Coming of age in the Seventies in a family of East Coast Democrats, I grew up hearing stories of great men like FDR and JFK and handing out bumper stickers for George McGovern. But even living in such a standard issue leftie family, I began to formulate my own barely informed theory about the political opposition. At the time, Richard Nixon defined the concept of the big, bad Republican to me, being evil and all. This was my first mistake -- my family's very rightful rage about Watergate masking any understanding of Nixon's fascinating complexities and intelligence. Ronald Reagan was the opposite in a way -- the man's charmingly genial personality and communication skills hiding in some ways for me the darker side of his political point of view.
My biggest mistake, however, was somehow getting the impression that some guy named Dick Cheney seemed like a very nice and smart man, so much so that I remember secretly feeling extremely relieved when after searching the landscape for any other better candidates, Dick somehow came up with the great notion of himself as the perfect Vice President for George W. It had to be good that someone so smart and competent who understood the political realities of our world would be surrounding this lesser Bush and protect us from any major mistake, right? Imagine then my surprise after 9/11 when Dick Cheney found his inner Dick Nixon and turned out to be less Mr. Reasonable and more Dr. Strangelove.
Jack Kemp was always considered another "Good Republican" in my house -- and of course it didn't hurt his standing with me that he had been a pretty fine quarterback first. We certainly didn't agree with him on every subject, but Kemp struck me then and now as a very decent man who in his own tax-loathing way truly cared even about people who were never going to vote for him, and for whom being a "Compassionate Conservative" was not just some empty campaign promise and horrible historic punch line.
Rest in peace, Jack Kemp.