Supply Side visionary Jeff Bell, who, at 74, suddenly passed away this past weekend, will be remembered by those who knew him for his quick wit, brilliant intellect, and unflagging moral courage. He, my friend and mentor, personified all that is best about politics. Bell’s 1978 Senate campaign in New Jersey (in which he unseated incumbent Clifford Case in the GOP primary and was only narrowly bested by Democrat Bill Bradley in the general), is remembered for taking Supply Side economics off the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal and inserting it into the mainstream of national politics.
Jeff Bell deserves to be remembered as a man who transformed the world.
As he wrote after the passing of Jack Kemp:
There were two big ideas that changed the world in the 1980s: Supply-side economics and a bold strategy for winning the Cold War…. It’s important to understand that the first, introduced into American politics by a then-young Kemp in the 1970s, preceded the second. No look back on the life of Jack Kemp is complete without the recognition that, without Kemp’s success, the Reagan-led peaceful victory in the Cold War could never have happened.
What Jeff Bell was too modest to say, however, is that the Kemp/Reagan supply-side revolution (that restored prosperity to the world) likely would not have happened without him.
In 1978, Bell launched an insurgent primary challenge in New Jersey against sitting Republican Senator Clifford Case. Case was a four-term liberal Republican Senator who was well embraced by the establishment. Bell was part of a small brigade of radical political insurgents who were determined, as Kemp’s Brain Trust, to end the stagflationary economic status quo of the ‘70s. Bell, along with Jude Wanniski, Arthur Laffer, Lewis E. Lehrman, and a handful of others, were the original Supply-Side.
Bell shocked the political establishment by defeating Case in the Republican primary, and he did it by running a focused campaign on one big idea: that economic growth could be restored by implementing a 30 percent, across-the-board marginal tax rate cut, coupled with restoring integrity to the dollar. Bell’s 1978 campaign made him the political pioneer of the supply-side movement.
His primary victory gave the supply-side radicals an early win to legitimize itself politically. As it happens, Bell’s Democratic opponent, Bill Bradley, adopted Bell’s signature issue. Bell and Bradley became friends, and they shared a bottle of champagne in Bradley’s senate office when, under Bradley’s sponsorship (and with Bell’s active support) the top marginal income tax rate was dropped from 50 percent (previously 70 percent) to 28 percent by a 97-3 margin in the Senate. Now that’s bipartisanship!
In my last conversation with Jeff Bell — at a baby shower held on the day of his passing — he was in great spirits and eager to inform me that he was getting close to finding a sponsor for a gold bill in Congress. Bell pursued his populist, supply-side economic vision until the very end — and in honor of his incredible life and indelible mark on history, it’s time for us to continue the fight.
After Jeff and I departed the party, he stopped me on the street outside to wish me a second, final farewell. It was a small mark of the generosity of his spirit and one that will always serve as an inspiration to myself and others as we pick up his torch to promote equitable prosperity.
Thank you for transforming both the world and my life, Jeffrey Bell.