I recently read excerpts of a Jack Kemp speech published in a book by Morton Kondrake and Fred Barnes titled "Jack Kemp, The Bleeding-Heart Conservative Who Changed America. The speech was delivered in 1990 yet remains relevant today. It make me think and reflect. Below are some excerpts:
"If we are to present the example of democratic capitalism and the rule of law to the rest of the world, we've got to make it work for the low-income people and distressed neighborhoods and communities right here in our own country. It is not only Eastern Europe looking to us for market oriented answers. It is also East Harlem, East St. Louis, and East LA." He said that leaving those left behind was not only a moral imperative but a winning political strategy. "Whether it's called bleeding heart conservatism, capitalism with a social conscience or populist conservatism - it's the right thing to do, their right time to do it, and we're the right people to help lead it."
He disputed the notion of "America as two cities, one rich and one poor, permanently divided into two classes. America is not divided immutably into two static classes. But it is separated or divided into two economies. One economy - our mainstream economy - is democratic capitalist, market-oriented, entrepreneurial and incentivized for working families whether in labor or management. But there is ... a second economy that is similar in respects to the Eastern Europe or Third World socialist economy. It is almost totally opposite to the way we are treated in our mainstream economy and it predominates in the pockets of poverty throughout urban and rural America. This economy denies entry to Black, Hispanic, and other minority men and women into the mainstream, almost as effectively as hiring notices 50 years ago that read 'No Blacks (or Hispanics or Irish or whatever) Need Apply."
If someone wanted to create poverty and make people dependent on government, he said he would do what liberal policy had done. Among other things, reward welfare and unemployment at a higher level than working and tax the entrepreneur who succeeds in the legal capitalistic system much higher than in the illicit underground economy. Also, reward people who stay in public housing more than those who move to private housing and home ownership. Reward the family that breaks up rather than the family that stays together. Encourage debt, borrowing and spending rather than saving, investing and risk-taking. And, "most of all ... weaken and in some cases destroy the link between effort and reward."
Then Kemp turned to what he called the "good news." Government policies "can change and ... good policy can lead to good results ... The poor don't want paternalism. They want opportunity. They don't want the servitude of welfare. They want to get jobs and private property. They don't want dependency. They want a new declaration of independence."
He reiterated his agenda: to encourage investment, cut the capital gains tax rate and eliminate it altogether in enterprise zones. The capital gains tax reduction, he said, wasn't intended to help the rich or secure old wealth, but "to free up or unlock old capital and old wealth to help new business, new risk takers, job creation and economic growth." He advocated resident management and purchase of public housing units, a policy pioneered in Britain by Margaret Thatcher. And he proposed housing vouchers to allow poor people to choose their own housing, plus "a new version to tax reform to remove low income families from the tax rolls and dramatically increase the after-tax income of welfare mothers and unemployed fathers who go to work."
In 1948, at the median income, he said "a family of four paid virtually no income tax and only $30 a year in direct Social security taxes. This year (1990) the same family's tax burden would be over $6,000. To be comparable to 1948, the personal exemption - the tax allowance for nurturing children - would have to be well over $6,000 today. Instead, it is only $2,000." The elements of his speech, taken together, constituted the most comprehensive antipoverty program - and the most compelling critique of existing policy - ever offered by a conservative American politician.
So, where are the Jack Kemp's of today? There might be one in Congress that can take the mantle, perhaps has earned the right to the Jack Kemp mantle. Someone who worked for Jack Kemp, looked up to him as a mentor and has spent considerable time evaluating tax reform and more recently anti-poverty programs. That person is Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House. I hope to hear him sound a lot more like Mr. Kemp in the coming months and years ahead. The balance of economic conservatism mixed with true, heartfelt and realistic programs to help people that want to work and get out of poverty, makes all the sense in the world to me.
I like to read and write stories that dig deep into characters and how they respond to challenges.