest hotel in Grand Prairie, Texas. [But] it was absolutely the right thing to do.”
After two full seasons with the Chargers, Kemp became the Bills’ quarterback through a miscue by Gillman. In the second game of the 1962 season, against the New York Titans (later the New York Jets), Kemp suffered his famous injury, resulting in his permanent “football finger.” To activate another player while Kemp recovered, Gillman tried to hide him on the “injured reserve” list, hoping other teams wouldn’t notice. But three did notice and claimed Kemp. AFL commissioner Joe Foss ruled that the Bills were first, and the team obtained Kemp’s contract for $100 in what football historian Ed Gruver called “the greatest steal in AFL history.”24 Kemp joked, “I didn’t mind them getting me for 100 bucks, but when they asked for change, that really bothered me.”25 Gillman was devastated, and Kemp wasn’t pleased. He didn’t like going to Buffalo, but under AFL rules, he didn’t have a choice.
Though accidental, Kemp’s arrival in Buffalo was enormously beneficial to Kemp and to the city. In his first home game, in late 1962, he led the Bills to a 23‒14 win over the Dallas Texans (now the Kansas City Chiefs). Completing twenty-one passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns in the game, he was carried off the field by victory-starved Buffalo fans.26 His victories continued. Kemp led the Bills to AFL championships in 1964 and 1965, earning a reputation as a winner and stirring the economically depressed city’s spirits.
Kemp was a risk-taking leader. “The rule for quarterbacks is that their best friends are the sideline and the turf,” said Ed Rutkowski, who sometimes played that position as well as wide receiver and defensive back. Kemp ignored the rule. Rather than slip out of bounds or slide to the ground before being hit, he ran head-on into linebackers. As a result he suffered eleven concussions in his career, among many other injuries. Kemp joked about a BuffaloNews headline reading “Kemp Suffers Concussion,” with a subhead reading, “X-Rays of Head Reveal Nothing.”27
Bills fans, notoriously tough on players when they didn’t perform well, had a love-hate relationship with Kemp. Rutkowski joked years later that football players had become soft since the years when he was a quarterback. “When we played, if I threw an interception or we had a bad play, people would throw garbage at us and beer cans and rotten tomatoes. And that was when we were coming out of our house!”28
Rutkowski recalled one game in which the Bills were performing especially badly, fumbling and getting intercepted, and the boos were deafening. In the huddle, Kemp said to his team, “Let’s shut ’em up.” With the Bills on their own twenty-yard line, he called a long pass play with all-star Elbert (“Duby”) Dubenion the intended receiver. Kemp lofted the ball to a racing Dubenion, who caught it for a sixty-nine-yard touchdown. The Bills walked off the field to a standing ovation.29
Coach Lou Saban created a quarterback controversy when the Bills drafted star Notre Dame quarterback Daryle Lamonica in 1963. Would Kemp start, or Lamonica? Lamonica, later dubbed “the Mad Bomber,” could throw even farther than Kemp. And as an Italian American and a Catholic, he acquired an army of devoted fans in Buffalo. When Kemp was faltering, the fans demanded Lamonica, and vice versa. The rivalry bothered Kemp, though he and Lamonica got along well personally. Finally, approaching a game the Bills needed to win in order to clinch the division championship in 1964, Coach Saban wouldn’t say who would start. Fed up, Kemp told Saban, according to broadcaster Rick Azar, “Coach, I know you want to win. Let me tell you—I can win for you. I can win for this team.”30 Saban let Kemp start and he led the team to a 24‒14 win and, weeks later, to the AFL championship.
Besides being an on-field star, Kemp was elected president of the AFL Players Association in 1963 and held the position until the league’s merger with the NFL in 1969. He was also an effective mediator in Buffalo. Kemp didn’t like it that white players were always assigned white roommates, and blacks roomed with blacks, so he got it changed. He also supported a black players’ boycott of the AFL All-Star game to protest racial discrimination in New Orleans. In 1964, Kemp’s intervention kept the Bills’ star running back, Cookie Gilchrist, on the team after he refused to play in one game because he wasn’t getting the ball often enough. Kemp persuaded Gilchrist to apologize and Saban kept him on the team. He helped win the AFL championship, though Saban cut him the following year. When the AFL and NFL merged in 1970, AFL players, recognizing his leadership skills, wanted him to be president of the new combined union. Instead, he negotiated a compromise under which tight end John Mackey of the Baltimore Colts became president. They became friends for life.
Over seven seasons Kemp led the Bills to two AFL championships and four division championships. He was an AFL Pro Bowler in seven seasons and AFL Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player in 1965. He was AFL championship game MVP in both 1964 and 1965. He holds the AFL record for the most yards gained passing in a career, 21,130. In 1961 and 1964, he led the league in longest pass completions, 91 and 94 yards, respectively, and in those years as well as 1967, in yards per pass attempt and completion. He was number one in total offense in 1960 and 1963.31
He also became one of the best-paid players in the AFL—but fell well short of Joe Namath’s record-setting starting salary of $427,000 at the New York Jets in 1965. Kemp’s last contract with the Bills, which he negotiated for himself, was $50,000.32 In Kemp’s day, a good veteran player could earn $25,000 or $26,000. A promising rookie might get $7,500, plus a signing bonus of $300.
