There are few things on Earth that I love more than politics…but there are some things. I love sports (stop laughing about being a “typical dude”). I’ll watch football, baseball, or softball all day long. I’ll even watch basketball, but only at the high school and college level. I love my favorite teams more than I love sports in general. I’ve always been an oddity when it comes to teams; geography really doesn’t have much of an effect on me. I love the Washington Nationals, and have plenty of #Natitude. I love Alabama football, and I Roll with the Tide every Saturday until I’m foaming at the mouth. I love my Dallas Cowboys, and even made a special trip from my home in small-town Georgia to the “House that Jerry built” just for the experience. It was great.
The other thing that I love more than politics? Traditional country music. I play it every day, on the Prime Country Sirius XM station. If it was recorded in the 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s…then I’m a fan. I even had some friends who called me “jukebox” because old songs come on, and I sing along to every word. Gene Watson, Alabama, Conway Twitty, Vern Gosdin, Mickey Gilley, Charley Pride, Alan Jackson, Reba McEntire, Patty Loveless, The Gatlin Brothers… I could go on forever. That’s all I listen to.
One of my favorite things to ever happen: when my loves (politics, sports, classic country music) cross paths. It happens once in a blue moon. I was driving down the road the other day, and my Prime Country station was on. I was flipping back and forth between that and talk radio. The folks on the talk radio station were having a discussion about conservatism: what it means to different people, who founded it, and who the icons of conservatism are. One side of my brain was considering this. The Prime Country station was playing Willie Nelson’s “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.” The other side of my brain was singing along, pretending I had braids, a bandana, and a trusty old guitar. At some point, the thought about “heroes” carried over to the talk radio station. If you found this article on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll notice the big picture behind my profile picture is of a politician speaking, hands raised in the air, no doubt making some sort of emphatic point about the future of the country, or the policies to be implemented.
That man is Jack Kemp.Jack Kemp is certainly a conservative icon but, for me, he is THE conservative icon. He is the man responsible for much of what I believe today (and that’s a rare thing to say about someone you’ve never met).
When I was 18 years old, young and naïve, I was enthralled with what I call the “glitz, glamor, and giveaways” of big, liberal, Democratic campaigns. The Democrats always seemed to paint a better picture of the future, and make better promises about my place in it. I was hooked; right up until the moment that I wasn’t. As I aged, and made big decisions about purchasing a home, paying property taxes, and paying a lot of attention to the taxes coming out of my paycheck, I realized that maybe, ,I had been duped. Not only were the big campaign promises not working, they didn’t even seem to represent the great history of America. They didn’t seem to jive with the founders ideas, nor the Constitution that they left us to maintain.
I began to question, which I now recommend every 18-22 year old do constantly. I also began to read. I read books on conservative principles, by conservative authors, with conservative slants. I read books by Rand Paul and Tom Coburn, and began listening to Glenn Beck a lot. I began to see the reality of the world around me a little differently. By no means do I agree with all of these folks 100% of the time, but my views began to mature. I became a fiscal conservative, and a fairly staunch one. I began reading about the icons, and I found a couple of books about Congressman (and 1996 Vice-Presidential nominee) Jack Kemp. The deeper I got into his life story, his issue positions, and his constant focus on policy, the more I began to see that my step-father had been correct when he told me that I was a republican, I just “didn’t know it yet.” I began to see the Jack Kemp Republican Party, not a caricature of conservatism that I had foolishly bought into before. I began to see the “big tent.” I saw a man focused on tax policy, and cutting rates across the board. Tax cuts lead to prosperity and innovation, and they provide a mechanism for that tide we always speak about to actually lift the boats. They provide capital, which is an all-too-important aspect of fostering prosperity. I saw a man, later in his life, who focused on addressing the issue of immigration with compassion, not heated rhetoric. He claimed that Republicans had not had a strong message to the poor community, or the African-American community, and all too often had “written them off.” I saw a man who saw the value in stepping outside the comfort zone of traditional republicanism, who ventured into the inner cities to talk about poverty, and refused to write-off ANY group of people as a lost cause. I saw a man who spent his life trying use conservatism to paint the positive picture of the future that I always assumed the Democrats had cornered the market on. I saw a man willing to say the hard things, take the hard stances, and do the hard work. He wasn’t perfect, but he used his imperfection to carry his message to those who might not otherwise listen. I saw a vision of conservatism that not only made me understand conservatism, but it made me want to be a part of it.
Politics came later in life for Jack Kemp. He had previously been a professional football player, and a talented one: a quarterback for thirteen years, AFL MVP, AFL Championship Game MVP, and AFL Champion (2x), and an AFL All Star (7x), mainly with Buffalo. His accolades followed him everywhere. His views were shaped by the leadership he had exemplified in his past, and molded by the diversity he encountered as professional football player. He world view was formed on a field, and it led to his success later. He was quoted as saying that you “don’t boo at a Kemp rally, you boo at football games.” That says a lot about the man. The negativity and viciousness, coupled with the lack of outreach and lack of policy ideas coming from the party today leave me wanting more. They leave me disappointed to say the least. I watch the current party standard-bearer, and I don’t see any of the things in Jack Kemp that won me over. It’s no wonder that Gary Johnson is actually running ahead of the presumptive Republican nominee with millennials specifically. As young folks, inheriting this craziness we see currently, we want a return to principles and the Constitution. We want fiscal responsibility, and for the country to stop mortgaging off our futures. We want conservatism, but we also want it for the 21st century, not the 20th. We want those things to come in a package of inclusiveness, not divisiveness. We want to be able to spread our message of conservatism to ALL of our friends, from diverse and nontraditional backgrounds, religions, and lifestyles, without offending who they are as people. We want a rising tide to life ALL boats…not just the boats of the traditional, right-wing voters.I want Jack Kemp conservatism: Moderation in tone, conservatism in principle.
So as I drovedown the road, and thought about this article last night, I realized that I had arrived at that favorite place of mine, where the politics, sports, and traditional country music intersected. I just differ from Willie Nelson in a small way: MY heroes have always been cowboys…and one Buffalo Bill.
“The only way to oppose a bad idea is to replace it with a good idea.” –Jack Kemp