Jack Kemp—The Reason I Became a Republican

Kemp knew the party had to be more inclusive if it wanted to survive. He was right then and even more right now.

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Thanks for the mention in your terrific and relevant op-ed last Sunday. Come by the office and let’s have coffee and see how we can work together to rebuild our party.

Jack

Kemp fought many tough battles within the GOP, particularly as HUD secretary, when he tried to push aggressive urban reform and revitalization. He waged those battles mostly in secret, alongside me and many other moderates on social and civil rights issues; he lost those battles, as the current state of the party attests.  I would recommend to you a great story written by Jason DeParle about this, headlined “How Jack Kemp Lost the War on Poverty.” In it, DeParle takes you inside the thinking of the GOP hierarchy and how it treated Kemp.

In the final analysis, the true legacy of a man’s life is not what he achieves in his professional life, but what he does in his personal life. Jack was a devoted husband to his wife of over 50 years, Joanne, and his four children and 17 grandchildren. They loved him, and he loved them most of all. Consider the letter he wrote to his grandchildren upon President Obama’s election. It read in part:

“My first thought last week upon learning that a 47-year-old African-American Democrat had won the presidency was, "Is this a great country or not?" You may have expected your grandfather to be disappointed that his friend John McCain lost (and I was), but there's a difference between disappointment over a lost election and the historical perspective of a monumental event in the life of our nation.”

That was Jack Kemp. He was always civil, always a gentleman, always optimistic about what America and the GOP could become. The nation has lost a great statesman. All who knew him have lost a great friend and political visionary whose presence in the Party of Lincoln will be missed.

Sophia A. Nelson is a regular contributor to The Root.