For all of Kemp’s achievements, he is virtually certain never to make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His 46.7 percent career pass-completion record—and his throwing more interceptions (183) than touchdown passes (114)—doesn’t qualify him, according to the late BuffaloNews sportswriter Larry Felser, a Hall of Fame judge.33 Teammates have lobbied for his admission as a historic figure and for his Players Association role, but Felser said it’s unlikely to happen.
Kemp missed the entire 1968 season after defensive end Ron McDole fell on his right knee in training camp. He played in 1969, but the season was a 4‒10 disaster despite the arrival of Heisman Trophy winner O. J. Simpson. Recognizing that his best years were behind him, Kemp decided to retire. Roone Arledge, the president of ABC Sports, offered him a job as a TV color commentator. But Kemp wasn’t interested. He had other plans: politics.
Kemp had been an indifferent student in college, but as a football player, he became an avid reader of newspapers, news magazines, and books on economics, history, and politics. He used big words with his teammates, who laughed and called him “the Senator.”34
When he joined the Chargers in 1960, he met Herb Klein, editor of the San Diego Union, and became fascinated with politics. Klein became Kemp’s mentor and, along with Union sports editor Jack Murphy, encouraged Kemp to give speeches, first to promote the Chargers and later to address more political themes. Klein also persuaded Kemp to write columns for the Union. They spent hours talking about sports, which Klein loved, and politics.
In Buffalo, Ed Rutkowski said, “I would always be talking about the game plan and Jack would start talking about politics.”35 On buses and planes to away games, his teammates read Playboy and Sports Illustrated, while Kemp devoured U.S. News, National Review, the WallStreet Journal, and books. In 1965, he attended two seminars at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), a small think tank at Irvington, New York, dedicated to free markets. FEE expanded Kemp’s reading list to include such dense classics as Friedrich Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty and The Road to Serfdom, Ludwig von Mises’s Human Action, and Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom. Kemp lugged boxes of these and other books to the Bills’ training camp at Niagara University.
Kemp became an evangelist to teammates for conservatism and the Republican Party. He converted Rutkowski, who later became his top Buffalo-based congressional aide and then Erie County supervisor.36 Kemp drew players and the traveling press into political discussions. “Jack used to come down to my seat, looking for a debating partner,” said Felser. “He was fun to debate with,” but he didn’t always win: “I was an FDR Democrat, still am.”37 Not everyone liked his politics; when Kemp campaigned for Barry Goldwater in 1964, it stirred newspaper criticism in heavily Democratic Buffalo. But Kemp didn’t back down.
In 1967, Klein helped Kemp get a job during the off-season as an intern in California governor Ronald Reagan’s communications office. The internship was a first step into active politics, but it had a downside. The job led to a rumor of homosexuality that took decades—and investigative reporting by columnist Robert Novak—to be knocked down definitively. In 1967, columnist Drew Pearson broke the story of Reagan’s firing a “homosexual ring” on his staff. Pearson reported the ring involved “an athlete” whom he didn’t name. Rumors spread immediately that the athlete was Kemp, who had copurchased a property near Lake Tahoe with one of the ring’s participants. Kemp said it was merely an investment and that he had never stayed there.
Novak began investigating the scandal in 1978. He tracked down one of the gay principals, who was “adamant that Kemp was not part of the homosexual group” and reported his denial in a column.38 But the rumor continued to circulate in the political community. Novak wrote he was told that it kept Reagan from considering Kemp as his vice presidential running mate in 1980, and it cropped up again when Kemp ran for president in 1988. It didn’t die until Novak recounted all the evidence disproving the rumor in his 2007 autobiography, ThePrince of Darkness.39
By the time his football career ended, Kemp had developed political savvy and had become an excellent speaker. His speeches, once vaguely about leadership, were now full of concrete economic and political content. Observing him, Al Bellanca, the chairman of the Erie County (Buffalo) Republican Party, told Kemp he’d make a good candidate for Congress, and Kemp agreed. “If you could take the boos of 47,000 people in War Memorial Stadium, you could take the heat in politics,” he said.40 It soon became his favorite line at campaign events.
Kemp still had three years to go on his no-cut contract when he announced for Congress in March 1970. The seat he sought, New York’s Thirty-ninth District, included part of the city of Buffalo but mostly encompassed working-class suburbs of Erie County. Kemp jokingly threatened that if he was not elected, he’d return to play for the Bills.
Winning the Thirty-ninth District was a challenge. The district had been represented by both Republicans and Democrats, but since 1964 the seat had been occupied by Democrat Max McCarthy. It was now open because McCarthy had decided to run for the U.S. Senate, and there was every reason to believe his constituents would continue to vote Democratic. Tom Flaherty, the Democrat nominated to replace McCarthy, was a Buffalo attorney and former city official who had an ethnic advantage in the heavily Catholic district. Kemp countered by bringing in ex‒Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy to speak for him, along with O. J. Simpson, Lou Saban, and Daryle Lamonica, and he asked Ed Rutkowski, then a Democrat, to help run his campaign. Rutkowski says he offered to change his registration to Republican, but Kemp urged him not to, pointing out that his Democratic affiliation would look good in Buffalo.
