Commentary Magazine


Get Well, Jack Kemp

I was saddened, as were so many others, to hear that Jack Kemp had been diagnosed with cancer. His optimism, intellectual verve and commitment to improving the lives of all Americans (before anyone had heard of or dismissed the term “compassionate conservative”) were hallmarks of his political career and invaluable contributions to his party and country.

I did have an experience with Kemp when I was a college student at UC Berkeley. (Needless to say the institution and I agreed to disagree on virtually everything.) Kemp came to very hostile territory to preach what he always did — faith in free markets, upward mobility and, yes, a return to the gold standard. It was indicative of his crusading spirit that he believed the message should be delivered even in Berkeley. He talked that day about one of his favorite ideas– tax free enterprise zones for inner cities. The crowd was small and largely silent.

In the Q and A one surly character said, “But we want high quality jobs — not a bunch of fast food companies.” Kemp smiled and delivered the most persuasive argument I’ve heard on the benefits of free market capitalism — its power as a great social leveler, its ability to enhance personal  dignity and its ever-enduring ability to deliver the American dream. With good humor he told the students about his dad’s business “The California Trucking Company,” which he explained started out with one driver (his dad) and one truck and grew into a successful business, providing jobs and enhancing many lives. And he ended with a line aimed at his rather privileged  audience: “And don’t you forget– there is no such thing as a bad job.” Needless to say, he made his point. It was vintage Kemp.