Irrepressible Jack Kemp Farrakhan blooper: His praise for NOI ideas provokes predictable reaction.

September 15, 1996

REPUBLICANS quietly contemplating a world after Bob Dole must be rolling their eyes over the antics of Jack Kemp. His exuberance, his heterodoxy, his sheer delight in new approaches have been winning him admirers and getting him in trouble for years. Now the latest escapade -- his description of some of Louis Farrakhan's ideas as "wonderful" -- raises a key question: If Mr. Kemp can't rein himself in as a vice-presidential candidate, can he be seriously considered as a presidential contender in 2000?

Until Mr. Dole selected Mr. Kemp as his ticket mate, the former pro football star, congressman and cabinet secretary seemed consigned to the creamed-chicken circuit at a hefty $24,000 a speech. Now he has to be considered one of a handful of Republican White House hopefuls as the next century begins. For even if Mr. Dole pulls an upset on Nov. 5, chances are he would be a one-term president.

Mr. Kemp richly deserves to be considered the preeminent intellectual maverick in GOP ranks. He appeals to the Christian Right because he is anti-abortion. He appeals to secular conservatives as an early advocate of supply-side economics. He is a hero to young House Republicans who consider him a harbinger of the Gingrich Revolution. And as an advocate of big-tent outreach to African Americans spurned by his party since 1964, he champions a human rights outlook that makes him appealing to independents and moderate Democrats.

This latter impulse is what got Mr. Kemp in trouble. In a Boston Globe interview, he praised Minister Farrakhan's advocacy of "responsible fatherhood, individual initiative, of not asking the government to do everything for you" without reference to the hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism associated with the Nation of Islam leader. Jewish groups protested. But Mr. Kemp's long support of Israel muted the reaction just as his empathy for black Americans has softened criticism of his lip-service to the GOP platform stand against affirmative action.

If Mr. Kemp attempts to use his vice presidential nomination as a springboard for the year 2000 election, he will face plenty of competition. The prominence that is suddenly his can be a priceless asset -- if he doesn't blow it.

Pub Date: 9/15/96

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