At age thirty-five, Kemp was full of youthful energy, but some said his youth was a liability. His football stardom, largely an asset, also risked making him seem unserious. As Rutkowski later recounted, “People were saying, ‘We recognize the name Jack Kemp, but what the hell’s a football player think he’s doing running for Congress?’” The creative director of an advertising agency retained by the campaign told Kemp he looked “too boyish,” so he had his team draw wrinkles on Kemp’s face to make him seem older in campaign ads. They also encouraged him to develop a deeper voice.41 That didn’t work: Kemp retained a high-pitched, raspy voice for life.
Kemp initially was reluctant to directly ask people for their support. But he learned to greet workers arriving at Bethlehem Steel’s factory gates, where his charisma could win them over. Joanne organized coffee klatches for voters, and that won them over too. In a debate, Flaherty brought up Kemp’s support for Goldwater in 1964, whereupon Kemp got Flaherty to admit that he’d supported Lyndon Johnson, then still deeply unpopular. Anyway, he said, the 1970 election was not about 1964, but about the future.
Kemp’s friendliness with organized labor was a point in his favor. After six years as president of the AFL players’ union, he regarded collective bargaining as “a sacred right.”42 Most Republicans favored right-to-work laws that ban compulsory unionization, but Kemp never endorsed them. He later said he belonged to “the Lane Kirkland wing of the Republican party,” referring to the then-president of the AFL-CIO.43
Kemp’s hard work and celebrity paid off. He won the election with 51.6 percent of the vote. Elated, he and Joanne prepared to move to Washington with their three children—Jeff, then eleven years old, Jennifer, eight, and Judith, five. Their fourth child, Jimmy, was born in 1971 during Kemp’s first year in Congress.
Along with his quarterback’s approach to leadership, Kemp kept an important memento of his years on the field. In his congressional office, he hung a giant picture of himself about to be demolished by 6-foot-9, 315-pound Chargers defensive tackle Ernie Ladd—a reminder to himself and visitors that, whatever the challenges of politics, he’d been through worse. “Pro football gave me a good sense of perspective to enter politics. I’d already been booed, cheered, cut, sold, traded and hung in effigy,” he would later say.44
Five-year-old Jack Kemp certainly never considered preparation for politics a side advantage to playing football, but his thick skin would stand the young congressman in good stead as he set out for D.C. He didn’t know it yet, but he was soon to be the champion of a new economic model. Washington’s elites would not appreciate the young congressman’s big ideas.
When Kemp arrived in Congress in 1971, he was basically a novice in economics. He’d read the free market classics—Hayek, von Mises, Friedman—but was scarcely policy savvy. Within seven years, though, he became the most important tax writer of his era, one of the most important of the twentieth century, and the political leader of an intellectual revolution in economics—all without ever once having an official role in tax policy. Along the way he experienced defeat after defeat. But then he won.
Kemp got into tax policy to relieve the economic suffering of his constituents. When he arrived in Washington, Buffalo and blue-collar suburbs like Cheektowaga, Tonawanda, and Lackawanna were hurting. Plants were closing, and unemployment was rising, reaching 11.2 percent in 1972, nearly double the national average.1 As if living in the Rust Belt wasn’t hard enough, Buffalo was also beginning to exhibit symptoms of the economic disease that sapped the entire nation in the 1970s—stagflation.2
Stagflation—the phenomenon of simultaneous high inflation and high unemployment—was an impossibility according to conventional economic thinking. Rising unemployment was supposed to lower prices because demand for goods and labor would fall. And good times would lead to inflation. Yet by the time the 1970s ended, prices were rising at 13.5 percent a year, while unemployment rose to 7.1 percent of the workforce in 1980. (Buffalo’s unemployment rate in 1976 was 16 percent.) The malady cut America’s postwar growth rate nearly in half—from 3.6 percent per year, the average from 1950 to 1973, down to 1.6 percent for the next decade.
The presidents of the era—Republicans Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and Democrat Jimmy Carter—had no idea how to break the dismal cycle. Neither did most economists, liberal or conservative. Nixon’s wage and price controls had no effect. Nor did Ford’s “Whip Inflation Now” campaign or Carter’s advice to turn thermostats down.
In his early years in Congress, Kemp didn’t know what to do either. Eager to help his district, he did what a liberal Democrat might do—help local officials beg industries not to leave and lobby for public works projects to replace lost jobs. As a conservative he also called for limits on federal spending and opposed President Nixon’s wage and price controls.
As the economy worsened during the stagflation years, the stock market lost 70 percent of its value as people with money invested in gold, oil, land, even oriental rugs. Retirees on fixed incomes were plunged into poverty as inflation ate up their pension checks. Workers demanded ever-larger wage increases to keep up with the cost of living, which kept the cycle going. And their wage hikes evaporated because higher incomes pushed them into higher tax brackets (top rate: 70 percent), feeding the government rather than their families.
