Jack Kemp
Whatever Happened to the Party of Ideas?
Reading Time: 3 minutes

From about 1978 until the Monica Lewinsky fiasco, the GOP was called “the party of ideas.” I miss the ideas.

William F. Buckley helped. Buckley liked big ideas and smart people. He liked politicians who gave legs to great ideas and governors with the guts to experiment. Governor Ronald Reagan appeared on Buckley’s Firing Line shortly after the Gipper became California’s governor. Reagan talked about many ideas he was trying or hoping to try. My favorite: allowing states to keep a portion of the federal taxes and fees generated within a state instead of cycling everything through Washington’s bureaucracy.

That idea now exists in the form of Transportation Empowerment Act.

The Idea People

Jack Kemp, the former congressman, HUD secretary, and football quarterback, championed all sorts of ideas. Some of Kemp’s ideas offend a few modern Tea Partiers, but he at least promoted ideas and tests. He gave the Republican Party (and conservatism) an idealistic, enthusiastic, and optimistic face. Buckley called Kemp “America’s leading enthusiast.”

How many of those exciting ideas from the 80s and 90s began with a Heritage Foundation paper? All of them? Most? Well, Heritage is still there, still pumping out ideas. And Heritage has add Heritage Action to help activists push ideas upon their members of Congress.

What Are Ann Wagner’s Big Ideas

I wonder, though, why so many modern Republican politicians avoid ideas like the plague? Take Rep. Ann Wagner. She’s interested in issues, or so she says. I believe her. She’s very interested in issues involving potential donors. Or issues that Republican pollsters discover a demographic for.

Ideas, though, are another matter for politicians like Wagner. Ideas don’t come with checks. Ideas can get you into trouble. Ideas demand hard thinking to plan and explain, and hard work to promote and execute. Why do all that work when you could be raising funds from wealthy donors, instead?

Sometimes, big ideas become the topic of discussion at candidate forums. Jack Kemp loved promoting his ideas with people unlikely to jump aboard, including Democrats. Or communists. Or anyone willing to discuss big ideas. I can’t imagine Kemp ducking a candidate forum or a debate.

Rep. Ann Wagner, on the other hand, avoids idea sharing, future planning, or philosophical discussion. Wagner won’t show up at a candidate forum with her opponents, Libertarian Bill Slantz and Democrat Arthur Lieber. Mrs. Wagner, apparently, will be busy knocking on doors during the candidate forum next Wednesday, October 22. Those doors, according to her official schedule, are in northern Virginia, where Wagner will be raising money for a candidate there.

When I was young and Republican in the 1980s, the ideas attracted me. Jack Kemp’s enthusiasm and William F. Buckley’s brilliance and Ronald Reagan’s lovable charm made my job of attracting other young voters easy. I remember the 1987 Low Country Stump Days in Charleston, SC. I was surrounded by people in their twenties. We were guided by retirees, but we knew we were the stars because we were young and conservative and full of ideas–ideas we borrowed from Heritage and Buckley and Kemp.

Conservative Names | Liberal Names

I’m not so sure the left has any monopoly on ideas today. Democrats mostly just want to keep blacks poor and Hispanics isolated so that government programs look like a good deal. What bothers me is that so many Republicans treat Fortune 500 companies the same way Democrats treat the poor. It’s all about creating dependency. It’s all about addicting people to government largess. It’s all about becoming the arbiter of happiness so people have to grovel.

The left, though, does a good job of pretending to have ideas. They use photoshop, videos, comedians, and actors to make cynicism feel like philosophy. Cynicism sounds original and smart to a kid.

It’s no surprise, then, that lists of the most conservative and most liberal names  present such starkly different images. As Katherine Miller writes on Buzzfeed:

The liberal names generally sound like a group of women in their late 20s; the conservative names sound like the members of a large bluegrass band from the 1930s.

In the 1980s, I was still playing the banjo, so Ms. Miller’s characterization is only 50 years off.

Young people have a life to look forward to. They’re not so interested in holding onto what they’ve got, because don’t have anything except a ton of debt. They want ideas. They expect those of us who’ve lived to provide some of those ideas.

The reason I can’t vote for Ann Wagner isn’t because she doesn’t go to candidate forums; it’s because she wouldn’t have anything to talk about if she did.

The candidate forum will be held at 7 pm, October 22 in the Meramec Community College Student Center, 11333 Big Bend Road. This is a great chance to meet a candidate with ideas, Bill Slantz.

  • The Republicans also used to be considered “the party of small government”. Maybe never entirely true, but it was true relative to the Dems. Is Wagner a small-government “conservative” or a big-government corporatist who thinks she can run big government for us better than the Dems? Wagner is a poster-girl symbol for what is wrong with today’s Republican party.

  • HC

    The best ideas, really thought out by a Republican, have been from http://www.lee.senate.gov/public/

  • Welcome Back Bill! We missed you!

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