Barack Obama, Jack Kemp, & Baltimore

A protester holds a sign as clouds of smoke and crowd control agents rise, shortly after the deadline for a city-wide curfew passed in Baltimore, Maryland April 28, 2015, as crowds protest the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died in police custody.
Eric Thayer | Reuters
A protester holds a sign as clouds of smoke and crowd control agents rise, shortly after the deadline for a city-wide curfew passed in Baltimore, Maryland April 28, 2015, as crowds protest the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died in police custody.

President Obama's comments at the White House yesterday about the riots in Baltimore started off on a wise note. He correctly pointed out that the looters, the arsonists, and the people attacking police officers are not protesting the Freddie Gray killing, they're just being uselessly destructive. But then, his comments descended into the usual, vindictive nonsense that characterizes just about every public comment or speech this President makes. He couldn't resist lobbing this little gem into his rambling monologue on Baltimore: "I'm under no illusion that under this Congress we're going to get massive investments in urban communities."

Yep, that's it. It's those stingy and racist Republicans in Congress who refuse to care and "invest" in cities like Baltimore and are responsible for holding back the needed government money to help renew and revitalize them and make people less likely to burn down their own neighborhoods.

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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.

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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?

If you're the kind of person who like to see evidence of bi-partisan cooperation and warmth, just ask ultra-liberal Congressman Charlie Rangel about what he thinks about Jack Kemp and what he did for Harlem. We did that at CNBC on the Kudlow Report in 2013 on the 4th anniversary of Kemp's death. Rangel could barely hold back the tears when he considered all that Kemp had done to help Harlem attract the major businesses that have made the neighborhood a top residential and commercial location for people of all races. Harlem didn't burn in 1968 because Mayor Lindsay showed up. And Jack Kemp's empowerment zone policy is the reason why Harlem didn't burn in 2014 when New York City went through the angry response to Eric Garner's death at the hands of the police. You don't burn down what you truly value and love. Economic investment has a way of eliciting that kind of care.

If only Congressman Rangel could stand up now and tell more people about Jack Kemp's vision to help cities like Baltimore. I bet he would if someone asked him, but the White House won't and neither will the news media. But the people who really care about poor neighborhoods know the truth and they also know that a president more interested in browbeating his opponents on TV is never going to get it.

Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Power Lunch." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.