SAN DIEGO -- The Republican ticket has finally come to life -- it now has a beating heart and a cool head. While Bob Dole's speech here Thursday night will no doubt rouse the conventioneers and rally the faithful, it will be up to his running mate to stir the nation.
"Bob and I," Jack Kemp said in his first speech as Dole's No. 2, "are going to be asking for the support of every single American, from the boroughs of New York to the barrios of California. ... No one will be left behind, and no one will be turned away."
This should be the central theme of Kemp's speech at the convention. He will have plenty of time between now and November to explain supply-side economics to the nation. But, as he is fond of saying, people don't care how much you know -- about economic growth or anything else -- until they know that you care.
According to most recent polls, over 60 percent of the Americans believe that the nation is on the wrong track. It is to them that Kemp must speak this week.
Let President Clinton celebrate the good economic news, with his chief economic adviser Laura Tyson bragging that "the worst is over." And let Kemp ask the administration: "How many millions of Americans are you willing to write off when you boast that 'the worst is over'?"
In 1989, when he became secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Kemp declared: "Mr. Lincoln said America cannot exist half slave, half free in the 19th century. ... The next century, we can't have this country half or three-quarters prosperous and some folks left behind."
In San Diego this week, Kemp must jolt the campaign with this sense of urgency. In the same way that Richard Nixon made the GOP the party that first opened the door to China, Kemp could position the Republicans as the champions of the growing underclass left out of the glowing economic picture painted by the Clinton administration.
He could use as a role model another conservative, Benjamin Disraeli, who over a century ago, on the other side of the Atlantic, warned of the risk of England disintegrating into "two nations, between whom there is ... no sympathy .... as if they were inhabitants of different planets."
In America today, the divisions between the inner cities and the suburbs are daily growing starker -- gated communities and housing projects separated by walls of resentment and indifference.
In fact, the walls are so high that administration officials can talk about the worst being over -- with no one noticing how absurd this is. Now Kemp can challenge them with a moral authority earned over his entire public life.
His speech must first bring to life the crisis facing the country: Every day, 2,660 American children are born into poverty and 8,493 are abused or neglected, while 15 million are growing up in homes that are breeding grounds for criminal behavior.
"There is no way," he could say, "that we can allow ourselves to become two Americas and still remain one nation under God. And there is no way that middle-class families can insulate themselves from the violence and the social breakdown in our urban communities. We can make everything on our economic wish list come to pass, but if we don't inspire Americans to get involved their own communities, we will never be able to resurrect the American Dream."
Kemp once said that "the first conservative principle" is the recognition that "the state of the human soul determines the shape of human society." This stands in clear contrast to Democrats who still believe that the shape of society is determined by the size of government programs.
In San Diego, with the nation watching, Kemp can articulate the GOP's mission: "We are the only party with the bold vision and the will to not only speak up for the poor but to offer them a way out -- the only party not beholden to the poverty industry that again and again has put its own interests above the lives of those trapped in a system that has failed them."
By issuing this challenge to his fellow Americans, Kemp will once again claim for Republicans the moral high ground which they foolishly ceded to the Democrats and without which no party can be the majority party.
It is about time someone called the president's bluff. And Kemp, whom The Washington Post described Sunday as a "walking, one-man outreach program," is just the man to do it.
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