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TV interview
Alan Keyes on Crossfire
December 15, 1999

Alan Keyes (R), Presidential Candidate: I found that people in the face of those polls were acting as if it has become a two-man race, because they wanted to continue the blackout, which means that you keep the black out. No dollar vote without a ballot vote. Do you understand that? Abolish the income tax, fund the federal government with tariffs, duties and excise taxes so the people of this country get back control of every dollar that they earn. (end video clip)

Robert Novak, Co-Host: Tonight, some say he's winning the debates, but can Alan Keyes win the nomination?

Announcer: Live from Washington, Crossfire. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the crossfire, Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes.

Novak: Good evening. Welcome to Crossfire. Alan Keyes has been at the candidate business for a long time. This is his second campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, and he was twice GOP nominee for the Senate from Maryland. He has government experience, a former foreign service officer, and in the Reagan administration, U.S. ambassador to UNESCO and an assistant secretary of state. He is the best educated Republican candidate, a Ph.D from Harvard, and maybe the smartest. So, should Alan Keyes do well in the debates? He does, at least according to Internet voting. After the sixth Republican debate in Des Moines Monday, the MSNBC survey showed Keyes the winner. And Dick Morris's vote.com poll showed him way ahead, 62 percent to George W. Bush's second place, 20 percent. Ambassador Keyes needs that kind of vote. The CNN-"USA Today" Gallup nationwide poll completed just before Monday night's debate makes Keyes a poor fourth out of six candidates with just 4 percent. Do Republicans love him in the debating ring, but can't visualize him in the Oval Office? If so, why? Is it just racism? -- Bill.

Bill Press, Co-Host: Ambassador Keyes, good evening, welcome to Crossfire.

Keyes: Thank you.

Press: I would like to come back -- stick to that point of racism, the last question that Bob asked, and hear a little bit more from that debate on December 2 up in New Hampshire where you had some pretty strong things to say, Ambassador, about the media. Let's listen up first.

(Begin video clip) Keyes: Polls came out in the past couple of weeks, your own phony polls that showed me third in this race and suddenly I found that people in the face of those polls were acting as if it has become a two-man race, because they wanted to continue the blackout, which means that you keep the black out. I am sick of it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

Press: Ambassador Keyes, do you really believe that the media is not giving you more coverage simply because you're black?

Keyes: I think that's right, yes. I think it's the result of a stereotype that the media has with respect to what black Americans are supposed to be like, and I don't correspond to the stereotype, so they're pushing me out. A conservative black American is somebody who simply doesn't correspond to what the media believes black people ought to be. And I know that folks think that racism is just about hatred, but that was never true. It was always also about prejudice, about applying stereotypes to people on the basis of their racial grouping and then excluding them from proper and fair treatment because of those stereotypes, and that's exactly what's happening here.

Press: Well, as Bob mentioned in the open, Ambassador, the latest poll -- CNN poll shows you at 4 percent in the national polls. According to the FEC, you have raised $2.5 million compared to George Bush's $58 million. At that time -- at the end of September, you had $134,000 in the bank, George Bush with $38 million in the bank. Is it racism or is it just reality that means that people don't take you more seriously as a candidate?

Keyes: See, you compare me to G.W. Bush, but in terms of the treatment I should be getting, you ought to compare me to Steve Forbes, or to Gary Bauer, or to Orrin Hatch. What I find interesting is that even just the other day I was listening to one of these fellows on MSNBC after the debate and he says, "Alan Keyes is dead last in the polls." Why would he tell a lie like that? You realize, of course, that even in the phony polls you talk about, I have never been last. I have never been behind Hatch, to my knowledge, I have mostly been ahead of Gary Bauer, and I have been, in several of the polls in recent weeks, ahead of or tied with Steve Forbes. So the question isn't, should I be treated the way G.W. Bush is treated, but why aren't I treated with the same respect that a Forbes is treated or a Bauer is treated? And if I happen to be accomplishing more using less money that actually shows greater ability, doesn't it? So how come that ability isn't being looked at and evaluated in the right terms? If you're actually able to accomplish more than other people with less money than it takes them to accomplish the same result, I think that's a recommendation.

Press: Bob.

Novak: Alan Keyes, the -- at the debate in Des Moines Monday night, Gary Bauer suggested that because George W. Bush would not advance -- give the -- make a sort of advance commitment that he would name somebody pro-life as his running mate if he is nominated, that shows he's not serious about abortion. Do you agree with that?

