Jack French Kemp 1935-2009

Jack French Kemp 1935-2009

 

Jack Kemp, a photo inscribed to my late parents, Harriet and Michael Langworth, 1993.
Jack Kemp, a 1993 pho­to inscribed to Har­ri­et and Michael Lang­worth

“DASH OF GREYHOUND, SLIPPING THONGS…”

On Eleuthera, where we live from Decem­ber to April, there was vast fas­ci­na­tion, as one might expect, in the recent U.S. Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. One of the virtues of this Bahamas island far out in the Atlantic is that racism, in the sense we all know it in the so-called First World, doesn’t real­ly exist. On our easy-going trop­i­cal strand, amid the smiles of wel­com­ing locals and old friends who have known each oth­er for years, it just doesn’t seem to mat­ter whether the face in front of you is black or white.

So it was per­fect­ly nat­ur­al for the wife of our local gro­cer to ask me in all inno­cence and with­out ran­cor: “Is it pos­si­ble for a non-white to be elect­ed Pres­i­dent?”…

…And for me to reply with­out even a thought: “Sure. In fact it was pos­si­ble twelve years ago, if the tick­et had been Col­in Pow­ell and Jack Kemp.”

I am firm­ly con­vinced it was possible—not only because Col­in Pow­ell is a man vast num­bers of peo­ple like or admire; but because Jack Kemp, was equal­ly so: a politi­cian who, like Churchill, nev­er wrote off any vot­er, who believed that his lib­er­tar­i­an phi­los­o­phy could appeal to all, that it was the height of patron­iza­tion to sin­gle out minor­i­ty groups and declare that they must have more gov­ern­ment because they can­not get by with less of it.

Jack was a man who lived life at max­i­mum veloc­i­ty, whether as cham­pi­onship quar­ter­back for the Buf­fa­lo Bills, as a U.S. con­gress­man who pro­mot­ed enter­prise zones in inner cities, as an empow­er­ment-advo­cat­ing Hous­ing Sec­re­tary, or as a can­di­date for Vice Pres­i­dent who described him­self as a “bleed­ing-heart con­ser­v­a­tive.” But you can read all about those achieve­ments by Googling his name. I would rather write about what he meant to Churchillians.

The Tenth Inter­na­tion­al Churchill Con­fer­ence in 1993, chaired by Mer­ry Albe­ri­gi and held in Wash­ing­ton, was one of our most stel­lar occa­sions. We wel­comed Lady Thatch­er, Win­ston Churchill, Ambas­sador Kirk­patrick, Celia Sandys and Gen­er­al Pow­ell. We held a ser­vice at the Wash­ing­ton Navy Yard Chapel which dupli­cat­ed that of Roo­sevelt and Churchill at Argen­tia in August 1941, with vet­er­ans of USS Augus­ta and HMS Prince of Wales to read the Lessons. We host­ed Ambas­sador Alan Keyes, who not only sang five nation­al anthems includ­ing God Defend New Zealand, but all six vers­es of The Bat­tle Hymn of the Repub­lic—with­out music in freez­ing cold on the steps of the Lin­coln Memo­r­i­al. As Churchill wrote of Argen­tia: “Every verse seemed to stir the heart. It was a great hour to live.”

Jack Kemp was our keynote speak­er at that con­fer­ence. In the sum­mer 2009 issue of Finest Hour we repub­lish what he said: words of wis­dom and inspi­ra­tion, deliv­ered with the vig­or for which he was known, and not with­out humor. When his intro­duc­er made so bold as to com­pare him to a for­mer con­gress­man named Abra­ham Lin­coln, Jack rose in haste to dis­claim even the slight­est sim­i­lar­i­ty. After her appre­ci­a­tion fol­low­ing his speech Jeane Kirk­patrick and Jack embraced: old col­leagues, vet­er­ans of polit­i­cal wars, togeth­er again, even though (as Jeane told me at din­ner), they had dif­fered fer­vent­ly over the 1982 Falk­lands War, with Jack firm­ly on the side of Mar­garet Thatch­er and Great Britain.

Jack and his gra­cious wife Joanne were with us again at the com­mis­sion­ing of USS Win­ston S. Churchill in Nor­folk in 2001, and we dined togeth­er in the ward­room. His last run for offheave six years past, but he was still pas­sion­ate about what The New York Times called his “most impor­tant idea….the the­o­ry that deep cuts in tax­es would lead to such an eco­nom­ic boom that much if not all of the rev­enue lost from low­er tax­es would be off­set by the addi­tion­al tax receipts that result­ed from greater earn­ings.”

“What was it that Churchill said about Sup­ply-Side eco­nom­ics?” Jack asked between bites.

“He didn’t say any­thing about Sup­ply-Side eco­nom­ics,” I replied. “He was a Lib­er­al!”

“Yes he did!,” Jack retort­ed. “You know, about keep­ing mon­ey in people’s pock­ets.”

Lat­er I looked it up and sent it to him, because of course he was right, and Churchill’s words ring as true now as when Churchill spoke them, in the House of Com­mons on 16 August 1945, although they have tem­porar­i­ly fall­en out of favor:

What noble oppor­tu­ni­ties have the new Gov­ern­ment inher­it­ed! Let them be wor­thy of their for­tune, which also is the for­tune of us all. To release and lib­er­ate the vital springs of British ener­gy and inven­tive­ness, to let the hon­est earn­ings of the nation fruc­ti­fy in the pock­ets of the peo­ple….

In Jan­u­ary Jack Kemp announced that he had been diag­nosed with can­cer. He said he was under­go­ing tests but gave no oth­er detail. Scarce­ly four months lat­er he was gone. Imme­di­ate­ly I thought of the words Churchill offered, as only he could, quot­ing from Adam Lind­say Gordon’s grand poem “The Last Leap,” upon the death of his dear­est friend, Lord Birken­head:

The sum­mons which reached him, and for which he was equal­ly pre­pared, was of a dif­fer­ent order. It came as he would have wished it, swift and sud­den on the wings of speed. He had reached the last leap in his gal­lant course through life. All is over! Fleet career, Dash of grey­hound slip­ping thongs, Flight of fal­con, bound of deer, Mad hoof-thun­der in our rear, Cold air rush­ing up our lungs, Din of many tongues.

God­speed, Jack.

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