Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo

January 24, 2000


For years, the Washington Establishment has been laughing at Alan Keyes: who is this guy, they sneered, and why is he running for President? Now, it looks like Keyes may have the last laugh.


A former US ambassador to the UN Social and Economic Council, and Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, the charismatic Keyes is a spellbinding speaker whose ability to ratchet up the emotional and intellectual level of Republican rally-goers is legendary. Besides running for President in 1996, Keyes ran twice for the US Senate from his home state of Maryland, and was a featured speaker at the 1992 Republican National Convention. Newspaper reporters don’t know what to make of him, and so they have been pretty much ignoring him – up until now. After years of barnstorming the country, delivering good old fashioned stem-winders that have even his critics up and applauding – and being politely but firmly ignored by the Republican Establishment and the mass media – Keyes may be on the verge of a major breakthrough. The vacuum left by Buchanan’s departure from the GOP was soon filled by Keyes. Hard-right conservatives who count themselves as GOP loyalists and like charisma in a candidate found themselves in the Keyes camp, and this is beginning to show up in the polls: Keyes is now ten percent and climbing in Iowa. This is up from second to last a few weeks ago, just above Orrin Hatch, at two or three percent.


Much of this is due to Keyes’ stellar performance in the Republican debates, in which polls reveal he managed to impress the majority of the TV audience as the "most knowledgeable." Keyes would stand out in any company: Compared to the dull disquisitions of the dweebish Forbes and Gary Bauer’s priggish proclamations, however, Keyes’ eloquent oratory has made him the focus of conservative protest, the voice of rightwing dissent in the GOP. Keyes, who wrote his Harvard Ph.D. thesis on Alexander Hamilton and speaks six languages, underscored the Smirk’s ignorance with his dazzling language and mastery of the issues. The Keyes Moment is upon us – but how long will it last? The answer may surprise us all.


The rise of a black conservative leader in the GOP is not something that anyone expected – not the national media and especially not the GOP Establishment that has spent so much time convincing itself it really does believe in "diversity." With the Democrats launching a campaign designed to paint the party of Abe Lincoln as the party of George Lincoln Rockwell, one would think that the GOP establishment would have been quick to glom on to Keyes, or a least engage him in some way. Instead, they have virtually ignored him, concentrating all their fire and attention on the threat from their left in the media-driven McCain insurgency. They do so at their peril. . . .


Keyes drew large crowds in Iowa, generating more excitement than all of the other candidates put together, and igniting the enthusiasm of grassroots conservatives. While his signature issue is abortion, Keyes is far from being a single-issue candidate. The abolition of the income tax, which he likens to slavery, gets just as much if not more attention. An avid critic of globalism, he disdains the UN, and insists on the absolute primacy of American sovereignty, and goes even further: he recently observed that the bombing strategy against Yugoslavia was designed to create a NATO protectorate in the Balkans, and the Kosovo war was "a war to establish a not-yet-existent global government" using "a strategy that is morally evil." As the Kosovo war was dragging to its unseemly end, Keyes declared in an unforgettable piece for WorldNetDaily that:

"Whatever kind of "victory" Bill Clinton claims, I think that the rest of us ought to hang our heads in shame. The NATO campaign has followed a strategy that we know to be wrong and deeply immoral. The moral norms that as a decent and civilized people we have worked to establish condemn a strategy that aims to break and destroy the civilian people of a country in order to achieve political objectives. The classic definition of terrorism is the use of force against civilians in order to get them to do your bidding as a result of the terror induced in their hearts. And we have been practicing a strategy based on just such a use of force."


Keyes has been characterized by the national media as a social conservative: they cannot see past the references to God, and the revivalist tenor of his rhetoric, to realize that the guy is a libertarian through and through. Of course, the only people who get called "libertarian" these days are left-libertarian flakes like Jesse Ventura, former Governor William Weld, and Bill Maher. But Keyes is far more libertarian than any of these in the sense that he loves liberty, and not licentiousness. His absolutist stance on abortion is perfectly compatible with libertarian principles, granted the premise of the anti-abortion movement that the fetus is the equivalent of a living being.


