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TV interview
Alan Keyes on the Jim Lehrer Show on PBS
December 20, 1999

GWEN IFILL: Alan Keyes, now a talk show host and motivational speaker, is the former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Social and Economic Council. The best-educated candidate in the Republican field, he holds a Ph.D. from Harvard and also served as Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations during the Reagan administration. Mr. Keyes has sought public office three times before, twice running for the US Senate from Maryland, and four years ago in his first race for President. Now 49 years old, he is in the hunt for the Republican presidential nomination once again. Alan Keyes, welcome.

ALAN KEYES: Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: Let's start by talking--I would like for you to describe your campaign day to me; what is a typical day like, what are you hearing from people on the campaign trail, and how does it affect your campaigning?

ALAN KEYES: Well, our day is spent a lot dealing with people. The main centerpiece of the Keyes campaign has been Keyes rallies which are gatherings of folks who get together in order to hear the message that the campaign represents. I obviously spend a lot of time talking to folks on talk radio, doing interviews and other things of that kind. But a good deal of the campaign involves getting the message across to folks at the grassroots who are then going out to help us spread the word and organize the campaign.

GWEN IFILL: Your campaign is based in Phoenix--one of your advisers described it as a virtual campaign. Is it a campaign that actually has a center?

ALAN KEYES: Well, I don't know what that would mean. I think the campaign has the center in the people who started it in the first place. When I stood up to run in 1995, my main purpose was to try to call the Republican Party back to a strong commitment to the moral goals and ideals that I think are at the heart of American life and have been at the heart of the party's appeal to the American people--something that I think some folks would like to tear us away from including our commitment on issues like abortion to the great principles of the American declaration, which see our rights and liberties as related to the authority and wisdom of the creator God who gave them to us in the first place. I think that is terribly important and people who heard that message have responded over the course of time and the campaign is really the product of their enthusiasm.

GWEN IFILL: Dwight Eisenhower was the last president who got elected without having been elected to anything before. But he was a war hero. What in your background and experience prepares you to be President?

ALAN KEYES: Everything, actually, I'm the candidate who has actually spent the most years of his life thinking about and studying both the basic principles of American government and the institutional challenges. I have a Ph.D., in fact, in government, which emphasized in my dissertation constitutional theory and the principles behind the American system and the American way of life. I also have hands-on experience in foreign policy dealing with a whole range of issues, of course, in my work with the United Nations, and as Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, spent a lot of time dealing with budget issues as president of Citizens Against Government Waste--from the point of view, of course, of the taxpayer, not from the point of view of serving special interests or kowtowing to this or that corporation as many of the folks deeply entrenched in Washington politics do, but really trying to organize and represent the interests of taxpayers at the grassroots. That was my main concern--I also had brief stint as an interim president of Alabama A & M University which gave me at least a taste of the practical side of American education--and some of the challenges that we face, as we try to deal with the problems and challenges of both funding education, adequately and also making sure that it meets the kind of standards that will prepare students for the challenges that they're going to face in the real word.

So, in many ways I think I have probably the best rounded background of any of the folks presently involved in the presidential race and the most hands-on experience, as well as having spend the most time thinking seriously about the basic principles and underpinnings of the American system.

GWEN IFILL: Pat Buchanan, Jesse Jackson, Ross Perot, they all prove that you could run for President as much to make a point as to get elected. Are you running for President to get elected, or to articulate a vision?

ALAN KEYES: Oh, I'm running for President because I think this country is in the midst of the greatest moral crisis that we have ever faced, and that if we don't address that crisis as our top priority, we're going to lose our institutions of liberty.

We are already seeing the erosion of the understanding of many people particularly in new and oncoming generations of the basic principles of our way of life. We have seen the steady erosion of fundamental liberties.

We accept things now like the income tax that are totally contrary to the ideas of liberty that the country was founded upon, and yet we act as if these are things that we should take for granted. As a people we have strayed very far from both the understanding and the principles that allow us to sustain our way of life.

And I think if we don't get back to the fundamentals, we are going to lose it. And that would mean that my children and grandchildren would not grow up in a free country as free citizens. So I'm running to make sure that that doesn't happen.

GWEN IFILL: But you have got more attention in the last few weeks for your contention that you are being ignored, not that your fundamentals are not being paid attention but that you are being ignored because of racism. Why do you think that?

ALAN KEYES: I didn't get attention for that, no. Actually, I've gotten most attention because I have outperformed everybody else in the debates. That's why I've gotten most attention, because pretty much every observer who watched them knows that when you put everybody together on that stage and people who had the direct experience of watching were then asked and are asked who won those debates, who was the strongest performer, who had things to say that, in fact, addressed the problems in a way that seems the most cogent to show the most understanding, I'm the one that they pointed to.

