All right, let's get this straight: Jack Kemp was the Original Supply-Sider, and for that, I can never forgive him. I mean, if he hadn't fallen for that damned Laugher Curve (oh, I'm sorry, did I misspell that?), he wouldn't have convinced David Stockman of the lunacy, who wouldn't have converted Reagan to the madness, who may (or may not) have screwed our nation as royally as he did. So yeah, Jack and I have had our problems in the past.
However, I think he said and did some interesting things while he was Secretary of HUD. I remember his campaigning to have residents of the projects own their own residences, believing private ownership would inherently better their lot. And I'm not quite sure, but I think he was the one who hired the Fruit of Islam as private security in some of the most drug-infested and dangerous housing projects in the country, which did briefly improve safety until Republicans went after Farrakhan's FOI for being anti-Semitic, racist, etc.
Most importantly, though, I love Jack Kemp for providing me own of my most memorable nights in the eight years I've lived in DC.
It was about six years ago at a benefit dinner for an African development charity that's a fairly big deal in town. They've had Bono, Colin Powell, Bill Clinton, W., and yours truly at their dinner in the past. Well, OK, my wife worked for the organization. So I got to go free. I also got a free pass to the pre-dinner VIP lounge. So, I was generally pretty lit by the time dinner rolled around each year.
I think Jack may have been lit the year he gave his speech before the organization ... for he addressed the audience with "Greetings, my fellow African-Americans."
Oh no, he di'n't!
Why yes, he did.
I wish you were there to truly appreciate the beauty of the moment. There were other politicians, dignitaries, maybe a Supreme Court justice in the crowd. There were old, angry black militant types who still say things like "Whitey" and "honkey." And white folks who blush when they say "N-word" and are afraid to refer to another person's race even when asked to give a description. And there was Ol' Jack talking about "my fellow African-Americans."
Folks wuz Whore E. Fied!
Gasps sucked the air out of the room, threatening to become a vacuum. Silverware was dropped. People clung to their religion and their guns out of desperation. Me? I cheered the man and kept drinking as Jack continued to punctuate his speech about the importance of aid to Africa with little references to his own Negritude.
It was such a beautiful moment of political faux pas-ery I wanted it to last forever. But we all know nothing lasts forever. However, they can end with a bang. And Jack Kemp went supernova with ...
"If only God would've left me in the oven long enough so I could've been black, too."
After the speech, even the Sudanese had blanched in terror. People questioned his sanity. Others were beside themselves in indignation. One woman asked me what I thought got into Ol' Jack there. I shrugged, "I don't know. Maybe O.J. when they played in Buffalo together."
She left my irreverently drunk ass alone after that, obviously determined to be offended the rest of the evening. I just kept laughing and drinking. I mean, think about it, our public figures (political or not) have manicured their personae so closely we hardly ever even see a hang nail. They're just manufactured mannequins with canned opinions tailored to never offend a single soul. We hardly see a drunk or candid moment--hardly ever see them as human beings. It's only when they're washed up like Michael Richards do we see their hair out of place.
But it's not like you can blame them. Our 24-hour news cycle manufactures outrage faster than GM can produce a crap car. If I were a celebrity, you'd never hear me say another honest thing again in fear of becoming America's latest "controversy."
And then there was Jack Kemp that night--former AFL star, United States Congressman, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Republican leader, Vice-Presidential nominee, closet black man--telling us to screw C. Thomas Howell, that he, Jack French Kemp, was the Original Soul Man. And, in that light, supply-sider or not, how can I hate a white politician who had the (high)balls enough to say some stuff like that to an African-centric charity's donors?
It was the absolute wrong thing to say in the absolute wrong place at the absolute wrong time. Here, in a town where everybody's so careful to hit the right note with any given audience, this man went completely off the scales. It was almost a thing of beauty when you think about it. I still think of it as one of the best political speeches I've ever seen.
But you know ... I'm a satirist.
Rest in Peace, Jack.