RALL: The Kemp Backlash Begins Here
At first glance, which is the way we Americans judge things, Bob Dole's selection of running mate Jack Kemp appears brilliant. Kemp will balance Dole's old-fart outlook with his not-as-old fart outlook. Dole can bring in the vast population-free big-sky states between the Rockies and the Mississippi River; Kemp will appeal to those women and minorities who admire his opposition to abortion and affirmative action. Best of all, Kemp's surname features four letters, as does Dole's, permitting graphically-balanced campaign materials. Dole-Kemp's popularity ratings are shooting through the roof-if the election were held tomorrow, the unemployed Kansan with the fat Rolodex would send the Man from Hope back to his little black book. There's just one eensy-teensy problem: The election isn't being held tomorrow.Once the voters have had a chance to examine Jack Kemp -- and given the fact that, for Dole, personal memory and American history are interchangeable, they'll look him over more closely than any other vice-presidential candidate ever -- Bob Dole will rue the day he heard of the former Congressman from New York. Here's why:* The Football Factor. Even the most diehard fan of our national wintertime pastime knows that football players are as dumb as a CEO. Consequently, jock politicians from Gerald Ford to Geraldine Ferraro have met with nothing but contempt. Dole-Kemp spinmeisters have shrewdly tried to portray the former Buffalo Bills quarterback as the Kierkegaard of professional athletics ("When other professional football players were reading playbooks on the road, Mr. Kemp studied politics, history and economics," the New York Times asserted one recent Sunday). Still, while it's true that the QB is often the smartest person on a team, that's not saying much. Which brings us to: * The Race Card. As Housing Secretary for George Bush, Kemp constantly pushed for "enterprise zones" (pollute in the ghetto -- tax-free!). For reasons known only to certain editorial writers, this stance made him known as the Republican Party's most African-American-savvy outsider. Kemp says he became an icon of the civil rights movement by playing football with blacks: "I wasn't there with Rosa Parks or Dr. King or John Lewis. But I am here now, and I am going to yell from the rooftops about what we need to do." Sadly, many blacks are unaware that every year when Coretta Scott King lays a wreath on her martyred husband's grave, that wreath is studded with old Kemp-for-President buttons.* The Physique of a Giant Cheese. Television is devastating to Jack Kemp. Built like a dishwasher, cursed by one of the worst toupees since Sam Donaldson (if that's his real hair, he should trade it in for a toupee) and possessing eyebrows frighteningly similar to those worn by Leonard Nimoy on Star Trek, a man with the political acumen to endorse the gold standard should be capable of getting his message across to the electorate. But there can be no mercy for Kemp's total absence of lips. Americans have little tolerance for lipless politicians. Remember what happened to George Bush. * The Born-Again Thing. Kemp was raised as a Christian Scientist, but he bagged that after he considered the possibility of getting sick. He switched to Presbyterianism after getting married in 1958, but now considers himself a Born Again Christian. This means Kemp claims he's actually met God. Americans like to elect nutcases to high office, mainly to get them off the streets, but ex-football players who shoot the bull with the Big Guy are a bit much.* The Divorce. Republican leaders follow a marital lifecycle unique to their breed. Their first wives suffer through the lean years, typing up their husbands' senior theses in college and working nights to raise campaign funds. Once elected to Congress, these politicians replace wife number one with a fresh, improved model, thus avoiding the Democratic weakness for ornery wives emboldened by fidelity. Kemp has unwisely opted to neglect this central precept of GOP political life used so successfully by Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole, choosing instead to remain married to the same woman for 38 years. And it's too late now-voters would be very suspicious of an election-year divorce. Speaking of which: * Alliteration Madness. Jack's wife is named Joanne. Their four children are called Jeffrey, Jennifer, Judith and James. One or two "J" kids would have been adorably tacky. A third would clearly have crossed the boundaries of even trailer-park taste. But that fourth one went way, way too sickeningly far. If, God forbid, Bob Dole were to croak and leave Kemp in charge of the launch codes and color-coordinated rooms, who knows what he might do? He might rename all our states and cities to begin with the letter "J". But Kemp can still save his ticket by continuing to avoid: * The Issues.