Does the GOP have a Jack Kemp today?

posted at 10:01 am on March 22, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

After the election, I wrote that what the Republican Party needs to expand its appeal isn’t a dramatic shift in policy as much as a concrete, practical set of policies that matter to voters who have historically shunned Republicans.  They have a model to follow — Jack Kemp, who set out to make conservatism practical and meaningful in core urban areas, in order to head off the disasters he knew would come, and which has already arrived in Detroit, for instance.  Rich Lowry wonders whether the Republican Party even has someone of Kemp’s vision on the bench these days:

And so much depends on substance. No “rebranding” will make a difference if Republican policy is not relevant to people’s lives. What the party desperately needs more than different marketing or new political consultants are a few Jack Kemps, political entrepreneurs willing to ignore orthodoxies and evangelize for new ideas.

Kemp did his most important work as a backbencher in the House. Where is his equivalent today? It’s too bad John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy don’t tell some promising member to spend the next three months coming up with 10 ideas for promoting work in America, or for a new welfare reform agenda, or for replacing Obamacare, or for making college affordable. Instead, it’s all federal debt, all the time. …

The Republican Party can study itself to death and hire the world’s best marketers, but without some Jack Kemps it will only be dressing up stasis.

“Rebranding” not only misses the point, it’s the problem.  The GOP has become all brand, no beef.  No one doubts the importance of dealing with the federal debt, but on practically all other issues, the Republican Party has become a gaggle of philosophers instead of crafters of specific policies.  We are entering a third year of GOP House control, and there hasn’t been much in the way of specific legislation to address these issues.  No one, it seems, wants to propose real policies based on living in those core urban communities to make the lives of voters better through conservative principles.  Small wonder those voters end up believing that Republicans don’t offer any solutions because they either have none or don’t really care about the issues in the first place.

Jack Kemp put his feet on the ground and worked to find solutions that would solve actual concrete problems.  That lack of focus since his time as Bob Dole’s running mate in 1996 has contributed mightily to the erosion of credibility the GOP has suffered in places that are costing them elections.  A political party that provides no solutions won’t remain relevant for long.

Speaking of which, though, the Democrats may be creating relevance issues of their own. In my column for The Fiscal Times yesterday, I note that while the “47 percent” remark turned the GOP into a caricature of itself, Democrats are busy living up to their own stereotype as the “tax and spend” party of old:

David Brooks, the moderate New York Times columnist, issued an alarm on Tuesday over the “progressive shift” in Democratic policies.  He looks at the House Democratic budget proposal, and notices that they want another tax hike – and a big one.  Instead of pushing the top rate just to 39.6 percent, as they managed to do in January, Democrats now want a top rate of 49 percent.

“There’d be new taxes on investment, inheritance, corporate income, financial transactions, banking activity and on and on,” Brooks explains.  “Today, especially after the recent tax increases, the total tax burden is already at historic highs. … In fact, the entire Democratic governing vision, from President Obama on down, is based on the notion that we can have a growing welfare state and pay for it by taxing the top 2 percent.”

Brooks isn’t the only commentator in the center making this point.  After years of pushing the notion that Republicans are protecting the wealthy from taxes, the ultra-liberal Bill Maher finally decided to check on who actually “pays the freight” in the US.  Surprise! It’s him:

“You know what?” Maher told his audience. “Rich people … actually do pay the freight in this country.  I just saw these statistics. I mean, something like 70 percent. And here in California, I just want to say liberals — you could actually lose me. It’s outrageous what we’re paying — over 50 percent. I’m willing to pay my share, but yeah, it’s ridiculous.”

Maybe both parties need to become their caricature to finally put them to rest.  It seems as though the GOP is farther along that path than Democrats — or are at least more aware of the problem.

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