Election 2004  
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Still Crazy After All These Years

Republican Alan Keyes has lowered his sights from the presidency to the senate. But his extremist views remain the same.
 
 
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The new Illinois candidate for the U.S. Senate, conservative Republican Alan Keyes, may be most famous for a liberal act: jumping into a mosh pit while Rage Against the Machine performed, body-surfing the crowd, and exchanging body slams with a spiky-haired teen as a means of getting filmmaker Michael Moore's endorsement for president in 2000. As Moore put it, "We knew Alan Keyes was insane. We just didn't know how insane until that moment."

"Insane" is an adjective that may be tossed around a lot regarding Keyes because he has been saying a lot of kooky things for a long time. Mostly, his extremist ideas have been overlooked. In the 1996 and 2000 Republican presidential contests, no candidate saw Keyes as a threat or wanted to risk criticizing one of the few prominent African-American Republicans around.

Last week, Keyes accepted the Republican nomination to run against the Democratic nominee Barack Obama — and immediately railed against Obama’s support of abortion rights. Abortion is Keyes' number-one issue: He wants a total ban, with an exception only as a "collateral and unintended consequence" of saving a woman's life (not the health of a woman, rape, or incest). In 2002, he said, "This issue alone, which I believe dominates our moral decline as a people, should decide this and every election cycle.”

In a May 7 speech in Provo, Utah, Keyes said the 9/11 attacks, which killed nearly 3,200 people, were a message from God to oppose abortion: "I think that's a way of Providence telling us, 'I love you all; I'd like to give you a chance. Wake up! Would you please wake up?'" During a campaign appearance in Bedford, N.H., in 2000, Keyes asked a class of fifth-graders, "If I were to lose my mind right now and pick one of you up and dash your head against the floor and kill you, would that be right?" He then went on to tell the children that some courts and politicians think it's OK to murder 6-month-old children.

Keyes has an apocalyptic view of America's future unless it repents: "I do stay up at night thinking about what's going to happen to America. I do stay up at night with a vision of our people in conflict, of our cities in flames, of our economy in ruins."

A history of failures

Born in 1950, with a career-military father, Keyes was elected president of Boys Nation in high school, met President Lyndon Johnson, and spoke to the American Legion in Dallas. He avoided the draft in the late 1960s thanks to student deferments and a high draft number. Keyes attended Cornell University, where his favorite teacher was legendary conservative Allan Bloom. Keyes spent a year studying in Paris with Bloom, then followed him to Harvard, where Keyes earned his doctorate in government. A fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and a Trekkie, he plays classical guitar and even considered a career as an opera singer. Lately, his version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” sung for a local TV camera, has been making the rounds on the Internet.

In 1978, as part of the State Department Foreign Service policy-planning staff headed by Paul Wolfowitz, who is now a key foreign-policy and defense adviser to Bush, Keyes was the black face used by the Reagan administration to oppose economic sanctions against the apartheid government of South Africa. Keyes also worked as a low-level diplomat at the U.S. Consulate General in Bombay, India, where he met Jeane Kirkpatrick. When she became the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Reagan, she hired Keyes in 1983. Keyes spent two years as U.S. representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (UNESCO).

In 1988, when Kirkpatrick was approached to run for the U.S. Senate in Maryland, she demurred, suggesting Keyes instead, and a conservative star was born, albeit a losing conservative star.

Keyes lost to Democratic U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes with a respectable 38 percent of the vote. By 1992, when Maryland voters got to know him better, his support dropped to a mere 29 percent against a bonafide liberal, Barbara Mikulski. During that campaign, Keyes paid himself an annual salary of $100,000 from campaign funds, then refused to pay off his campaign's $45,000 debt. He later paid off his Senate-campaign debts, but, according to Federal Election Commission records, he owes nearly $525,000 from his failed presidential bids.

Obama's campaign juggernaut scared away many other candidates, but Keyes isn't afraid to lose — his previous losses have always paid off in other ways.

