The first time I met George W. Bush in person, I was campaigning for Jack Kemp for President. Kemp was running against Vice President George H. W. Bush (and 47 others) for the Republican nomination. This was 1987.
A wonderful, tough, and tireless local Republican organizer named Thelma Stuart recruited me and served as my mentor in Dixiecrat-style politics of South Carolina. My first gig was manning the Kemp booth at the Low Country Stump Days in Charleston. Being the Reagan 80s, we were decked out in straw hats with red, white, and blue bands, blue blazers, khakis, no socks, and Sperry topsiders. I wore a red, white, and blue Repp tie (which not coincidentially matched the one Kemp wore that day) on a blue Brooks Brother’s button-down oxford.
The booth workers were excited: Mr. Kemp had stopped by the booth several times, and we thought we were about to meet the vice president. When the motorcade with “Bush 88” regalia stopped at the gates of fairgrounds, I tried to act nonchalante as I craned my neck to catch a glimpse of the man who coined the term “voodoo economics.”
Instead, a younger man clearly led the delegation–a man who looked shockingly like his mother Barbara. George W. Bush knew that Kemp was his father’s primary adversary. He made a confident and quick beel-line to our little hut of aluminum polls and white canvass.
“I’m George Bush, and I’d like for you to vote for my dad,” Bush informed me as if he knew . . . KNEW . . . that I would. His glare was powerful and intimidating, his handshake painfully firm, his voice powerful and certain. He held my gaze a good 10 seconds after issuing his command.
All I could muster was, “Pleased to meet, sir. And I’d like for you to vote for Jack Kemp.”
The future liberator of Iraq and Afghanistan smiled slyly. He didn’t find my remark funny but ballsy. He moved onto the Pat Robertson booth next door.
A minute later, Mr. Kemp was standing next to me.
“You handled that like a pro,” he said.
I had to fight the smile. I was 24 and a submarine sailor violating the UCMJ by campaigning for a candidate for office. I’d be damned if I’d act like I hadn’t heard better from better. But I hadn’t.
I left the Navy for a year to campaign for Jack Kemp for President (1988), returning in 1989, long after Kemp’s candidacy foundered.
Jack Kemp’s office says the former housing secretary, congressman and Buffalo Bills quarterback has been diagnosed with cancer.
A brief statement says Kemp is undergoing tests to determine the origin of the disease and how to go about treating it. The type of cancer was not disclosed.
I know many people (including me) slung arrows at Kemp and Bill Bennett over immigration a few years ago. Aside from that, Kemp is right on almost everything. A gentleman and kind soul, even the DUers (at least as of this writing) cannot muster a hateful, gleeful shot at the ailing Kemp. Remarkably–and sadly–most of the blogs on the right are silent. Perhaps the bloggers are too young to remember Kemp’s contribution? I hope that’s it.
Some highlights that I remember (without Googling):
- AFL and NFL quarterback with San Diego and Buffalo
- Champion of returning to the gold standard
- Champion of the flat tax
- Champion of Supply Side economics
- One of Reagan’s strongest allies and evangelists in Congress
- Loved by his mostly Democrat constituents in Buffalo, NY
- Compassion human being without falling for “compassionate conservatism”
Kemp switched from QB to the offensive line when Reagan took office. As the Gipper called the plays, Kemp pulled, sweeping right behind the Congressional tackles, to wipe out the Democrats’ defensive ends and shooting line backers. Reagan took it to the house without a hand laid on him.
All who considered themselves better off in 1984 than they were four years earlier owe a big thanks to Jack Kemp, no matter how they voted.
I’ll say a prayer for Mr. Kemp, and I hope you will, too.
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