Concerned about his suffering constituents, Kemp realized he’d have to better understand economics, so he began studying. When he met Irving Kristol, the neoconservative intellectual, Kemp asked for a reading list. Six or eight weeks later, he asked for another list. “I gave you one,” Kristol said. “I read all those,” Kemp replied. “I want a new list.” Kristol was amazed. Kemp aides weren’t. “He always had five books going at the same time,” said Kemp speech writer John Mueller.3
Kemp’s studies led him to the idea that cutting taxes would help employers and workers. His first step was to find a new chief of staff who understood both public works policy and taxes. He found Randal Teague, an official in Nixon’s Office of Economic Opportunity, and hired him in 1973. The two men immediately set to work drafting a bill.
Their first effort wasn’t promising. Copying the business-friendly essentials of a bill by GOP senator Paul Fannin of Arizona, Kemp and Teague named Kemp’s first tax bill the Savings and Investment Act of 1974. But Teague referred candidly to it as “a Chamber of Commerce wish list.”4 Arthur Laffer called it an “old line, right-wing” capital formation act.5 It consisted entirely of corporate tax breaks: credits and swifter write-offs for investment in equipment, lower corporate taxes, and more exemptions from capital gains taxes. It did nothing to cut sky-high individual tax rates, later Kemp’s successful supply-side formula.
Though it directly benefited business, Kemp viewed his bill more as a job creator. He represented a blue-collar district, after all. And unlike most Republicans, he was not only worker friendly, but also union friendly. One inspiration for the bill was an advertisement he saw in a Buffalo newspaper. In large letters, it read LATHE OPERATORS WANTED∗. In small letters beside the asterisk, it added “Bring Your Own Lathe.”6 Kemp believed that if tax laws made it cheaper to buy lathes, there’d be more lathes and more jobs for lathe operators and everyone connected to their industry.
Kemp used the lathe story to convince working-class constituents that though he was a conservative Republican, he had their interests at heart. He argued in a 1975 House speech that there were two paths to a growing society. “The workers can work harder and longer,” he said, or “we can have more and better tools.” The history of industrial progress belonged to inventors who create “better tools” for workers and find investors to fund them.7
Kemp’s proposal went nowhere. When Gerald Ford succeeded the Watergate-ruined Nixon—Kemp took a noncommittal “Let the evidence be our guide” stance on Watergate—the new administration opposed Kemp’s bill. Its reasoning: tax revenue would be lost, and the federal deficit (then $53 billion, nearly a postwar high) and inflation (then 9.1 percent) would increase. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, not yet in Kemp’s camp, opposed the bill on the same grounds.
In Congress, few Republicans supported Kemp’s bill either. Many agreed with Ford’s cautious economics. Others were furious that a nonmember of Ways and Means was treading into tax territory, and they let him know it. Some senior officials considered Kemp a “dumb jock” over his head (as well as out of his lane) on policy matters—and they envied his celebrity. One ally, ex-representative Bob Livingston of Louisiana,8 said that even later in Kemp’s career “there was a lot of grumbling because Jack had the ability to appeal to the press in a Reaganesque fashion. A lot of guys . . . resented it. They didn’t have that capacity and also they frankly took the old view that you count the beans and don’t worry about growth—and Jack was about growth.”
Some of Kemp’s harshest criticism came from members of the Chowder and Marching Club. As a famous former football player and as president of his freshman class in Congress, Kemp had been admitted to the elite club of GOP representatives, where leaders gathered for policy chats and socializing at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays. After Kemp’s bill was introduced, the C&M, stodgy and committed to House tradition, became a whipping post for Kemp as senior Republicans expressed disapproval with his upstart plans. A fellow C&M member, then-senator Bill Brock of Tennessee, said, “Jack was viewed as a maverick and a bit of a trouble-maker for getting off the track the Ford administration was on. . . . There were very tense conversations. . . . There were several of those meetings, by the way, not just one.”
Kemp returned from one C&M meeting more shaken than Randy Teague had ever seen him. “People said he was barking up the wrong tree . . . not doing them any good,” Teague said. “He just felt like he was hitting a wall.”9 But he recovered and worked to overcome opposition in his party—though success took awhile.
On the football field, Kemp was used to being the play caller and he brought his quarterback mentality to Washington. “He was a real take-charge guy,” said Al Bemiller, Kemp’s center for eight pro seasons. “You didn’t talk in his huddle. You listened.”10
But Kemp learned that football and politics had different rules. “I’d call a play and expect everyone to carry out his assignment,” Kemp told an interviewer. “I quickly realized it isn’t that way in government. Leadership here means finding out where people want to go and figuring out a way to take them there. That’s what democracy is all about. A football huddle is not a democracy.”11 If Kemp was to make changes in tax policy, he would have to persuade.
Irrepressible as always, Kemp became relentless in trying to win others over—fellow members, political audiences, the press, economic professionals, even liberals—to support his views. Full of zeal to attract colleagues to his team, he worked the House floor relentlessly and would return to his office with names of potential allies. He’d tell Teague to get in touch with the legislative assistants of the members he’d talked to and firm up a relationship.12 Kemp sought converts at committee meetings and while riding the underground train connecting congressional offices and the Capitol. “He’d work on them when he spoke for them at a fundraiser,” Teague said. It never stopped.
