Kemp's Game PLan for the Conservative Republican Revival


June 16, 1993|By CAL THOMAS

WASHINGTON — Washington.--Jack Kemp believes the Clinton presidency is providing Republicans with an unexpected opportunity to take back the White House and the Senate and make substantial inroads in the Democratic majority in the House.

The trick is not to blow it by allowing the party to fragment over social versus economic issues.

Mr. Kemp has been criticized for over-emphasizing economics while down-playing more divisive social issues such as abortion and gay rights.

The rap on Mr. Kemp was summarized recently by conservative activist Paul Weyrich: ''The problem is that he does not believe that there are any enemies . . . He doesn't believe there are any evil forces.''

Mr. Kemp does believe in enemies and evil forces, but he also believes the way Republicans have chosen to overcome them are less effective than they once were. He wants to hold to principle while changing tactics.

Mr. Kemp thinks that applying the rhetoric of the 1980s to the 1990s will harm the GOP's chance to regain not only control of government, but also control of the economic and social agenda.

Mr. Kemp sees ''social issues'' as a seamless garment that ought not to be limited to abortion and gay rights. ''Education is a social issue,'' he tells me. ''So (are) poverty, drugs, crime, teen pregnancy. These bother a lot of liberals and Democrats as well as conservatives and Republicans.''

Mr. Kemp believes that the way he speaks about these subjects is as important as the positions he takes. ''It's important to express it in a way in which you're not portrayed as uncivil or insensitive or judgmental or mean spirited,'' he says.

''It doesn't mean you're tolerant of evil. You can be intolerant of evil and still be tolerant of the plight of a person or family.''

The former nine-term congressman and one-term secretary of Housing and Urban Development seeks a new way to address the abortion issue without compromising principle.

Mr. Kemp would start at the fringes and work inward, restricting abortion in the third trimester, requiring parents to be notified before their minor child has an abortion, prohibiting federal funding of the operation, promoting adoption (a daughter and son-in-law recently adopted a child) and doing whatever is necessary to reduce the high number of abortions, now averaging 1.6 million per year.

But Mr. Kemp believes Republicans will not be able to ride back into power on the single horse of social issues. They must be accompanied by a principled pragmatism that welcomes other riders, whether or not they pass an ideological litmus test.

''Bill Clinton persists in going down a moral, intellectual and economic cul de sac,'' he says. ''It's more than the 'nanny state' he's trying to create. He wants government to be the mother, father, banker, investor and credit allocator. This is the most massive expansion of government in the life of the average individual in at least 50 years, perhaps in this century.''

Mr. Kemp believes Mr. Clinton's lifelong goal was to be president, and now that he is, he doesn't have a clear agenda of what to do. ''Hillary wants to do something,'' he says. ''She has a clearer agenda than he does.''

Mr. Kemp believes it is possible in fact, imperative to marry economic and moral issues. In a speech last week to a group of Protestant, Catholic and Jewish leaders, who had authored the position paper, ''Call to the Common Ground for the Common Good,'' he was forceful on the social issues.

His manner was persuasive, not confrontational. He called the debate within the Republican Party between economic growth and cultural renewal a false choice: ''The ideas are mutually reinforcing and interdependent. In fact, the very word 'economics' originally meant the study of the family and the home, not the distribution of material goods.''

Democratic capitalism can succeed, he told them, ''only on a foundation of strong moral principles. Investment is impossible without the virtue of self-denial and a willingness to postpone instant gratification; savings requires the faith to think in terms of the future rather than the present.

''Risk-taking and entrepreneurship are only undertaken with a self-confidence that comes by building moral character. Freedom itself depends on an individual sense of responsibility to one's self and one's family.''

If Jack Kemp has moved, it's not away from any core beliefs or values. It is toward an effective way of expressing them and using them to restore his party to power.

If Mr. Kemp is successful, he might re-establish the dispersed Reagan coalition, and his party could win congressional seats next year.

If so, Jack Kemp will be well positioned to take his enthusiasm and his agenda which he might call (with apologies to ABC News) an American Agenda into the White House in '96. It's quite a task, but quarterbacks are used to big challenges.

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.

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