A last open letter predicted policies would fail; Lincoln, arson attack on rich.
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This while Vermont Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders attempts a filibuster, railing against the rich and wealth creators.
Kemp was a big believer in civility in politics, seeing the public arena as a clash of ideas. He was a vehement opponent of the politics of personal destruction. Perhaps the greatest tribute to his belief in civility would come the day of his funeral service in the Washington National Cathedral — a standing-room-only affair brimming with men and women from across the political spectrum.
But civility to Kemp was not a ruse to escape confronting directly what he saw as an opponent’s bad logic. Meeting an aide to then Congressman Bernie Sanders while HUD Secretary, Kemp smiled and cheerfully said: “The difference I have with Bernie is that Bernie is a bread slicer and I’m a bread baker.” It was a succinct summation of both men. Indeed, now-Senator Sanders has spent his filibustering-time on the tax deal these last few days, tossing out one bread-slicing line after another. The rich, said Sanders on the Senate floor, are “making out like bandits.” “When is enough enough?” he thundered of those who have the gall to believe they have a right to keep what they earn.
Obviously, Sanders simply doesn’t care that, as the Heritage Foundation has noted with perhaps unfortunate accuracy: “The top 1 percent of income earners paid 40 percent of all federal income taxes in 2007, while the bottom 50 percent paid only 3 percent. More than one-third of U.S. earners paid no federal income tax at all.” This gives Sanders’ remarks a different meaning altogether. If 1 percent of income earners already pay 40 percent of all federal income taxes, the Sanders question recurs: “When is enough enough?” If the bottom 50 percent of all income earners paid a paltry 3 percent of taxes, and more than one third of all earners paid zero taxes — zero taxes — then indeed it is Sanders and his ideological allies who can accurately be said to be “making out like bandits.”
All of this — Obama’s repeated castigations, the liberal hysteria in the House, the Sanders filibuster filled with the wildest of factual distortions or omissions about who is really benefitting from paying, or not paying – was exactly the starkly negative world-view that Kemp disdained as zero-sum, poverty-inducing and not a little mean spirited, pitting race against race, rural against urban, and so on throughout society.
Thus Kemp was boldly unhesitating in challenging Obama directly that day in the Wall Street Journal. Your policies will not work, he was saying, and they will cost Americans dearly.
There were others than Kemp involved in the remarkable modern supply-side story, to be sure. Economists Arthur Laffer and Robert Mundell, the latter an eventual winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, formed the core group along with the Wall Street Journal editorial writer the late Jude Wanniski and its editorial chief Robert Bartley. But Kemp was the elected official amongst them, a young, energetic Congressman from the unlikely precincts of Buffalo, New York.
It was Kemp who sold his friend and former boss Ronald Reagan (Kemp had worked as an intern for the freshman California governor in the football off-season of 1967) on the significance of Laffer’s legendary curve. (The Laffer Curve, as described here by Mr. Laffer himself, depicts “the trade-off between tax rates and tax revenues.”) The curve, as Laffer (and Ronald Reagan — who studied it while majoring in economics at Eureka College) knew, had a long history. At least as far back as the 14th century when Ibn Khaldun, a Muslim philosopher, noted in his writing of The Muqaddimah: “It should be known that at the beginning of the dynasty, taxation yields a large revenue from small assessments. At the end of the dynasty, taxation yields a small revenue from large assessments.” It was also Kemp who sold the Republican National Committee on adopting supply-side as official GOP doctrine halfway through Jimmy Carter’s economically disastrous White House term, a term begun with the so-called “stimulus” of a fifty-dollar rebate. And it was Kemp who was the driving force on Capitol Hill selling what became the Reagan tax cuts to a Democrat-run House of Representatives — and selling it successfully.
In point of fact, Kemp was famous for selling supply-side economics, dubbed “Reaganomics” after 1981, anywhere and everywhere to any and all who would listen.
Thus in April of 2008 Kemp was out there in his familiar haunt of the Wall Street Journal op-ed page pitching candidate Obama in a piece titled — what else? – “Obama and Economic Opportunity.”
Which raises the question as this economic debate over tax cuts proceeds. Raises it precisely because Obama refused to take Kemp’s advice the first time:
Isn’t it time to ask: what would Jack Kemp do?
It is, obviously, impossible to know. The real tragedy of an early death is that a unique voice is stilled. Yet Kemp’s insistence on relentlessly challenging the liberal status quo for its bread-slicing economics is well on record — and inspiring today. There is much to remember and learn, as is true from any well-lived life.
In particular what’s worth remembering about Kemp is his legendary persistence in making supply-side policy the law of the land in 1981.
Jack Kemp simply was incapable of sitting still when defeated. As an athlete he was small for his sport, suffering constant rejection as he sought to play professional football. Not to mention being battered with repeated, serious injuries. He would later joke, “Now that I’ve had 11 concussions, I’m ready to run for Congress.” That didn’t count the broken ankles, shoulder separations, torn knee ligaments and broken finger. The last appeared to end his football career completely — a quarterback who can’t throw a football has no career. Instead, Kemp had the finger set — permanently — to fit a football. The next year he was the AFL and Associated Press “Player of the Year.”