Kemp shortens sentences, but message is the same


February 26, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- "I hope President Clinton succeeds," Jack Kemp said with a straight face yesterday. "I want Bill Clinton to succeed."

Of course he does. Just like you want your worst enemy to win the Nobel Prize.

Because, when you think about it, the Clinton economic plan is merely a repudiation of everything that Jack Kemp has ever stood for.

When Bill Clinton says that the tax policies of the 1980s caused the rich to get richer at the expense of the middle class, it is Jack Kemp's tax policies that he is blaming.

And how does Jack Kemp take this?

"Sheer demagoguery," Kemp said at a news conference yesterday. "Sheer . . . I don't like the word demagoguery. It is disingenuous to say that tax rates were cut on the rich to soak the middle class."

Jack Kemp, one of the fathers of Reaganomics, believes that the solution to our economic woes is to cut taxes not raise them, to eliminate burdensome government controls on business and to free up capital everywhere, including the inner city.

"As Jesse Jackson said, you can't have capitalism without capital," Kemp said.

Jack Kemp quoting Jesse Jackson?

What next? Pat Robertson quoting Ice-T?

Actually, though Kemp and Jackson have fundamental ideological differences, Kemp is one of the few Republicans who does have good relations with African-American leaders.

That's because as George Bush's housing secretary, Kemp promoted "empowerment," which he said meant the poor controlling their own destinies (though some said it meant "lifting yourselves up by your bootstraps" under another name) and urban enterprise zones.

Neither of which, however, came to much under George Bush.

A lot, as a matter of fact, did not come to much under George Bush, including the U.S. economy.

But today Kemp has a simple message: If you think Bush failed, wait until you see Bill Clinton.

"Bill Clinton has set forth admirable goals," Kemp said, "but raising taxes on Social Security recipients and raising taxes on the middle class is not going to work."

As opposed to that wing of his party dominated by Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., Kemp does not worry too much about the deficit or spending cuts.

In a line that could have come directly out of a 1980 Ronald Reagan campaign speech, Kemp said yester

day: "You can't focus on austerity and pain and belt-tightening. We ought to get our economy growing again."

Talking about the economy is what Jack Kemp likes to do best.

Talking about any other subject is what Jack Kemp likes to do second best.

When, at a candidate forum in 1988, Kemp was asked to limit his remarks to 15 minutes, he wailed: "But it takes me and hour and a half to watch 'Sixty Minutes'!"

Which may be one reason why his presidential campaign never caught on that year.

Perhaps because his college degree is in physical education and that made him a little defensive, Kemp tried to make his campaign speeches an intellectual exercise.

He was erudite, reasoned, articulate . . . and endless.

What he wasn't was likable. People came away from his speeches impressed, but not persuaded that he was ready to be president.

Today, however, we are seeing the new Jack Kemp. For starters, he is trying to cut his speeches down into manageable sound bites.

4 Such as: "The goal, stupid, is economic growth."

And: "I have experience in opposing tax increases. I opposed my own administration's tax increase."

Kemp is now part of an advocacy group called Empower America, in which he is teamed with William Bennett, former secretary of education, and Jeane Kirkpatrick, former ambassador to the United Nations.

Kemp calls himself a "progressive" conservative, which could mean just about anything, but seems to mean that he would much rather concentrate on economics than abortion, gay bashing or Murphy Brown.

What he is looking for is a new opportunity to show his stuff.

"I don't know if the president of the United States would debate such a lowly backbencher as me," he said, "but I would be glad to debate him."

And if not this year, maybe 1996.

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