Keyes' failed 1988 Senate campaign led to a job running Citizens Against Government Waste (1989-91) until his failed 1992 campaign, which led to a radio talk show, The Alan Keyes Show. His failed 1996 campaign for president helped him double his speaking fee from $7,500 to $15,000 per speech. And Keyes cashed in on his failed 2000 primary performance with a cable-TV show in 2002 on MSNBC called Alan Keyes Is Making Sense. If only that were true. Viewers disagreed, and anemic ratings caused MSNBC to cancel the primetime show. For Keyes, losing elections has been a good career move in promoting himself.

Perhaps the greatest flak Keyes has taken came from his charge of carpetbagging. Republicans – who wanted to denounce Obama as an interloper raised in Hawaii and educated on the East Coast who came to Illinois a mere 15 years ago – suddenly find themselves with a candidate whose main connection with Illinois consists of flying through O'Hare International Airport.

On the Fox News Channel in March 2000, Keyes criticized Hllary Clinton for entering the New York Senate race. "I deeply resent the destruction of federalism represented by Hillary Clinton's willingness to go into a state she doesn't even live in and pretend to represent people there, so I certainly wouldn't imitate it." That wasn’t all he said. “I do not take for granted that it's a good idea to parachute into a state and go into a Senate race. As a matter of principle, I don't think it's a good idea." That was then, this is now.

Keyes on race

Keyes is legendary for playing the race card. He quit his State Department job in 1987, blaming it on a racial snub by Deputy Secretary of State John C. Whitehead. (Keyes accused Whitehead of looking past Keyes and speaking to subordinates; Whitehead called the charge "outrageous" and "inaccurate.")

In 1992, when he wasn't given a prime speaking spot at the Republican National Convention, Keyes blamed the decision on racism. He ended up speaking twice at the convention, including once in primetime. Because the Republican National Committee withheld financial support for his losing cause, Keyes accused them of racism and complained that in the GOP, "colorblind means that when a colored person walks in, you suddenly go blind."

Running for president, Keyes accused the media of "a blackout to keep the black out." When the media attention to African-American Republican J.C. Watts was pointed out to him, Keyes responded, "The very question is a racist question!" Keyes told the media, "You do to me what you did to my ancestors! You ignore my successes, just as you ignored my ancestors' successes!"

Keyes told USA Today in 2000 that his exclusion from media coverage was racially motivated. “And it's racially motivated not in the sense of just being against blacks but being against black conservatives, who would threaten the base of left-wing liberalism in America." When an interviewer praised his oratorical skills, Keyes called it racist because it denigrated his ideas.

When it comes to race, Keyes rejects the idea that any black person – except for Alan Keyes – suffers discrimination. He told Larry King in 2000 that if he were the victim of a "driving while black" police stop, he would fault the "black folks out there disproportionately committing certain kinds of crime."

Although Keyes is opposed to affirmative action, his selection was itself a case of affirmative action. Before choosing Keyes, the Republican State Central Committee interviewed 13 candidates for the U.S. Senate job. They picked two African-Americans as finalists: Keyes and Andrea Barthwell. Faced with an African-American Democrat, they acted affirmatively on race.

Sex, marriage, and Nazis

Keyes' extreme views touch on most hot-button social issues, from gay marriage to the separation of church and state.

Gay marriage, Keyes warns, will cause "the destruction of civilizations," and he has equated the "homosexual agenda" as "totalitarianism." In fact, Keyes claims, "Hitler and his supporters were Satanists and homosexuals." To Keyes, "The notion that is involved in homosexuality, the unbridled sort of satisfaction of human passions," leads to totalitarianism, Nazism, and communism.

Says Keyes, "Since marriage is about procreation, and they can't procreate, it is a logical requirement that they can't get married." Never mind that heterosexual couples incapable of or unwilling to have children can get married, or that many gay couples have children. Keyes seems oblivious to this reality: "Homosexuals are not haunted by the prospect or possibility of procreation – because they're simply not capable of it. I think this is pretty obvious, isn't it?"

One other thing worries Keyes about homosexuality: lesbian couples having children by means of artificial insemination. Why? Well, because the children of lesbians who don't know their fathers might meet and be unknowingly related: "That means that an incestuous situation could easily arise in our society; it's more than likely to arise – not to mention every other kind of incestuous complication."