His energy and enthusiasm were often greater than his tact and sensitivity. Members ducked into offices or headed for another hallway to escape an impromptu Kemp lecture. If he sensed someone in an audience was unconvinced on a point, he would keep talking to win over the skeptic. It made for long speeches and weary listeners. And it prompted a joke: Kemp is in the clutches of a Gestapo agent who snarls, “Vee have vays of making you stop talking.”13
So intense was Kemp’s proselytizing—especially after he discovered supply-side economics—that many of his colleagues describe his enthusiasm in religious language. Representative Dan Lungren of California says he was “John the Baptist,” paving the way for Ronald Reagan. Others call him their “spiritual leader.” The result of his initial evangelism was an embryonic Kemp team. It was smaller and less committed to Kemp personally than the later crew that included Newt Gingrich, but it gathered around him on at least this one issue.
When Kemp was in his capital-formation phase, seeking to create jobs by incentivizing business investment, the supply-side movement was still developing. Supply side’s intellectual fathers were Robert Mundell, then a hippie-looking Canadian academic, and Arthur Laffer, a precocious, fast-talking University of Chicago professor. Their formula to fight stagflation was to lower individual tax rates to foster growth and control the supply of money in the economy to dampen inflation. Their theories challenged all prevailing economic wisdom and were initially scorned.
Mundell, long-haired and soft-spoken, earned his PhD in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.14 In 1958, at age twenty-six, he concluded that the path to prosperity for slow-growth America lay in the Federal Reserve’s tightening of the money supply and raising interest rates (to control inflation and attract foreign investment) while Congress and the president (then Dwight Eisenhower) lowered taxes to stimulate domestic investment and foster economic growth.
The theory was at odds with accepted economic and political dogma. Democrats worshipped John Maynard Keynes, the famed British economist who declared that the Great Depression resulted from a collapse of private demand for goods and services, and prescribed government spending to replace and stimulate it. Keynes’s followers believed—and believe to this day—that government spending is the remedy for slow growth. They acknowledged that rising budget deficits would result in higher inflation. Their solution was to loosen monetary policy and raise taxes—that is, print dollars to dilute the federal debt while hiking taxes to bring budgets into balance. Mundell said Keynes was wrong and that excessive increases in the money supply were the main cause of inflation.
Even though Richard Nixon declared that “we are all Keynesians now,” mainstream Republicans weren’t. The party advocated tight monetary policy, decreased government spending—and increased taxes, when necessary, to balance budgets. Deficits, most Republicans believed, were what caused inflation. Mundell insisted that they, too, were wrong and that high taxes hobbled the economy.
Mundell’s introduction of a third model—tight money and low taxes—aroused immediate opposition among economists when he proposed it in academic papers in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Then, by a circuitous process unrelated to him, John F. Kennedy proposed policies aligned with Mundell’s ideas in 1962 and 1963, and Congress enacted them in 1964 after his assassination. The Kennedy cuts trimmed corporate tax rates from 52 percent to 48 percent and reduced the top individual rate from 91 percent to 70 percent. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve restricted the money supply. The results, as Mundell had forecast, were higher interest rates and a surge in foreign investment. The changes produced the economic boom of the mid-1960s. The unemployment rate fell from 5.7 percent in 1963 to 3.6 percent in 1968 and the deficit dropped from $7.1 billion in 1962 to $1.4 billion in 1965. Mundell’s academic work gained him, at age twenty-eight, a tenured professorship in the University of Chicago economics department, the most prestigious in the country.
In spite of the success of his ideas, Mundell then had little impact on economic thinking or longer-term national policy. Keynesians were impervious to challenge, bending the evidence to fit their theory. The leading economists of the era—Walter Heller, Kennedy’s chief economic adviser, and Paul Samuelson, author of the most widely read college economics textbook—argued that Kennedy’s tax cuts accelerated growth not by stimulating work, investment, and supply, but by putting more spending money into peoples’ hands and increasing demand.
Unfortunately for the economy, immediately after Lyndon Johnson passed JFK’s tax cuts, he embarked on two massive spending campaigns, the Great Society and the Vietnam War. To pay the bills, Johnson and Congress raised taxes. But tax revenues failed to keep up with spending, and deficits mounted. Johnson badgered and bullied the Fed to print money to monetize the debt, ignoring an important half of the supply-side formula. In hindsight, it’s clear Johnson’s late-1960s policies set loose a new problem with a new name—stagflation—and a decade of economic decline in the 1970s.
Arthur Laffer, meanwhile, gained a tenured appointment in Chicago at age thirty-one, before he’d even finished his PhD. He took leave from his position there to become chief economist in Nixon’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In 1971, Laffer relied on Mundell’s ideas to predict that the nation’s gross national product that year would be $1.065 trillion, $20 billion higher than the consensus forecast of national economists. For this he was denounced—most cruelly, by Nobel Prize winner Paul Samuelson, who delivered a lecture at the University of Chicago titled “Why They Are Laughing at Laffer.” He attacked the basis of Laffer’s calculations and ridiculed him personally for not having finished his PhD thesis. But Laffer was ultimately vindicated when his GNP prediction proved accurate.15
Laffer finished his dissertation and received his doctorate from Stanford, but Samuelson’s ridicule made him an outcast at Chicago. Mundell, his friend and ally, had left to teach in Canada. So before leaving Chicago for the University of Southern California in 1976, Laffer spent much of his time with fellow conservatives in New York and Washington where he met the third supply-side “original.”
