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Public Statements

Jack Kemp's Legacy And The Challenge To The Next Generation

Location: Washington, DC

Thank you, Congressman Dan Lungren, and thank you all for being here tonight.

I couldn't be prouder to help kick-off the inaugural event of the Jack Kemp Foundation. This Foundation is destined to become an "idea factory" that will promote Jack's expansive vision of democratic and economic freedom and secure his legacy of intellectual leadership.

Almost everyone in this room is a product of that legacy. At some point in our lives, we were fortunate enough to have been welcomed into the extended Kemp family. It's awe-inspiring to see so many devoted friends and associates working to perpetuate his legacy. Jack had a throng of friends, but each one was special and unique to him. For my part, Jack not only motivated my first campaign for Congress, but also inspired most of the political ideas I ran on and fought for ever since.

As I was watching the election returns last November, I asked myself: How does a conservative Republican from the 8th most heavily unionized district in America -- a district that voted for Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, and Obama -- not just win re-election in a year when Republicans are getting trounced, but actually improve the margin of victory?

He does it by being a Jack Kemp Republican -- and winning the votes of a lot of Jack Kemp Democrats!

I wish I could say I had Jack's natural charisma … his infectious enthusiasm … his quarterback's skill at leading people … his gift for turning opponents into friends and sometimes even allies.

These were personal qualities to envy, but they probably don't describe this Wisconsinite.

What I did have -- what we've all had -- was an intense exposure to Jack's political philosophy … an approach to politics that Jack anchored in the timeless ideals of democratic and economic freedom, the founding principles of America.

I called Jack the day of the election last year to tell him all this. I lost my dad at a young age, and I have come to rely on a number of mentors growing up. Jack was my political mentor. I simply thanked him for teaching me these lessons. He said he was touched…and then proceeded to say: "What are we going to do to get this economy growing? We need a new growth agenda! You can't beat something with nothing, Paul!"
We all knew Jack as a Happy Warrior -- and, yes, Jack really was a happy man. How could he not be, having been blessed with a loving wife, Joanne …wonderful children, Jeff, Jennifer, Judith and Jimmy … and the joy that comes from all these grandchildren?

But let's not forget the second part … because Jack also was a warrior. He never shied away from a fight in the arena of the intellect, or stopped battling for the ideas that defined his political life. He relished the battle!

American politics tend to turn in cycles of about a generation -- periods that become known to history like Reconstruction, the New Deal era, the Great Society, the Reagan Revolution.

America has just completed such a cycle, dominated by the Republican Party from 1980 until last year. Ronald Reagan was the presiding figure of this era. But the great "idea formulator" of that cycle -- the political and intellectual entrepreneur whose ideas became the basis of its thinking and policies -- was our friend Jack Kemp.

It was gracious of President Clinton and Henry Cisneros to bear witness to the power of Jack's ideas across party lines. Certainly President Clinton won re-election on a ticket opposed by Bob Dole and Jack Kemp. But consider the hallmarks of the Clinton presidency: the NAFTA free trade agreement, which tore down international barriers to growth … a capital gains tax cut, which fueled entrepreneurship … a welfare reform bill that rewarded work and reduced dependency … an Empowerment Zone program that helped create inner city jobs … not to mention President Clinton's famous proclamation that "the era of big government is over." Every one of those achievements can be traced to Jack's influence and ideas.

Jack's policy accomplishments reached full bipartisan recognition with the tribute paid to him by President Obama when he awarded Jack Kemp the Presidential Medal of Freedom a few weeks after his passing.

A cycle has now closed. A new political generation has arrived. A new battle of ideas over new issues has been joined. We who learned our politics from Jack must not fear to address them with boldness and courage.

The party that will dominate the coming cycle will do it by returning to the beginning -- to the roots and founding principles that made America the greatest and freest country in the world. It will recall those timeless principles and make them the foundation for the policies America needs now. The elections that begin each new cycle are about the very meaning of America. We re-fight the American Revolution… with ballots instead of bullets.

