Sam Beer, Jack Kemp Set the Standard
Two influential names in American party politics have passed from the scene in recent days; each provides through his example valuable pragmatic lessons in a highly partisan time. Republican Jack Kemp is the more prominent, but Democrat Sam Beer is equally instructive.
Kemp served in Congress from New York but was from California, where the Democratic Party is now strongly entrenched but Republicans were once in charge. Progressive Wisconsin Republican Robert LaFollette had a powerful impact on the state. He and his wife brought their son to Southern California for the warm climate to aid an illness.
Never really on vacation, LaFollette inspired West Coast Republicans to join the Progressive cause. Hiram Johnson, Goodwin Knight, and Earl Warren are among the Republican governors and senators who brought both honest government and strong party leadership to the state.
Kemp built on earlier success in professional football to bring a populist touch to professional politics. He worked relentlessly to expand what Ronald Reagan called the Republican “big tent.” In specific terms, one of his most durable policy legacies is enterprise zones, which employ tax and other incentives to attract investment to low income areas.
Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter analyzes capital concentrations in inner cities. One alternative perspective reveals that income per square mile is often surprisingly high in densely populated urban areas, even when per capita income is low. This in turn argues for directing new investment to such areas, and is Kemp’s kind of progressivism in action.
Jack Kemp also was determined to bring blacks back to the Republican Party. Beginning with the New Deal, African-Americans have moved solidly to the Democratic column. Years ago, Kemp appeared before the prestigious Economic Club of Chicago. A number of blacks were on the dais as well as in the audience, a notable departure from the customary corporate audiences of those years.
Samuel H. Beer was from Ohio and spent most of his career in Massachusetts, two states once solidly Republican but no longer. Richard Nixon selected moderate Massachusetts Republican Henry Cabot Lodge as his running mate in 1960, reflecting the importance of the Northeast in the national presidential electorate.
Today, despite occasionally electing a Republican governor, Massachusetts is overwhelmingly Democratic. Beer had a lot to do with that change. He was not a career politician but rather a Harvard professor of government, where over the years he built a base of enormous respect as teacher and scholar which transcended the institution.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Beer was President of the Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal lobby considerably more influential than today. He was also a very early influential supporter of Sen. John F. Kennedy, at a time when the vast majority of Democratic liberals remained passionately committed to Adlai Stevenson. Pragmatic and persuasive, Beer became an important factor in Kennedy’s rapid rise to win the White House.
Kemp failed in his own bid for the White House but became an effective Secretary of Housing and Urban Development during the G.H.W. Bush administration.
Beer was to be rewarded with an ambassadorship, which JFK planned to announce as soon as he returned from Dallas.
Neither man secured a valued political prize, but that is of little consequence given the enduring legacies of professional accomplishment – and personal example – they leave behind.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of ‘After the Cold War’. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org