Jude Wanniski was a colorful intellectual seeker, strategist, polemicist, and journalist. He had been a leftist at UCLA16 before becoming a devoted Democrat and eventually transforming into a champion of free markets. He had a wild reputation and dressed in black shirts, white ties, and gaudy jackets, carryovers from his early years as a journalist in Las Vegas, where he had also become an accomplished gambler. Style aside, Wanniski was a spellbinding purveyor of schemes and ideas—and, for years, one of Kemp’s closest advisers.
Wanniski encountered Laffer while working for the National Observer, a now-defunct sister paper of the Wall Street Journal. He became an editorial writer for the Journal in 1972, moving to New York but traveling often to Washington. He first met Mundell in May 1974 at a conference on inflation hosted by the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington. The two instantly connected, and when they returned to New York after the conference, Wanniski slept on Mundell’s couch for several days instead of going home to New Jersey. Laffer described Wanniski as “my closest friend after my father,”17 though their relationship later soured over business rivalries. Delighted to have encountered a kindred spirit, the two men, along with Mundell, joined an economic and political discussion group at a New York financial district restaurant, Michael 1, where they brainstormed ways to spread their economic ideas.
December 1974 was a decisive month for the Mundell-Laffer-Wanniski movement that still did not have a name. That month Laffer drew his famous “Laffer curve” on a napkin for President Ford’s deputy White House chief of staff, Richard Cheney. Laffer’s curve, a bell curve turned on its side, showed that at 0 percent and 100 percent tax rates, the government gets no revenue—at 100, because no one works and pays taxes—while somewhere in between (Laffer didn’t say exactly where) workers, business owners, and investors have an incentive to produce to their maximum, the economy flourishes, and government collects optimum revenues. High taxes in an unspecified “prohibitive range” discourage enterprise and cost the government revenue.
Also in 1974, Wanniski wrote his first economics column for the Journal, “It’s Time to Cut Taxes,” a summary of Mundell’s views.18 In his column Wanniski summarized the argument Mundell had been making since 1961: inflation could be curbed by tightening the money supply, and stagnation could be cured by cutting tax rates. “The national economy is being choked by taxes—asphyxiated,” Wanniski quoted Mundell as saying. “It is simply absurd to argue that increasing unemployment will stop inflation. To stop inflation, you need more goods, not less.”
Wanniski expanded on his Journal article in the Spring 1975 issue of the Public Interest, edited by Irving Kristol. His article was titled “The Mundell-Laffer Hypothesis: A New View of the World Economy” and fundamentally was a long discourse on Mundell’s monetary views. His and Laffer’s tax views got less treatment, with just a footnote describing the thinking behind the Laffer curve.
With Wanniski’s columns, Mundell’s arguments, and Laffer’s famous curve, the three men were refining and tightening their economic theories. Now they needed a politician to pay attention.
Curiously, for someone well wired in Washington, Wanniski did not meet Kemp until January 1976. The meeting, when it happened, was transformative for both men. Wanniski came to Kemp’s congressional office in the morning without an appointment and sent his card in to Kemp, who immediately burst out of his room, exclaiming “Wanniski! I’ve just been thinking about how I was going to meet you.” He said he’d been reading Wanniski for a long time and wanted to discuss his ideas in person.
They started talking about economics at 10 a.m. They talked all day. Wanniski canceled other appointments and followed Kemp around Capitol Hill. In the evening, Kemp took Wanniski to his home in suburban Bethesda, Maryland, where Joanne prepared dinner, and they continued talking until midnight. “It was exhausting,” Wanniski recounted. “He was draining me of everything I know. He was squeezing my head.”19 By the time the day was over, Kemp was convinced of the merits of Mundell’s and Laffer’s ideas.20
Wanniski also was impressed. “I had spent hours with other senators, representatives, and even the Treasury Secretary and nobody understood what I was talking about,” he said. “Kemp grasped the notion of monetary reform immediately. That day I came back and told my staff, ‘I’ve just fallen in love.’”21
Together, Kemp and Wanniski would become a formidable team, Wanniski with the Journal platform and Kemp with political energy. Laffer said, “Jack and Jude together were deadly.”22 The relationship was not always smooth—Laffer said they sometimes fought “like schoolgirls”—but for years their arguments were temporary, as the substance of their agreements kept them together. Kemp and Wanniski talked at least once a day, sometimes more often, according to Kemp’s economic aide, Bruce Bartlett.23 They were “so close . . . talking to one was like talking to the other.”
