Jack Kemp had many momentous achievements in his life. Among others, he was instrumental in bringing Queen Elizabeth II her first public hug.
You might have thought from the hubbub surrounding President Barack Obama's recent European trip that first lady Michelle Obama's spontaneous arm around the royal waist which the queen immediately reciprocated broke all precedents, as well as protocol. Not true.
That distinction belongs, as it turns out, to the late Alice Frazier, then a 67-year-old District of Columbia public housing resident. She wrapped a big bear hug embrace around Her Royal Highness during the queen's 13-day visit to the States in 1991.
Who in the world would bring the queen to a pubic housing project? I knew it had to be Jack Kemp, the former pro football star and Republican congressman from New York who had become secretary of Housing and Urban Development under the first President Bush.
Would anyone else in stodgy Washington have had the desire, the enthusiasm and the steamroller perseverance to bring the queen and a rare spotlight of public attention to America's vastly overlooked underclass? I think not.
To those who cared about the future of our cities, the stunt was "pure Jack." He would have done just about anything to bring attention to his urban "empowerment" agenda, which included tenant management and ownership of public housing, "liberated" from negligent, fraudulent or incompetent bureaucrats and government contractors.
Memories of the queen's hug come to mind when I heard about Kemp's death. My condolences go out to his friends and family. He will be fondly remembered, I am sure, as the sort of conservative who liberals liked and conservatives probably did not love enough.
Had his party listened more to the real thinkers and social problem solvers like Kemp and a little bit less to the mirror-kissing showboaters on the sidelines like Rush Limbaugh they wouldn't be stuck with the shrinking iceberg of a party on which their future teeters today.
Back in the 1980s, Kemp looked like the future of the conservative movement. His advice on issues like tax cuts helped Ronald Reagan build the conservative coalition that made him president. No one did more to put a friendly, caring, supply-side conservative face on the fight against racism and poverty.
In Kemp's world, government was not just "the problem," as Reagan had quipped. It was a resource to help people to help themselves.
"If you want to have less of something, tax it," he preached to me during an interview at HUD. "If you want more of something, subsidize it."
In that way, he was convinced that you could reverse the decay in jobs, housing, education and enterprise in urban America through well-placed tax cuts for business, school vouchers for families and other actions aimed at subsidizing good choices.
He scoured the country for "neighborhood assets," the ordinary men and women in every neighborhood who, given a chance, make better local leaders and organizers than government intermediaries do.
Kemp didn't just talk about blacks, Hispanics or the poor. He knew real people. He lunched in soup kitchens and spent nights in low-income apartments. Inside every "ghetto," he saw a neighborhood itching to be "empowered" and "liberated," perhaps with a little "seed corn" from government or private foundations.
His days as a quarterback, he half-joked, gave him a bracing respect for the black players who protected him from physical harm every week. And back in the days of big personal civil rights decisions, he walked the walk. He joined a January 1965 boycott of an American Football League all-star game after black players had been refused admission to nightclubs and taxis in New Orleans. Kemp helped get the game moved to Houston.
But the ex-quarterback fumbled his attempts to be president and later vice president, partly because of his proud quarterback's indifference to the advice of his campaign advisors. He seemed to think his ideas, tirelessly pitched, were enough to win voters over. Not quite.
As Obama's victory showed, candidates must constantly relate their agendas back to the concerns of their audiences. Americans are eager to lend a hand, but they usually want to know "Where's mine?" before they ask how they can help somebody else.
Kemp's passing in Maryland coincided ironically with a Republican "town meeting" across the river in Virginia. GOP leaders were looking for ways to rebuild their embattled party and reconnect with voters. Kemp could have given his fellow Republicans a few tips on how extend their reach beyond their usual base. After all, he once looked like the party's future. Now they sound more like a Ronnie Milsap tune: "The Future Is Not What It Used to Be."