Our friend Jack often turned in thought to 1776, the year of the Declaration of Independence and of Adam Smith's masterpiece, The Wealth of Nations. It was the year when political freedom and economic freedom were joining hands.

For our nation to prosper … for our democratic example to continue to shine … I believe we must be guided by Jack's vision of economic policy based on incentives for growth, defense policy based on peace through strength, foreign policy based on spreading the revolutionary principles of democracy.

After the financial panic of 2008 came to dominate the elections, nervous Americans became concerned about "distribution" while the economic pie was shrinking. Today we're in the middle of a class warfare battle. The politics of fear and envy are fighting again over a shrinking pie.

There is no guarantee that growth economics will return to the front and center. For most people in most places at most times, the amount of traditional wealth is fixed and growth has been the exception. The political struggles are about distributing limited goods. Stagnation never has to be explained. Growth has to be explained, because growth doesn't happen unless the right policies are in place.

Thus a pro-growth movement and leadership are needed to explain what must be done to restore growth, and why. There cannot be a victory for growth without a fight for growth! This fight has to be re-fought again, and again, and again.

It would be nice if we could just return to the original supply side agenda outlined by Jack in the 1970s and put into action by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. But the challenges today are different and deeper than ever before.

Marginal tax rates were 70 percent when Reagan came into office. Today they are less than 40. The deficit was measured in billions, not trillions. Entitlement spending had not exploded. Today it has, both in dollars and recipients. The financial, automotive, and mortgage industries were entirely in private hands -- not now.

The pieties of the past will not move the future. The challenge is deeper today because the principles we could take for granted then have been denied or obscured ever since. Our whole society is changing. We are much nearer to that "tipping point," where the majority pay little or no taxes but become dependents on government benefits. The future of America at the "tipping point" looks a lot like the social welfare states of Europe, where entrepreneurial risk-taking and job creation hardly exist.

We need to return to the path of economic growth and self-government, but the policies we need are different.

For one thing, we need to be more concerned than before to put limits on government spending. Otherwise new growth will be anemic and absorbed by entitlements and debt before it can expand the pie.

For another, the supply-side campaign to reduce marginal income tax rates succeeded so well that the next generation of supply-siders confronts a new problem: we must find a way to simplify the tax code and spread the tax base. All producers, both capital and labor, should bear a low but fair share of the tax burden. Adam Smith, the founder of free market democracy, said that "Every tax…is to the person who pays it a badge, not of slavery, but of liberty." To share the cost of the community's fiscal responsibilities is the mark of a free citizen because it's the lynchpin of popular control of the government.

If supply-siders don't lead the fight to limit spending and to keep taxes low and broad-based, we will find more people becoming supplicants seeking government benefits. Fewer entrepreneurs will be taking risks for growth. As the private sector joins in "partnerships" with bureaucrats, democratic capitalism will gradually become "crony capitalism." Freedom cannot outlast that transformation.

And finally, we need to focus new attention on the health of the family, both the broken families in poor communities and disintegrating middle income families everywhere. Jack used to say: "People are not a drain on our resources, people are our greatest resource!" The family is the school of freedom, and we are challenged as never before to strengthen the traditional family as the key to a free and prosperous society.

Our friend Jack was a bold innovator who never accepted conventional wisdom. In his spirit, I have suggested ideas not set in concrete, but which I hope will be discussed and debated in future forums of the Foundation named after him.

Jack had a special place in his heart for two great Presidents, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. I'd like to close with a humble paraphrase of Lincoln's eulogy to Jefferson:

All honor to Jack Kemp, the man who had the judgment, foresight, and genius to draw on the enduring principles of equality, liberty, and opportunity… to direct his statecraft in promoting the excellence and potential of every human being… and to inspire future generations to see, in these enduring principles, the providential guide to an American renaissance of democracy and prosperity for all.

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