Kemp’s advancement became Wanniski’s major project. In 1979, he said, “I think Jack will be the next President. . . .” And of Kemp’s ability to spread the economic “theology” they shared, Wanniski said, “Every now and then something happens like this. The last time was Christ.”24
It was Wanniski who coined the term “supply-side economics,” converting it from a derisive label into a revolutionary banner. At a 1976 symposium on inflation at the Homestead resort in Virginia, American Enterprise Institute economist Herb Stein, once Richard Nixon’s chief economist, observed that a new theory was gaining notice, propounded by “supply-side fiscalists.” Among professional economists, he jibed (unfairly)25 that its adherents numbered “maybe two.” Stein’s remarks were conveyed to Wanniski, who was seeking a better label for his idea set than “the Mundell-Laffer Hypothesis.” He decided to run with “supply side”26 because it provided a good counter to Keynesian “demand-side” economics. Kemp’s wife often urged them to call it “incentive-oriented economics,”27 but “supply side” stuck.
Under Wanniski’s influence, Kemp became a tax cutter first and a budget balancer hardly at all. In 1975, before meeting Jude, he had sponsored a bill, the Fiscal Integrity Act, that mandated balanced budgets and capped government revenues as a percentage of GDP. In December 1975, he had argued that tax cuts—even those he sponsored—had to be matched with spending reductions.28
Wanniski was convinced supply-side cuts would stimulate the economy enough to keep it healthy and abhorred Republican calls for spending cuts or budget balancing. In an article in his old paper, the National Observer, he wrote that Democrats prospered politically by playing the role of “the Spending Santa Claus.” Instead of allowing only Democrats to be seen as gift givers, Republicans “should be the Santa Claus of Tax Reduction.” At the time, Republicans were so “hypnotized” by the need for balanced budgets that they persistently argued for tax hikes to dampen inflation when the economy was booming. And they demanded spending cuts to balance the budget when the economy is in recession. “Either way, of course, they embrace the role of Scrooge,” Wanniski complained.29
After his conversion to supply-side economics, Kemp continued advocating spending restraint in principle, but in a 1978 profile in Fortune, he was quoted as saying, “I don’t worship at the shrine of the balanced budget.”30
Thoroughly convinced of supply side’s virtues, in March 1976, Kemp announced that a revised version of his Savings and Investment Act, renamed the Jobs Creation Act, had 106 sponsors. Besides the original corporate tax breaks, the bill now included a 10 percent across-the-board cut in individual taxes. Consultant Norman Ture, an advocate for capital-formation tax policy, concluded that the bill would add $150 billion to U.S. GDP; create five million new jobs over a decade; and add little, if anything, to the federal deficit. The Ford administration, unconvinced that lowering rates would increase revenues, opposed the measure.31
Wanniski used all of his influence to support Kemp and push the bill. In a September 1976 Wall Street Journal column, he countered the Treasury Department’s opposition, pointing to the success of the Kennedy cuts. In Kennedy’s case, he wrote, instead of costing the Treasury $89 billion from 1962‒64, as government economists estimated, tax cuts led to economic growth that increased revenues by $54 billion.
In the same column, Wanniski lamented that both President Ford and his Republican challenger, Ronald Reagan, believed that tax rate cuts had no revenue-increasing effects. If the supply-siders were able to win over a presidential candidate who agreed with them, their movement would be strengthened. But gaining that powerful an ally in the 1976 election didn’t seem likely.
Though Kemp had worked as an intern for Reagan and had been rebuffed by Ford, Kemp stayed neutral in their battle for the 1976 Republican presidential nomination. Yet the party’s Kansas City convention was an important moment for Kemp—and would have launched him onto the national stage had all gone as planned. Invited to introduce House Republican leader John Rhodes, he prepared to address a nationally televised political event for the first time. Wanniski played a double role: as Kemp’s speechwriter and as a journalist covering Kemp. On the day of the speech, Wanniski published a Journal column32 touting Kemp as the speaker House Republicans most wanted to address the convention and hoping Kemp’s speech would communicate the urgency of electing a Republican Congress that could carry out his economic plans.
In the speech, Kemp barely mentioned Rhodes. Instead, he delivered a rousing cry for Republicans to go on the offense and “move the American people with our ideas.” He called for the GOP to adopt a platform of reduced spending, lower taxes, private-sector jobs, and a stable currency. He contrasted this agenda with that of Democrats, whose forty years of dominating Congress “carried the seeds of its own destruction—double-digit inflation resulting in nearly double-digit unemployment.” There is “only one way to reform Washington,” he said, “and that is to reform Congress” by ousting Democrats and installing Republican leaders.”33
The speech was forcefully delivered, but TV cameras covering the convention cut away for commercials during Kemp’s introduction and it was never seen or heard by the public. So much for Wanniski’s attempt to spring Kemp and supply-side economics to the national stage.
Undaunted, Kemp, or at least Wanniski, tried another gambit. With the nomination not yet secured by Ford, Wanniski approached Reagan aide Martin Anderson with a proposal: if Reagan would make across-the-board rate cuts part of his platform, Kemp would deliver New York delegates to Reagan. Those delegates would have brought Reagan close to matching Ford’s count, but it was unlikely Kemp could actually deliver the New York delegation. Reagan was interested but noncommittal, which wasn’t good enough for Wanniski. “Jude wanted a formal acceptance,” Laffer said. “‘Oh, we love it,’ was not precise enough for Jude.”34 The ploy—hardly the last Wanniski would invent to advance Kemp and his ideas—went nowhere.
