Two days after the death of G.O.P. icon Jack Kemp, Newsweek Senior Editor Michael Hirsh posted a classless obituary on Monday, "The Dangers of Amateurism," calling the football player, politician, and self-taught economist Kemp an "amateur econo-cultist."
One does not want to be disrespectful of the dead, and Jack Kemp was an admirable man in many ways. If the Republican Party had only followed his advice about reaching out to the inner cities and underclass -- and ignored his happy talk about supply-side economics -- the GOP might not be in nearly the fix it is today. Unfortunately the opposite happened. Kemp, a consummate professional as a football player, was a classic case of an amateur econo-cultist whose understanding never reached quite deep enough. In mid-life, when he decided to switch from sports to politics, Kemp became enamored of simplistic free-market ideas, in particular a toxic combination of Arthur Laffer and Ayn Rand. He then sold another gifted amateur, Ronald Reagan, on the idea that drastic tax cuts would so stimulate the economy that the ensuing growth would more than make up for the loss in revenues....Kemp was such an economic purist -- i.e., amateur -- that he argued with Reagan himself a number of times when the president decided that perhaps he'd cut taxes enough.
By the way, Reagan's "drastic tax cuts" of 1981 amounted to a 25% across-the-board cut in personal marginal tax rates -- a healthy cut, but hardly apocalyptic. After all, tax revenues continued to rise throughout the Reagan years, despite the reduction in tax rates.
And speaking of amateurism -- what are Al Gore's environmental science credentials again? Gore has no scientific training or background; he is a self-taught activist in his field, just like Kemp was. But Hirsh, far from criticizing Gore's environmental amateurism, lamented in a December 2007 post that Gore would not be running for the 2008 presidency:
Why isn't Al Gore -- Nobel laureate and enviro rock star, embodiment of the alternative history that never was, winner of the largest popular-vote total in U.S. presidential history (at the time) -- seeking the job that many people still think should have been his in 2000?
Hirsh concluded his Kemp tribute by portraying today's "economic disaster" as the most enduring part of Kemp's legacy. Classy.