Editorial: Barack Obama, Jack Kemp, & Baltimore

Jake Novak has a really good commentary up on the CNBC website about what we’re seeing in Baltimore right now:

I’m not going to bore you with a litany of solid statistics showing how cities like Baltimore have been awash in federal taxpayer money for decades provided by tax-and-spend Members of Congress of both parties. I’m also not going to say too much about the fact that Baltimore has been a state ruled by Democrats in the Mayor’s office for almost 50 years straight and how Maryland has been a solid blue state for the Democrats for about 40 years. It’s amazing how whether we’re talking about droughts in California or urban decay in cities like Detroit and Baltimore, somehow liberals make the uproarious claim that it’s the party that’s been pushed out of power in those areas for lifetimes that’s at fault.

Instead, let’s look at a person and a philosophy that person put into action that actually worked, is working, and will work to make cities like Baltimore better for generations to come. I’m talking about the late Congressman and HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, whose true concern for Americans trapped in failing city neighborhoods defined his political career for 30 years.

Kemp earned his “bleeding heart conservative” nickname by actually making a habit of personally visiting rough urban areas and interacting with the people there. His pre-politics career as a star NFL quarterback surely made doing that a lot easier for him, but so did his mantra of “don’t fear the voters” that he often repeated to his Republican colleagues. Kemp wasn’t the first to do this to great effect. John Lindsay, (then a Republican), was generally a terrible mayor of New York City. But he single handedly kept New York from devolving into the riotous chaos that erupted in so many other cities after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by personally walking from Gracie Mansion to Harlem almost completely unescorted and talking with the people in the neighborhood for hours. Harlem didn’t burn because Lindsay showed up. Kemp emulated that wise tactic many times. This personal connection lesson has so far been lost on President Obama who hasn’t set foot on the streets of Baltimore, nor did he go to Ferguson at the height of the unrest when his presence could have had such a calming effect.

But this wasn’t all about just showing up on the rough streets for photo ops, Kemp backed it all up with a policy that was based on the key understanding that government wasn’t the solution to economically-challenged inner cities. Kemp saw it as the problem. Only private sector interest and investment can meet those challenges and Kemp knew that removing government barriers to that investment was the key to it all. Kemp also made it happen. One great example of his success was New York’s Harlem neighborhood, which benefited from Kemp’s empowerment zone structure that mixed tax breaks with relaxed regulations to encourage new construction and business activity in those areas. Think of those zones as like charter schools; places where all the old rules are thrown out and only what’s needed is put in place to encourage the best achievement. To make these areas really work, the government has to cede almost all of its power and traditional funding programs there. In other words, what works for the depressed areas of our cities is less government, not more. Are you listening Mr. President?

Read the entire commentary here.

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