Keyes: Oh, yes, I do. I think that it's absolutely essential. If you understand the pro-life issue, it's an issue that's fundamental in principle in terms of one's understanding of the Constitution and in terms of one's understanding of the basic principles this nation is governed on. You can't lead the country in the right direction if you're wrong about its basic principles, about the elements of constitutional government. I could never recommend that they put somebody in the presidential chair in case something happens to me who is going to take the country down a road I believe to be wrong and unconstitutional with respect to what is in effect the most important moral issue of our time. It either shows that G.W. Bush doesn't understand the significance of the issue or he doesn't really care about it.

Novak: Let me make a suggestion to why he's taking the position he is, because Governor Bush has been called the most anti-abortion Republican in America by NARAL, the National Abortion Rights League, but there is a possibility, a possibility -- however slim -- that if George Bush is nominated he might get as his running mate General Colin Powell, arguably the most popular American -- incidentally an African-American, I don't think that's important -- but he would, in the opinion, of most politicians -- a Bush-Powell ticket -- you could mail in that election. Would that be such a terrible thing?

Keyes: No, you couldn't. A Bush-Powell ticket will split the Republican Party and destroy it. I personally have said many times if they choose a pro-abortion running mate, I will walk, so will many other people. We cannot sacrifice principle for anything at all. And if they think they'll achieve victory by destroying the moral heart of this party, I, for one, will work very hard to prove them wrong.

Novak: You're saying that if George Bush picks Colin Powell as his running -- if he's nominated -- and picks him as his running mate, you would work against that ticket?

Keyes: I will walk. I will leave the Republican Party if they put any pro-abortion individual in the vice presidential slot, and that's why I think folks who care about this country ought to make sure that they vote for somebody like me. The country is more important than any partisan victory. I serve God first. And that means that if you're going to do something that takes this country down a path that will destroy its moral heart, I will not follow you and neither will many other Republicans, and I say that to G.W. Bush. I have said it for many years. That's why, by the way, I think Colin Powell, for all the hype, had no chance of winning a nomination in the Republican Party. A pro-abortion individual is not going to get the nomination from the Republican Party, and somebody who puts a pro-abortion individual on the ticket is setting the party up for destruction.

Press: Alan...

Novak: Ambassador Keyes -- go ahead, Bill.

Press: Yes. Alan Keyes, Monday night after the debate in -- out in Iowa, you had some tough things to say about the front-runner, George W. Bush. You said, among other things: "George Bush is a candidate who does not run from conviction. He's running because he's got a big name and some money." Is that the only reason you think that George W. Bush is running for president, Alan?

Keyes: Actually I do. I don't sense any real strong convictions or principle at the heart of his efforts to get involved in all of this, and I think that that's a big mistake right now, somebody who can stand before the American people and criticize folks who have been trying to get people to focus on the moral challenge that's in front of us. After two years of the Clinton administration, the shameless lying and lack of integrity, the paralysis of our institutions due to a lack of moral conviction, the problems that we have encountered over the years because of the breakdown of that moral fabric, that's the key issue of our time. And he has said that we should stop obsessing about slouching toward Gomorrah, as if this is an issue that doesn't matter. This doesn't make sense, and it's not the kind of leadership we need right now.

Press: Well, the other night at the debate he showed some conviction when the question was asked about the political philosopher that's influenced you the most. You said the founding fathers. I thought it was a pretty good answer. George W. Bush said Jesus Christ. Do you think he was showing conviction there or was it pure political pragmatism?

Keyes: No, sad to say, I was -- I think he was showing an entire misunderstanding of the question. I found it kind of shocking and I think a lot of people did. Not, by the way, because of all the separation of church and state nonsense, no, but because G.W. Bush thinks that Jesus Christ was a philosopher, and this is not possible. Philosophers are people who seek the truth. Jesus Christ is the truth. And there is a vast difference between the one category and the other individual. If he puts Christ in that kind of a category, then he has secularized him to a degree that reduces, in fact, what he really is. I don't admire Christ, and he doesn't influence my life. I worship him. He is the living son of the living God, and he doesn't influence my mind, he shapes, guides and commands that mind, because he is the sovereign of my will. Now, if -- that's not a philosopher's role, and I just found it strange that asked that question, you would respond with Christ. The most influential figure, certainly, but thinker, political philosopher, Jesus Christ was not a thinker, quote/unquote. He was the word itself. And so I just found it to be kind of -- what can I say? I thought it was a little bit of a misunderstanding of the question. And I also thought that it reflected a misunderstanding of who Christ really is.

