Jack Kemp was the great champion of freedom, according to official conservatives, whereas Dick Darman was the “Prince of Darkness.” In fact, whatever was wrong with Darman (President Bush’s budget director), Kemp was far worse.

The Kemp-Darman battle came down to this: Kemp, a leftist Republican, constantly sought to expand the budget for his “war on poverty,” and Darman, a moderate with twice Kemp’s IQ, was sometimes able to stand in his way. For example, Kemp’s HOPE (Homeownership and Opportunity for People Everywhere) program for the semi-privatization of public housing was costing more than $100,000 per unit. According to Jason DeParie’s “Kemp Loses the War on Poverty” in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Darman pointed out that it would be cheaper to buy poor blacks their own condos, causing a temper tantrum from Kemp. But even Darman didn’t point out—as Jeffrey A. Tucker did in Chronicles—that the units were not really sold to their tenants, since tenants could not in turn sell them on the open market. Worse, a new unit of public housing had to be built for each one “sold.” Darman did note that “enterprise zones” were simply excuses for more welfare spending, and that state-level zones hadn’t worked. And Darman warned Kemp not to call them “opportunity zones” as he wanted to do, or people would be making fun of “the Land of Oz.”

At a meeting of cabinet undersecretaries, Kemp called it “unconscionable” that welfare recipients lose a dollar in benefits for each dollar earned. His answer: let them keep 85 cents in welfare for each new dollar earned. Darman, who had just stepped into the room, did some quick arithmetic in his head and pointed out that such a plan would allow people earning $70,000 a year to collect welfare. There is a large “technical literature on welfare,” Darman noted. Kemp should read it. By this and other actions, Darman showed that he had a “really sick attitude,” said Kemp. Darman “didn’t care about poverty; he cared about what the budget looked like.” There’s “not a single inner city of the United States that even knows who Dick Darman is” (to his credit, some might say).

A nut as well as a leftist, Kemp “would flop in his cabinet seat like a beached whale, sink his head into his hands, roll his eyes, and scribble exasperated notes.” He would also lean back in his chair and stick a finger down his throat to show his opposition to an idea or person. Those who criticized him were “wee-weeing on me.” One of those wee-weeing was the President, who refused to let Kemp call his proposals a “War on Poverty.” Such a phrase conjured up visions of big government even for Bush.

Kemp had had trouble from the beginning. On his first day as HUD secretary, he took an inch-thick stack of spending proposals to White House Chief of Staff John Sununu. Darman arrived with one sheet showing the costs. “It just blew apart Kemp’s ideas before they ever got started,” said former Kemp aide Thomas Humbert. “The death question was always, ‘How are you going to pay for it?'” an administration official told DeParle. “These people had no clue.”

They did come up with the word “empowerment” as “a way of sounding conservative and activist at the same time.” Darman noted that “empowerment” was popularized by commie Saul Alinsky in the 1960’s and asked that it not be used in any memo to him. “You people,” he told the Kempians, “don’t understand the connotation of the word.” When he heard about this, Kemp said: that’s “sick,” that’s “a sick thought.” (We are not told whether he stuck his finger down his throat.) As to the favorite phrase of Kemp’s White House soulmate, James Pinkerton, Darman asked: “Hey, brother, can you paradigm?”

But Kemp kept rolling on his wobbly way, and at another meeting he flipped out over the purple suspenders of staffer Richard Porter, which would deny him “any credibility with poor people.” Kemp lectured him on the “proper antipoverty dress,” presumably not by Chanel.

When Kemp visited Los Angeles after the anti-poverty riots, a group of black Democratic mayors—America’s loudest advocates of more welfare—”swarmed around Kemp,” which he proclaimed as a great tribute. They did not, he pointed out off the record, swarm around Bush (an actual tribute to the President). At a black boys club the next day, Kemp “stole the crowd’s attention” from the President with repeated “exaggerated shoulder rolls.” It was “a little bit of a goofy thing to do,” admitted a Kemp aide.

At a press breakfast a week after the riots, Kemp recalled “the lessons of racial equality he had picked up in locker rooms filled with black athletes.” He didn’t describe what those millionaires had taught him, but he did call his war on poverty “my way of redeeming my existence on this earth. 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.”

We need to do something, too. As Kemp yells, does his shoulder rolls, and mimics Valley girls with his gag-me-with-a-spoon routine, we need to spread the word about what Wacky Jack actually stands for.