That's why I have gotten the most attention, it is been true in talk shows all over the country; it was true in the polls after these things were taken. Even the media, which has done its best to try to repress the existence of my candidacy, was unable, happily, to repress the truth about that even though in the last go round they had done so. I actually won the New Hampshire debate I participated in in 1995/96, whenever it was, but that was completely repressed in the American media.

GWEN IFILL: Why?

ALAN KEYES: This time around I think they have had a harder time doing that and we will see what the result is. So I would have to bet to differ slightly in that.

GWEN IFILL: Is it ideological that it's being repressed?

ALAN KEYES: It's a combination of things. I actually think that the liberal media in this country has certain stereotypes. They apply those stereotypes to people in order to filter them out of the American system and consciousness, it's a kind of bigotry.

A lot of folks have forgotten that we talk about racism and all these things--and these days everybody throws the word hatred around. Well, the truth of the matter is that the substance of bigotry in this country, the substance of racial difficulties and challenges was not in hatred. That was the extreme version of it that led to the lynchings and so forth.

What actually supported the system on a day-to-day basis, what led so many kind of ordinary folks who would never lynch a soul to support a system of injustice was bigotry, it was prejudice, it was the willingness to judge people according to stereotypes instead of looking at their individuals qualities and qualifications.

That's what the media does to Alan Keyes. They have a stereotype about black Americans. You are supposed to be liberal and Democrat and all these other things they pretend. If you stand up and are speaking your mind based on common sense and logic that doesn't correspond to that, and you get a good response from people all over the country, they can't deal with that, and so they tried to filter it out.

GWEN IFILL: Excuse me. Is it possible that you are also being counted out by members of your own party? Rich Bond--I'm sure you know where I'm going with this--the former Republican National Committee chairman--wrote recently that you, Orrin Hatch, and Steve Forbes haven't established yourselves as viable candidates and basically that you should step aside, get out of the way.

ALAN KEYES: Well who is Rich Bond when he isn't home--the fellow who helped George Bush to achieve such an egregious defeat and others as well? I don't know why I should care about anything he says.

I think I care more about the response that we're getting around the country from decent, ordinary Americans who know what I'm saying is true. We have lost our moral way. We have forgotten the principle that our rights come from God and must be exercised with respect for the existence and authority of God.

We have gone down the road of abortion which denies the fundamental constitutional equality to our unborn children that is right there in the document where we are pledged to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, meaning generations yet unborn.

They are put in the Constitution on an equal plane with ourselves. And that fundamental constitutional principle we have forgotten, spat upon, turned our backs, in order to kill our children in the womb.

I think that fundamentally corrupts conscious and moral integrity, and the fruit of that corruption lies in the impeachment scandal, lies in the deaths in Columbine High School. It lies in the things that bespeak a loss of control. And self-control and self-discipline are the foundations of self-government. I think people are responding to that message.

GWEN IFILL: One more question on the race matter, before we move away from it. You in one ever the recent debates referred to George W. Bush, the governor of Texas, as "Massa Bush." Was that racist?

ALAN KEYES: Of course not. I referred to him the context--and I usually use "Massa Government" in that context, because the income tax is a system where we surrender control of our resources to politicians and to government, and then they decide how much of our own money we should keep.

We are literally tax slaves, and it is up to our masters--the politicians in the government--to decide whether we shall get any of the fruits of our own labor.

When somebody else controls 100 percent of the fruits of your labor, that is slavery and they're your masters. So I was referring to the fact that he came forward with the proposal which accepts the income tax system, which basically says I'm going to be such a wonderful person and let you keep a little bit more of your own money, and in that same mentality, in his support of the income tax system, basically ratifies the tax slavery of the American people.

GWEN IFILL: So it wasn't personal, is what you're saying?

ALAN KEYES: It's not personal. It was simply a way of making a point about the system, but, of course, those politicians who are willing to play that role, the gatekeepers of our access to our own money, I think it's time we started to look askance at their claim that they are doing something for us.

GWEN IFILL: One of the issues you talk about is taxation, you would abolish the incomes tax and the payroll tax, replace it with a 23 percent national sales tax. How would you do that and what would happen to poor folks? How would they pay?

ALAN KEYES: Well, poor folks wouldn't have to pay taxes because the proposal that I support would include a market basket of goods and services in all the basic areas of necessity and requirements of life that would be exempt from taxation. And that would essentially mean that instead of having to hire fancy accountants and lawyers to figure out how you get all the tax breaks, you know, rich people can do that.

Right now, people say we have a progressive income tax, the rich people may more. It's a lie. Rich people don't pay taxes; they pay lawyers and accountants to help them avoid taxes. Poor people don't have that luxury. And so the working stiffs of America end up bearing the brunt of taxation.