Novak: Ambassador Keyes, you have been pretty tough on George W. Bush. You have been, by implication, tough on all of your opponents if they don't understand what the issues are. They don't understand the moral malaise of this country. And you don't criticize -- you don't offer much criticism of the Democrats or President Clinton. I went through the whole transcript. There was just one time you said anything negative about the Democrats. Don't you think, as a loyal Republican, maybe you ought to turn your fire on the Democrats instead of your own troops?

Keyes: Two things are true. First, I don't think you will find a Republican in the Republican party who has been more forthright in his criticism of Bill Clinton, of the Democrats, than Alan Keyes.

Press: I agree with that, Alan. I agree with that, Alan Keyes.

Keyes: In every area I have taken the stands, and I have done so out of conviction, not because it was some kind of political opportunity, but because it is what I believe. Right now, however, the Republicans are faced with a choice in our own ranks. We must put forward the best candidate -- the best candidate for America. That's what we need to start thinking about here, not the best candidate for ourselves, not even the best candidate for what we think is going to be a victory. What we need to do is put forward the best candidate for this country and its future. And if we are willing to do that, then I think we will deserve victory. And if we're not, then we will deserve defeat.

Press: All right, Ambassador Keyes, we are going to take a break there. We have talked a lot, but we haven't talked yet about taxes. We haven't talked about Kosovo. Those issues and many more from Ambassador Keyes when we come back.

(Commercial break)

Press: Welcome back to Crossfire. Most people agree -- everybody agrees, almost, that Alan Keyes is the most dynamic speaker of the whole bunch, and most agree he dominates, if not wins, every debate. But that is not yet reflected in the national polls. Will it ever be? He is our special guest tonight, Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes -- Bob.

Novak: Ambassador Keyes, I am a little surprised that you are not more sympathetic to Senator McCain's complaint that there is an aura of corruption in Washington where all these pork are written in by individual members of Congress, satisfy special interests, satisfy their own constituencies. Doesn't that situation bother you?

Keyes: It does, but I suppose I would listen to Senator McCain a little bit better if he didn't have so much of that aura hanging about his own past career. But we'll leave that aside. I think, however, that to me the solution isn't that you put the government in charge and have them regulate what is, after all, a fundamental constitutional right. Free association, which is essentially what we are talking about here, means nothing if you can't fuel it with your resources. So as I often tell people, if I can't associate my money in any amount I please with the convictions I believe are right for America, then you have destroyed my right of free association. I think the best regulatory effort will be to let the voters regulate the outcome, and that requires a couple of things. I would say no dollar vote without a ballot vote, so that corporations, unions, all of these special interests would not be allowed to contribute as they do now. And then there would be total publicity, immediate publicity, so that we'd know who was giving what money to whom.

Novak: Now, let me take you up on that because you have used that phrase "no dollar vote without a ballot vote," and none of your other candidates have said "What the hell do you mean by that, Alan?" Do you mean that the political action committees of the Ajax Nut Company and Screw Company couldn't contribute money to a candidate?

Keyes: I mean that no entity that did not have funds that came from individual voters rather than from corporate entities, or any other entities of that kind...

Novak: Well, there is...

Keyes: ... would be able to participate. That would mean...

Novak: ... a federal prohibition against corporate contributions now.

Keyes: That would mean that you would still be able to have, if they're funded by individuals, PAC organizations -- but no, PACs can get corporate contributions up to what, $5,000 or something, so that they can participate. Unions can act in that capacity. I think that's wrong. Unions, corporations, foreign governments -- all of this should be eliminated. We are supposed to have elections decided by voters, by ballot voters. But how can we then say that the actual dollar votes that are having so much influence shouldn't be restricted to those same ballot voters? That's all I would say. And I think that would then give free range to individual liberty, while at the same time it would mean that individuals who gave a lot of money would have to stand in the spotlight and take the heat for what they were doing.

Novak: But a rich man could put in an unlimited amount of money for Alan Keyes if he wanted to?

Keyes: That's right. And I actually think that that's better than the present system, where you mobilize corporate networks in the interest of money, mostly, and corporate interests. Whereas you take individuals who might be motivated by philosophy, by ideology, by all kinds of things that involve individual commitment, and you restrict them to a thousand dollars.

Press: Alan...

Keyes: Why should money interests have more influence than the interest of passion and faith and conviction in our politics?

Press: Alan Keyes, let me ask you about another issue in which you and Senator McCain disagree, and that is Kosovo. You had some very strong things to say about Kosovo going back to this December the 2nd debate up in New Hampshire. Let's just refresh everyone's memory about what you had to say.