Reagan failed to wrest the GOP nomination from Ford, and Ford went on to lose the presidential election to Democrat Jimmy Carter. Democrats gained just one seat each in the House and Senate, but combined with their post–Watergate victories in 1994, they held two thirds of the seats in the House and sixty-one in the Senate. Kemp was reelected with 78.2 percent of the vote. He was secure in his district, and Wanniski’s influence had raised his profile. But he hadn’t yet acquired the platform he would need to bring supply-side economics mainstream.
Despite the supply-siders’ apparent cohesion, Kemp’s advisers were actually often at odds. Arguments over policy nuances and historical credit for developing supply-side economics led to personal enmity. One spat between Kemp economic staffer Paul Craig Roberts and Wanniski came close to fisticuffs in a stairwell.35 Kemp aide John Mueller described meetings in which Laffer, Mundell, Wanniski, and former drugstore magnate Lew Lehrman engaged in shouting matches as the strong-minded economists struggled over differences in policy and tactics.36
One major disagreement was over the impact supply-side tax rate cuts would have on tax revenues. Conventional thinkers of both parties calculated that lower rates had to shrink revenue. Supply-siders argued that cuts would stimulate growth and swell government revenues. But would the resulting revenues exceed the nominal cost of the cuts? Laffer and Wanniski were persistently bullish, contending that tax cuts would pay for themselves. Roberts, who went from Kemp’s staff to the House Budget Committee and later Reagan’s Treasury Department, argued that rate cuts wouldn’t pay for themselves, but the growth they fostered would replace part of the forgone revenue. He was appalled at Laffer’s and Wanniski’s position, charging that the two “covered the supply-side movement with hyperbole” used by its enemies to discredit it.37
Kemp was unequivocal on this point. He argued that tax rate cuts did pay for themselves, basing his conclusion on Kennedy economic adviser Walter Heller’s testimony that the 1960s cuts “paid for themselves inside one year.” Kemp argued that after the Kennedy cuts, revenues increased for five straight years and cited a Library of Congress study showing that though the Treasury had estimated $89 billion in losses from 1963 to 1968, revenues actually went up by $54 billion.38
Roberts moved from Kemp’s staff to become chief GOP economist at the Budget Committee in August 1976—the better, he later wrote, to advance supply-side policy. He was replaced in December by Bruce Bartlett, four years out of college and a former staffer for libertarian representative Ron Paul of Texas. Kemp hired him after a hasty interview he conducted dressed in his tuxedo on his way to one of Ford’s last White House dinners. Bartlett remembers Kemp asking whether he was “a supply-side fiscalist.” Bartlett said, “I swear to God I’d never heard that term in my life. But I didn’t have anything to lose, so I said, ‘Well, sure. Who isn’t?’”39 To this day, he’s not sure why he was chosen ahead of dozens of others considered for the job. But he was to play a central role in the development of Kemp’s policy.
Bartlett’s first task in 1977 was to canvass House Republican offices and re-sign cosponsors for the Jobs Creation Act, which had never passed. Meantime, Kemp sent out a confidential memo to all GOP members of Congress on February 22, 1977, urging support for a House budget amendment to be offered the following day. The amendment contained a 22 percent across-the-board reduction for all taxpayers, offering what Kemp called “constructive alternatives to programs of the national Democratic Party.”
Floor debate was intense and provided a perfect showcase for Kemp’s arguments. The amendment, sponsored by Roberts’s new boss, Representative John Rousselot of California, was attacked by Democrats, notably by Representative Paul Simon of Illinois, who called it “the old trickle-down theory.” House majority leader Jim Wright of Texas joined in, calling it “regressive,” principally benefiting the rich, and asserting that cutting taxes would swell the budget deficit.
Kemp seized the opportunity to refute both Democrats, teaching supply-side economics with Wanniski’s Kennedy punch. To Simon, a kindly liberal and later a senator and presidential candidate, he was deferential and respectful. He said benefits would not trickle but “would literally cascade down—or, in President Kennedy’s words, ‘a rising tide lifts all ships.’”
Answering Wright, a mean-spirited partisan, Kemp was tougher. He argued that Kennedy had proposed similar cuts without ever having Democrats accuse him of favoring the rich. When Kemp raised the Laffer argument that the government gains no revenue at a 100 percent tax rate, Wright stalked off the floor with a parting shot: “For the record, I would like to agree with the gentleman that 100 percent taxation is not a very good idea. I suppose everyone would agree with that. I am not aware that anyone has made any such suggestion.” Kemp retorted, “Mr. Chairman, I appreciate hearing from the other side of the aisle that they do not plan to raise the tax rates any higher. That is progress, I guess.” As Wright walked out, Kemp called after him, “Mr. Wright, I am speaking to you!”40
Excerpted from "Jack Kemp"
Copyright © 2015 Morton Kondracke.
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