Jack Kemp Dead at 73

Jack Kemp has died.

Jack Kemp, the ex-quarterback, congressman, one-time vice-presidential nominee and self-described “bleeding-heart conservative” died Saturday. He was 73.

His spokeswoman Bona Park and longtime friend and former campaign adviser Edwin J. Feulner confirmed that Kemp died after a lengthy illness. Kemp had announced in January 2009 that he had been diagnosed with cancer. He said he was undergoing tests but gave no other detail.

Kemp, a former quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, represented western New York for nine terms in Congress, leaving the House for an unsuccessful presidential bid in 1988. Eight years later, after serving a term as President George H.W. Bush’s housing secretary, he made it onto the national ticket as Bob Dole’s running-mate.

Sad and unexpected (to me, at least) news.

Kemp was older than I thought but, of course, the math adds up easy enough.   I’m too young to remember him from his quarterbacking days but he was a major political figure from the earliest days I paid attention to public affairs.

The “Kemp-Roth” tax cuts were at the cornerstone of Ronald Reagan’s early legacy as president and his brand of fiscal conservatism and innovative ideas to spur the entrepreneurial spirit were a huge part of the Republican Party of my formative period.  By 1996, when he ran with Bob Dole, has was becoming an outlier in the party because of his relative moderation on social issues like affirmative action (thus the “bleeding-heart” descriptor).

Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation, adds:

Jack Kemp was a leader — whether it was in a football huddle, a national political campaign or a policy discussion about the Austrian school of economics.

I first met Jack nearly 40 years ago, during his freshman year in Congress. When he introduced The Jobs Creation Act — a major legislative advance of supply-side economics — I knew I had found an ally. That ally soon became my friend.

Jack was a ‘bleeding-heart conservative.’ He wanted to make it possible for every American to succeed and eagerly worked with people of all races, colors and creeds toward that end.


“I remember standing with him in Moscow’s Red Square in 1990. The Cold War was starting to thaw, but few even suspected that the Soviet Union’s days were numbered. Jack knew. As we stood on the square, in view of the Kremlin, he pointed out an astonishing sign: The line for the new McDonald’s restaurant was longer than the line for Lenin’s tomb.

Many people will remember Jack as a great football player — and rightly so. But he was also a great player in the world of ideas, with a mind as strong as his arm. I will miss his strength and friendship greatly.

The tributes will pour in as the news spreads.

FILED UNDER: Obituaries, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Brian Haentges says:

    So sorry to hear this news, my best wishes to the Kemp family. I met Congressman Kemp in the late 70’s and He never forgot to send me a Christmas card and drop a note to see how I was doing once I joined the Air Force. I was proud to have known such a patriot, may he rest in peace.

    MSgt Brian Haentges

  2. Pug says:

    Jack Kemp seemed like a good man. I wish there were more like him.

  3. sam says:

    Had the Republican Party heeded Jack Kemp’s words on racial inclusiveness in the party, it might not find itself in the straits it does today. He was the smartest, most humane Republican politician of his generation. There was none of the petty about him, and I was always, always struck by his basic decency and kindness. Like Pug, I wish there were more like him; our politics would be much the better for it.

  4. Bill H says:

    I am most decidedly not too young to remember him from his quarterbacking days. Rest in peace.

  5. An Interested Party says:

    How ironic that this should have happened at this time…his passing serves as a metaphor for what is happening to the moderate, northeastern wing of the GOP…

  6. anjin-san says:

    Kemp was a good man, I believe he enjoyed respect from across the political spectrum. Would that there were more like him…