At a May 14 rally in Boston against gay marriage, Keyes even declared that gay and lesbian couples don't have sex: "It's not entirely clear to me you can call them sexual, because in point of fact, sex is no part of what they do. Real sexuality is about the distinction between male and female, as expressed in the body and its differences."

For Keyes, gay marriage is out. But a marriage of religion and government is in.

He has denounced what he calls "this silly argument" that there must be a separation between church and state. "Entirely a lie" is what he calls this long-standing principle of American government, even claiming that the U.S. Constitution grants states the right to establish churches or impose religious tests on political leaders.

Keyes also advocates the idea of a governor or the president having the authority to disobey a court order he believes violates the Constitution. According to Keyes: "The right response of a chief executive in this state and in this nation, when faced with an order by a court that he conscientiously believes violates the Constitution he is sworn to respect, is to refuse their order!"

Keyesian economics: The slave tax

If his views on abortion and homosexuality seem outside the mainstream, Keyes' economic ideas may be even stranger. He opposes what he calls "the slave income tax," and he means that term literally: "What do we call it when you work and someone else controls 100 percent of the fruit of your labor? We call it slavery. Therefore, I am not talking in metaphors here."

During a 2000 presidential-primary debate he referred to "Massa Bush" and his tax-cut plan because "this is all a discussion between the masters of how well or ill they're going to treat the slaves."

Keyes urges repeal of the 16th Amendment, which allows for a federal income tax, and instead advocates a 20- to 23-percent national sales tax to replace all federal income and payroll taxes.

But Keyes is no typical free-trade Republican. He denounces international trade pacts such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the North American Free Trade Agreement as socialistic and subversive.

On other issues, he supports removing all limits on campaign contributions and spending; opposes a minimum-wage increase; supports partial privatization of Social Security payroll taxes; and proposes eliminating the Department of Education and using federal money for schools exclusively as vouchers for parents. Evolution should not be taught in schools because it "utterly destroys the foundation for any sense of a transcendent basis for human justice."

He advocates teaching high-school students how to use guns. Keyes links gun control to higher taxes: "If you can't be trusted with your guns, guess what else you can't be trusted with? Your money!" Keyes has even hinted that gun control justifies armed revolution against the U.S. government. Citizens, he says, have a duty to "resist and overthrow the power responsible" if their right to have guns is "systematically violated." In 1999, Keyes even seemed to threaten the president by saying, "the Second Amendment is really in the Constitution to give men like Bill Clinton something to think about when their ambition gets particularly overinflated."

Why Keyes?

Diehard Republicans and Keyes fans (sometimes known as "Keysters") are thrilled to have a prominent right-winger running in a traditionally moderate state like Illinois. Moderate Republicans are much more worried, although most have publicly jumped on the Keyes bandwagon.

Why would the Republican Party pick a candidate with such a long history of extreme views in a relatively moderate state like Illinois (where George W. Bush won 42.6 percent of the vote in 2000)? Mike Lawrence, an aide to former Gov. Jim Edgar, a Republican moderate, calls Keyes' selection a "cynical ploy."

Even the Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine edited by Keyes' Harvard roommate William Kristol, calls the choice of Keyes a "fiasco" in an online article by Republican consultant Mike Murphy. "I'm certain Ambassador Keyes is now busily printing up some 'Crazy Times Demand a Crazy Senator' yard signs," Murphy wrote.

Keyes has consistently attacked moderates in his party, especially those who are pro-choice. He's denounced what he calls the "Schwarzenegger corruption of the Republican Party," referring to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a featured speaker at the RNC. “On all the matters that touch upon the critical moral issues, Arnold Schwarzenegger is on the evil side," Keyes said.

Greg Blankenship, a Republican who runs the "Obama Truth Squad" Web site, calls Keyes' candidacy "truly nuts" and "borderline delusional." Blankenship says, "I've dealt with Keyes personally. . . His ego is too big for the Senate, Presidency, and probably God."

John K. Wilson lives in Normal, IL. and is founder of the Indy and collegefreedom.org. A version of this story was published last week in the Illinois Times.