(Begin video clip)

Keyes: Over the course of the last several months, we've learned a lot of information that suggests that the propaganda that was unhappily spread throughout the media about atrocities in Kosovo was greatly exaggerated. The Pentagon has admitted it. News sources have admitted it. Teams have been in now, and have discovered that a lot of these things did not have foundation. I think that that was a propaganda war. (END VIDEO CLIP)

Press: Now since that debate, Mr. Keyes, the State Department has issued a report based on interviews with human-rights organizations on the ground that 10,000 Albanians were killed by Serb forces. Do you still believe it was a propaganda war?

Keyes: Well, I think we have to be careful about that first, Bill. I have read that report, and what they're talking about is grave sites, reported grave sites that go up to 11,000 people. So far, only 2,100 confirmed...

Press: Correct.

Keyes: ... in terms of verifying those reports and so forth and so on. And there's also a question about what is -- is the timing on those grave sites? Are you talking about all of those deaths occurring in one year, in several years and so forth and so on? Because I hate to say it about tragic things like this, but we can't afford to set the threshold of aggressive intervention so low that it provides an excuse for anybody who wants to cross a border and kick one of their neighbors around to do so anytime they want to shout, oh, human rights abuses: especially not when we live in a world where the actual threshold of atrocity is so much higher. That's why the other night I mentioned Sudan. I mean, in the Sudan you have 150,000 to 200,000 people being killed -- killed, dying -- every year. That is way up here on the scale of atrocity. Kosovo, even with the best reports out there, if the highest number were true, it wouldn't even enter that ballpark.

Press: I know -- I know we're almost out of time, but just quickly, even the 2,108, which I believe is the number of bodies dug up so far in Kosovo, it doesn't mean it was pure propaganda, though, Alan. That's my point.

Keyes: Sorry. Yes, it does, because they were claiming 100,000, and they were talking to us in terms that then were used to justify bombing civilians and killing several thousand people with our bombs. The just war doctrine requires that you not do more harm with your war than you're seeking to prevent by the action you take. And I think we'd have a hard time measuring up to that test in this case.

Novak: Alan Keyes, Bill Press promised we'd say something about taxes. So I will definitely go in that direction. Your -- your national tax, sales tax to replace the income tax would not replace the payroll tax, would it, which is what most Americans pay more payroll tax than they pay income tax?

Keyes: Yes, it would. I have looked over the proposal, because I started out in the position that we ought to replace the income tax and that we should then look at replacing the payroll tax. I have since examined the proposals that have been put on the table, and I have become convinced -- and I have been taking the position for the last several months -- the fair tax proposal that replaces...

Novak: You support the fair tax?

Keyes: I think it's a good idea. And the only thing I would add is to make careful provision for the market basket of goods and services exempt from taxation that take care of basic needs so that you have what I call a frugality track, which individuals who are poor, fixed-income individuals, or people who just want to avoid paying so much in taxes would be able to do.

Novak: A yes or no answer: Do you think the lobbyists who fuel Republican campaigns would ever agree to that?

Keyes: I think the people will agree. The lobbyists will fight us for sure. (laughter)

Novak: Alan Keyes, Alan Keyes, thank you for being with us and good luck.

Keyes: You're welcome. My pleasure.

Novak: Bill Press down in Atlanta and I will be back with closing comments.

(Commercial break)

Novak: Bill, the first time that Alan Keyes talked about a blackout -- keeping the black out of the media accounts I was offended. But the more I think about it, I think he's got a point. He is terrifically articulate. He's excellent on conservative issues. I think it just offends the liberal media to have a black man taking those positions. They say that is not playing the game.

Press: You know, Bob, I think it's just the opposite. I think some of his positions are so outrageous that he would not have gotten -- he would have been attacked for them, like saying that the war in Kosovo was just pure propaganda.

Novak: I say that. I agree with it.

Press: But calling Bush -- but calling Bush "Massa Bush," nobody else could get away with that. I think Alan Keyes has gotten away with more just because he's black. I think it's kind of a reverse racism.

Novak: I know you don't like to think about the things that people don't agree with, the liberal establishment, but most of the Republican activists think that Kosovo was a phony propaganda war and really a disgrace for this country. So, that's not an outrageous position. A national sales tax is not an outrageous position. And his campaign finance reform, what do you find wrong with that?

Press: Look, Bob, let me just say you know as well as I it's going to be George Bush or Al Gore and not Alan Keyes. And that's not racism. That's realism.

From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good-night for Crossfire.

Novak: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of Crossfire.

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