During the 1996 campaign, faced with the difficult task of following Buchanan in a candidates’ forum in New Hampshire, Keyes boldly challenged the audience and Buchanan by making an argument that seems to me unanswerable. Pat has just given one of his rip-roaring "culture war" speeches, and the audience was really riled up against the secular elites. It would have been hard for anyone to top that, but Keyes waded fearlessly into the fray: "Brace yourselves," he said, as soon as he got up on the stage, "because this is the part some of you won’t want to hear." Citing the history of America as the bastion of religious tolerance, a refuge from Europe’s sectarian purges and persecution, he lit into Buchanan:

"And if you understand that, then you understand something else. I follow to this podium a man I greatly respect and admire. But also a man who I believe is in the midst of committing what could be a fatal mistake for the moral conservative cause. . . . We cannot stand before the American people, as I'm afraid Pat Buchanan just did, and tell them that the great foundations of American life are the Bible and the Constitution. He leaves something out. He leaves out that great document which is the bridge between the Bible and the Constitution. . . . That document is the Declaration of Independence. The document that states the fundamental premises of this nation's life, and which puts at the heart of our national identity not the existence of rights, but the existence of God. And which puts it there, not as a matter of Christian faith, not as a matter of Jewish faith, not as a matter of personal faith, but as a matter of American faith: an American creed, an American belief, that which unites us one and all on the common ground of principle that makes us one nation, under God.

"But if we present our moral case leaving out that essential bridge, we will not win, we will be defeated. We will not serve the cause of right, but we could very well at this critical moment lead it to a defeat that will mean, quite frankly, the end of our Republic. That is – that is – how profound this moment is, how deep and serious is the moment you and I are facing."


Keyes was beating a bit of a straw horse here, as I am sure that Buchanan would disagree with none of this; nevertheless, Keyes made an important tactical point perhaps overlooked by Buchanan at the time. In his critique of the dangers of appearing to call for state intervention to impose morality and religion on the pagan masses, Keyes was perhaps presaging Buchanan’s later turn toward the more libertarian-oriented Reformers. Which raises an intriguing point – will Keyes follow Buchanan into the Reform Party?


With rumors rife that the Smirk is about to anoint Elizabeth Dole or Christine Todd Whitman to the Veep slot, the pro-life forces are getting ready for a major assault on the party’s Eastern Establishment – and Alan Keyes could be leading the charge. Coming out of Iowa with a strong showing, and with a new visibility in the media, Keyes may become the locus of rightwing dissent in the GOP, such as it is. The question is: will he show up at the Smirk’s coronation, and bend his knee to the hereditary heir – or will he issue his own declaration of independence, the announcement of his break with the GOP?


Ideologically, Keyes and Buchanan are so similar as to be virtually indistinguishable on every issue, from Kosovo to gun control, from tax policy to foreign policy and on down the line. They belong in the same party because they are part of the same movement – the movement to restore our old Republic and break the chains of the Welfare-Warfare State. They would make a truly dynamic duo, a dream ticket for noninterventionist conservatives and other critics of Clinton’s criminal assault on Yugoslavia. After the Bush people humiliate the Keyes activists by shutting Keyes entirely out of any role at the Republican convention, and as conservative shills for Bush like Tucker Carlson sneer that "he’d make such a terrific civics lecturer," Keyes and his grassroots supporters will feel increasingly alienated from the GOP. Will they stay and fight for the soul of the party, or join Buchanan and his brigades and find a new home in the house that Ross built?


A Buchanan-Keyes ticket: now that is the biggest nightmare of the Republican Establishment – and the Democrats wouldn’t be too happy about it either. For both would eat into constituencies previously monopolized by the "majors": blacks, union members, the growing antiwar movement, as well as movement conservatives previously wedded to the GOP. As the battle to be included in the debates takes front and center, Keyes – who has plenty of experience in dealing with debate organizers who exclude non-"mainstream" candidates – will be a powerful voice raised against this undemocratic attempt to control the process. This will give the Buchanan theme of malevolent elites more resonance and bite: together Pat and Keyes would strike terror in the hearts of the Establishment: both the left and the "respectable" right would tremble at any prospect that these two could possibly be included in the debates.


Buchanan’s motivation in bolting the GOP and launching a third-party bid for the White House is attacked by the Republicans and their journalistic apologists as a case of sour grapes, of personal vanity, of hubris. But the fact is that Buchanan was motivated simply by the conviction that no real difference remained between the two major parties, and by the knowledge that he could keep his campaign going and make sure that conservatives would have some voice in the general election. The Keyes crusade is similarly motivated to continue: Keyes has been campaigning, on and off, since he first ran for Senate years ago, and is unlikely to stop now. He has built up a personal following as well as a growing national audience, and after the GOP convention they are going to want to know what road to take. As to whether Keyes will have the courage to take that final step and break with the liberal Republican Establishment once and for all is an open question – and an interesting one to contemplate.

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