To those who live in countries with a parliamentary system of government, Bob Dole’s nomination as the Presidential candidate of the Republican party must seem unremarkable, indeed, expected.
For as long as most can remember, Bob Dole has been leading the Republicans in the United States Senate. At different times, as the fortunes of Republicans waxed and waned, Bob Dole has been both minority and majority leader. Yet, to Americans, he is uninspiring. It is not his personal character or life history that is necessarily uninspiring. After all, when a weaker man might have simply given up, Dole rebuilt his life from scratch after bitter and painful war injuries that nearly killed him and that, to this day, he carries with him. Nor is it that his political contributions have been insignificant. He has been a major player in every piece of significant legislation to be passed for decades.
Much of what Presidents Bush and Reagan call their accomplishments could not have happened without Bob Dole’s help. Yet, Bob Dole is uninspiring. It is not only a question of charisma, it is a question of leadership of a non-legislative sort. James Madison, our fourth U.S. President, wrote that for the government to work properly, “energy in the executive” was required. Bob Dole has spent a lifetime “splitting the difference,” finding a path to get legislation passed, to make things happen. It is an admirable life, yet it is one conducted in quiet Senate meeting places. It is one where politicians spin the evil of the opposition to the news media and then have lunch with the evil in the Senate dining room.
Americans, idealistic, dreamers, also are believers in a vision they are not comfortable discussing, that of the nation’s purpose, which differentiates it from the nations of the old world. That on this continent could rise a New Jerusalem, a shining city on a hill.
So, Bob Dole, this politician competent among all others, seeing his campaign struggling, sensing a yearning among the people for something more than the best legislative craftsman in the land, reached out and picked Jack Kemp as his running mate.
Jack Francis Kemp will remind many Americans of another J.F.K., the President who actually said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” For Kemp exudes growth and passion and an American belief in the ability to make things better.
The betting was against Kemp because it is said, Dole doesn’t like him much and Kemp is, different from other Republicans. He gained fame as a football quarterback and, in that capacity, Kemp is quick to remind anyone who will listen that he took showers with men of all races, of all economic backgrounds and, in general, dealt with all kinds of people that many politicians, both Republican and Democrat, never come close to. This is part of why Kemp commands attention and even admiration in quarters where most Republicans rarely venture.
Kemp’s policy views are simple: lower taxes, a currency backed by gold, and an endless effort to try new things, such as Enterprise zones, educational vouchers, a hundred other experiments designed to make things better. His approach is inclusive and energetic and, when few Republican voices were raised to oppose the bashing of immigrants, his voice was heard. When so many Republicans seem prepared to talk of the poor as if they are creatures from another planet, it has been Kemp who said no, the poorest share aspirations remarkably similar to the affluent. They want homes and jobs, they want good schools for their children and hope for tomorrow.
Kemp is not young anymore. He has passed the age of sixty and yet, his exuberance is contagious and makes many Americans feel young again themselves.
All of this may not matter. Jack Kemp has just been nominated for Vice President, not President. He didn’t even run for President this time, finding the prospect of a thousand chicken dinners to raise money simply too much to bear. In fact, just a few weeks before his nomination, he was deemed to be finished in politics. He himself spoke of his “wilderness time” in reference to the years Winston Churchill spent out of power.
Yet, as Churchill was called when his country needed him, so it may be true that Kemp’s time has come. For the fundamental problems of America, problems of race, of the underclass and of a decline in public civility seem immutable in the face of traditional nostrums. President Clinton gave traditional American liberalism one last try by bringing up a national health care plan, but even though his party controlled, at the time, both houses of Congress, they not only couldn’t pass it, they couldn’t even bring it up for a vote. Yet, often aloof Republicanism seems no more likely to solve the nation’s problems or to capture the people’s hearts. Yes, a balanced budget might be wise, but surely, it is insufficient to solve the difficulties at hand and uninspiring as a flag to rally the people to change. So a third way is required and Kemp, with a concentration on an opportunity, may be its herald.