Most of the money collected in the income tax comes from brackets $50,000 and below, from working people. The way in which my proposal helps them is it gives them back control of their money. Until they decide how to spend it, the government doesn't get to tax it, and if they spend it on the basic necessities of life, people who are poor, people who are on fixed incomes and so forth and so on, they wouldn't have to pay taxes, but also other people who are at a time in life where maybe they're saving for the down payment on their house or trying to do something else, they would be able to give themselves tax cuts just by controlling the pattern of their consumption.

So, it put everyone--poor and working people--back in control of their own economic life.

GWEN IFILL: You are staunchly opposed to abortion as firmly as anybody in the race but you have also said that the Republican nominee if the person were not you were to pick a running mate who is not as staunchly opposed to abortion, you would walk, you would leave the party--where would you go?

ALAN KEYES: Oh, I think it's very simple. What I have said is if they choose a pro-abortion person anywhere on the national ticket, I will have to go. But that will be because they will have abandoned the principles not only of the Republican Party but of our whole way of life.

GWEN IFILL: But go where?

ALAN KEYES: You can't have it both ways. Either our rights come from God, as our Declaration of Independence says, or they come from human choice. If they come from human choice, then our whole way of life is meaningless, it has no foundation.

And the Republican Party from its beginning as an anti-slavery party was committed to the principles of the Declaration. If they abandon that commitment now, it will be the party that leaves me--not I who leave the party--and many other people will be in the same situation.

At that point where do we go? We'll do what Americans have always done. We will start our own party. We will reinvent politics.

What makes people think that we have become some kind of stupid little oligarchy where a bunch of media moguls and politicians will now forever determine the future much American politics? No, thank you, if they no longer serve America, then there are those of us who will have the strength and ability and wherewithal to develop vehicles that will serve the country.

But I think that vehicle is the Republican Party. And I'm fighting to keep it where it belongs.

GWEN IFILL: Do voters hear this from you, or do they think there are five other candidates there and they are making the same general points, and they just find that there are other--their larger appeal is more credible?

ALAN KEYES: I don't think so. As I said in the--there have been three occasions on which large numbers of people have been able to see all six of the candidates stand there and address issues side by side where they could listen to what you had to say, compare what you were saying and doing and come to a conclusion. And in each of those encounters I was judged by many to be the overwhelming, the overwhelming strong performer in those debates.

As I've often told people, I don't spend a lot of time talking about other candidates, I just talk about the things I believe in. And if people look at us and listen to us, they will see the difference and then it's just up to them to decide.

Are we going to choose by birth here in America because somebody has a fancy name, they're suddenly qualified to be President; are we going to choose by wealth--we're an oligarchy now--where wealthy people get to decide who is going to be in power; or are we still government, of, by and for the people where people will decide according to merit, according to what they believe is right for this country who is going to occupy the office of President?

If that's the way they make their decision on the basis of merit and principle and a real judgment about what is good for this country, I'll take my chances on it.

GWEN IFILL: You were in New Hampshire campaigning at a campaign event with the gun owners of New Hampshire and you were quoted as saying "Sometimes I feel like I'm shouting into a void and I wonder if anybody is listening." Is anybody listening, Mr. Keyes?

ALAN KEYES: Oh, yes. I said that because there are those days on the campaign trail when you certainly feel that way but I also know--and that was the point I made after I made that statement--that there are also those days when you encounter folks who are deeply and intensely committed to this nation, to its fundamental moral principles and also who are deeply grieved.

That's what got me into the race the last time around. I stood up; I articulated the message of moral renewal and a flood of response came from around the country. My wife and I sat opening these letters and we were in tears as we got from people the sense that they were grieving for what was happening in America, that they had heard a voice that was speaking what they feel in their hearts and they were deeply grateful that somebody was willing to take a stand.

And so there are those days when you wonder if it does any good and then there are those days like the one where a lady came up to me a while back and she said that her father had listened to one of my tapes on the abortion issue and had come to her with tears in his eyes--because she had been working for a long time in the pro life movement--and after listening to my tape, he came to her and he said to her, and he said, you know, I finally understand what you've been doing all these years, being pro-life is the American thing to do.

And it's moments like that that I realize that I don't know who I'm touching or what I'm influencing, though sometimes I do, I suppose. When I hear Steve Forbes quoting the Declaration of Independence in ways he never used to and when I listen to all these folks willing to take the moral crisis seriously in a way that no one did before I stood up in 1994 and '95, that gratifies me. I think one has a fundamental influence because you are moving the hearts of the people of this country.

GWEN IFILL: Alan Keyes, thank you very much.

ALAN KEYES: You're welcome. Thank you.


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