The Magazine

Keyes to the Presidency?

If talking were all it took, Alan Keyes would be on his way to the White House

Jan 24, 2000, Vol. 5, No. 18 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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Of course, if he weren't running for president, Keyes wouldn't get to be in the debates, and with Keyes you get the feeling that participating in the debates is the whole point of the exercise. (For one thing, it allows him to refer to the other people on stage, the ones with actual voter support, as "colleagues" -- as in, "My colleague, Mr. Bush.") Fours years ago, Keyes, along with three other single-digit candidates, was excluded from a Republican primary debate in South Carolina. Keyes played the race card, accusing the debate's sponsors of trying "to stand in the schoolhouse door and tell me I can't participate in this process." Then he went on a hunger strike in protest. Three days later, a "tyrannical television station" in Atlanta barred him entry to the next debate. After two attempts to storm the studio, Keyes was led away in handcuffs. "My crime is being qualified to be president," he explained later.

At some point, the people who plan debates decided that keeping Keyes out wasn't worth the effort, and this time around he has appeared at all nine. He has savored every one. "A lot of people when they watch the debates think that I have won them all," Keyes tells the crowd in Council Bluffs. "I am not going to disagree with them."

Nor would most viewers who watched Keyes in action. He was, as always, masterful. But what have his performances achieved? Nothing Keyes could say will bring him much closer to the White House. On the other hand, his presence (both in the debates and on the ground in Iowa) has hurt Bauer and Forbes, both of whom are making roughly the same pitch to religious conservatives. Meanwhile, Keyes's eloquence has helped make Bush appear even shallower.

Last week in Michigan, for instance, moderator Tim Russert asked each of the candidates how the United States should respond to AIDS in Africa. "I think this is a compassionate nation," Bush said, "and I think we ought to rally other compassionate nations around the world to provide the money to help the folks in Africa." Bush went on to point out that "this is a compassionate land and we need to rally the people of compassion in the world to help when there's a terrible tragedy like this in Africa."

When the question came to him, Keyes, who speaks six languages and wrote his Harvard Ph.D. thesis on Alexander Hamilton, seized the opportunity to expound on the role of licentiousness in the global moral crisis. It's crisis that money cannot solve, Keyes said. "I think that this whole discussion is based on a premise that reveals the corruption of our thought." The audience applauded.

It's not unusual for Keyes to disagree with the premise of a discussion, or to imply that a question is almost as stupid as the person who asked it. At a recent debate in South Carolina, Keyes was asked to name the biggest mistake he has made as an adult. "I think about the biggest mistake I might make as an adult would be to treat that as if it's a question that is appropriate to be asked," Keyes replied. Alan Keyes has a temperament problem. And it's even worse in person, when there are no cameras rolling.

Keyes has finished his speech in Council Bluffs, and the hour-long Q&A after that, and yet another hour of talking to supporters in the receiving line. As a talker, Keyes has a bit of Fidel Castro in him -- he could probably do six hours without an intermission -- and he seems almost eager to sit down with the three reporters present and keep on talking. The crowd has gone home, and yet the two bodyguards Keyes brings with him everywhere remain vigilant, standing only a few feet away, arms crossed in front of them, trying to look menacing. (They succeed.)

Keyes has just finished snapping at a reporter for asking a stupid question. When he gets mad, Keyes's voice, never terribly resonant, gets even higher. Now he is explaining why the obvious choice for Americans -- the only real choice for anyone with any insight or intelligence -- is to elect him president. "I actually have more varied and preparatory experience than anyone running," Keyes is saying. In fact, he says, "I'm the only one who has spent any time thinking in any depth about the principles of the American Constitution."

Keyes is probably right. Which is why he'd make such a terrific civics lecturer.

Tucker Carlson is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.