Last of the Compassionate Conservatives

Jack Kemp was a leader of men on the field and off it.

Republicans many times can’t get the words ‘equality of opportunity’ out of their mouths. Their lips do not form that way.

~ Jack Kemp

Whenever someone comes at me talking smack about how Obama ain’t this and Obama ain’t that and how there’s no way they would vote for him again, I listen and then ask them one question, “Who are you going to vote for instead?”

Shuts them right up.

The Republican field is made up of several flavors of the fruit from the Crazy Tree.  There’s no options there for anyone even hoping for a protest vote.   Between Perry, Romney, Bachmann, Gingrich, Cain and the rest of the munchkins there’s nothing for a disgruntled Obama voter to hang their hat on.   The G.O.P. has been assimilated by the radical nuttiness of a handful of loud extremists and reborn as the G.O.Tea Party.

It wasn’t always this way.  Once upon a time there were still such a thing as moderate Republicans who actually gave a damn about something other than making sure the wealthy and corporations didn’t pay too much in taxes.   Some of even could speak honestly about race without their tongues swelling in their mouths.

The last Republican whom I really admired was Jack Kemp. He honestly seemed to care about inequality and spoke about issues of poverty, racial discrimination and through programs such as the creation of inner city “enterprise zones” really put some muscle behind addressing these issues.

Kemp would show up on C-SPAN talking about how playing quarterback for the Buffalo Bills had opened his mind about race and what he wanted to do to make Dr. King’s dream a reality, I would listen and think, “Man, I wish THIS guy would run for president.”  In 1988 Kemp ended up as Bob Dole’s running mate against Bill Clinton but his heart didn’t seem to be in it and after Clinton crushed the Republican ticket Kemp faded into elder statesman/failed candidate status until his death in 2009.

Make no mistake:  Kemp was not a secret latte-slurping liberal.  He firmly believed in supply side economics and was as loyal a Republican as possible.  But speaking about race didn’t frighten him and Kemp offered solutions and uplift, not charity or dependency to African-Americans.

Sadly, I don’t see any Jack Kemps in the current crop of Republicans running for President. Jon Huntsman has the kind of quiet, non-scary, moderation that appeals to me, but he doesn’t have a snowball’s chance of winning the nomination. George Bush ran as a “compassionate conservative” but that was just a campaign phrase to him.  Kemp genuinely meant it and lived it, but that spirit seems to have been buried with him as today’s Republicans regard compassion as weakness.

I see Jon Huntsman as the same sort of  basically decent, moderate, mainstream Republican as Kemp was and one that has been largely hounded out of his own party. Huntsman is as silent as the rest of the field on race matters, but at least he doesn’t come off as an extremist.  I have no idea why Huntsman got in this race in the first place. He has no natural base in the Republican Party and is running in the single-digits along with the other bottom-feeders.

Huntsman’s campaign is being headed up by John Weaver, a veteran of John McCain’s campaigns, but I don’t see where this candidate scores a key early win. Not in Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina.  Huntsman is hoping a victory in Florida vaults him into the top-tier, but so did Rudy Giuliani in 2008 and it turned into his Waterloo.  Presidential campaigns are fueled by money and enthusiasm and I don’t see how Huntsman can generate enough of either to survive, let alone thrive.

Huntsman has Kemp's moderation, but not his vision.

The funny thing is Huntsman would probably fare better running as a moderate Democrat challenging Obama than as a Republican trying to win the nomination of a party that has no use for his kind anymore.

Which comes first? The chicken or the egg? If Black folks want Republicans to care about their issues I’m supposing more Black folks should be voting for Republicans.

So does that mean Blacks have to align their interests closer to those already prevalent in the Republican Party or does the Republican Party have to be more accommodating to the interests of Blacks?

“There really has not been a strong Republican message to either the poor or the African American community at large,” Kemp said.

What have Romney, Bachmann, Perry, Huntsman, Gingrich or Cain proposed or suggested to get African-American unemployment down and back to work? Something? Anything?

Because if they haven’t how do Blacks engage in discussions and strategy sessions with the GOP to make our priorities THEIR priorities as well? I don’t see leading Black Republicans such as Cain, or Congressmen Allen “I’m Harriet Tubman” West, or Tim Scott making this a priority of theirs. When Michael Steele tried to reach out to Black communities he got a chilly reception from them and a shrugged shoulders and a “why bother?” from his GOP peeps.

It makes no sense politically to be putting all of our clout in one basket. I’m not clear about how to convince the skeptics on both sides that its mutually beneficial for African-Americans to diversify their political portfolio.

Kemp was a self-described “bleeding heart conservative” whom had the GOP paid attention to would have been exactly the kind of Republican who not only only invited African-Americans to the party, he went looking for them.   With his death the Republicans have turned cold, indifferent and hostile to the interests of African-Americans and it’s a missed opportunity for both sides.

There’s a void waiting for someone to fill it, but while Huntsman possess Kemp’s moderation, he lacks his vision and his guts.

Maybe if there were at least one Jack Kemp in the Republican clown car Blacks might have a reason to give the GOP a second look.  Huntsman isn’t close to being in Kemp’s league, but he’s the closest thing the GOP has to a moderate.   Too bad they’re about to stomp him into a greasy spot.

"So Jack, they got anymore of you left in the GOP?"

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