- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Even with all the nice words being written in tribute to the late congressman and football player Jack Kemp, who died Saturday at age 73, it is easy to underestimate the man’s great positive effect on recent world history. We’ve all been told about his tax cutting and his optimism and generosity of spirit - all of it true and important - but what is missed is that the reach of Mr. Kemp’s influence extended far beyond a sunny mood and a less painful April 15.

Yes, it was Mr. Kemp more than anybody else who sold Ronald Reagan on supply-side economics. And it was supply-side economics that provided the basis for the longest peacetime economic expansion in American history. But Mr. Kemp also was trumpeting the anti-communist cause in Latin America long before it was a major conservative focus, and he was pushing for recognition of anti-communist regimes in Eastern Europe before the first President George Bush had realized that those regimes were viable. Wherever freedom showed signs of life, anywhere in the world, Mr. Kemp was there to urge moral and material support. And he was right.

Meanwhile, it was because the United States itself became so economically strong under the Kemp-Reagan policies that this nation was able to outpace the international communist menace. Economic freedom and prosperity were essential for the spread of political freedom - and Mr. Kemp played a big role in linking the two.

Mr. Kemp also inspired economic ferment within his Republican Party that provided the impetus for new thinking that went far beyond tax cuts and inner-city empowerment. He was the driving force behind the Conservative Opportunity Society - founded along with Newt Gingrich, Vin Weber, Dan Lungren and Trent Lott - the early 1980s House GOP group that also planted the seeds and provided the energy, even years later, for welfare reform and major advances in school choice.

Several observers in recent days, the Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes chief among them, have remarked that Mr. Kemp was the most influential congressman of the past half-century. That might even be an understatement. Mr. Kemp helped change American and the world, very much for the better. We salute him.

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