Video Video Audio Transcripts Pictures
Press conference
National Press Club
Alan Keyes
February 7, 2000
Washington, D.C.

Thank you. Thank you very much.

I find myself called upon today, I think, to speak in two guises. I always try to speak as an American, and I will also be speaking today a little bit as a Republican, as we are in a primary season. And the choice that is facing voters right now is a choice about who shall be the standard bearer of our two major parties. As I am a little bit involved in one side of that race, I've obviously done a little bit of thinking about the situation in which we find ourselves politically today. And it is there that I wish to begin, because I think that by reflecting on it a little bit, we will be able to understand the real nature of the political challenge that faces the Republican Party, but that also, then, brings us face to face with what I think is the overall challenge facing our country.

One fact that probably hasn't gone unnoticed by anyone lately is that we are in the midst of pretty good economic times. As a matter of fact, many would dispute the term "pretty good." We are in the midst of great economic times. I am not one of those people who goes into the back room and wishes bad times on my country so that I or my political party may prosper. And therefore, I have to take the good times we are in as good news. Even though, realistically speaking, good times like this in a presidential election year usually mean an advantage for the incumbent party in the White House. That would, of course, be the Democrats. It would, of course, be Bill Clinton. And I see no reason why this election year will be any different.

That being the case, the better the times, the harder the challenge for the Republican Party. Despite exorbitant polls taken months out that showed G. W. Bush or some other Republican beating the Democrats, I've never believed in any of it. Since the underlying truth is that the American people, generally speaking, don't kick you out when they think you have done a reasonably good job. Unlike, say, the British at the end of World War II. You remember that. After Churchill had led them through the war and inspired them against the terrible threat of the Nazi menace, the first thing they did when the war was over was kick him out.

Americans are more understanding than that. They actually need a reason to kick you out. Usually that reason will consist of the fact that they think that you have contributed somehow adversely to their economic well being. They'll kick you out for that. If they get the impression that you have been a poor steward of our national security interests, botched up a war, or otherwise embarrassed us in terms of our ability to defend ourselves and our interests--that's a good reason; they'll kick you out.

If you happen to be like Jimmy Carter, and you botch up the economy AND embarrass us in national security, the American voter will go into the voting booth--they will probably wish they could kick you out twice--but they'd only kick you out once anyway. But they will still kick you out.

The point being, however, that if you haven't done those things; if you happen to be a party that is holding on to the White House at a time when the nation enjoys wonderful prosperity, and we are creating more millionaires than usual, and the stock market is going through the roof, and the prospects, materially, for most people in the country, seem pretty good--at the very least I would suggest they are not going to hold that against you. And at most they will probably even let you take a little credit for it, even though somewhere in their heart of hearts they will understand that the credit is actually due to them. But Americans have gotten used, I think, to sharing the credit for their achievements with politicians, since that is the way that politicians generally function, right?--"Where are my people going, so that I may lead them?"

And the corollary of that, of course, is "What have my people accomplished lately, so that I may take credit for it."

All things being equal, therefore, I think that you would have to be living in another reality not to expect that the Democrats would have an advantage going into the November election. Especially if folks go into the voting booth and are voting on the basis of their sense of their economic well being. Even, by the way, if they are voting on their perception of America' s position in the world. And this comes from one who has been not a particular fan, and never will be, of the Clinton administration. I actually think it has been an administration that has been more ineffective, incompetent, and treacherous with respect to our national security than any I have seen in our lifetime. And as I was no big admirer of the Carter administration in that regard, that's saying something.

But the thing about the national security issues, in a world where we are no longer facing universal pressure from an adversary who punishes us for our mistakes, is that it takes a while for those chickens to come home to roost. And by November of this year, we will not be hearing the clucking of those chickens. Not yet. Give it a few years, and we certainly will, in ways that I think will greatly dismay our public. But not by November. So if folks are going into the voting booth and sorting things out on the basis of our present international position, or our national security issues, I don't think that is going to hurt the Democrats either.

All things being equal, therefore--and I know that this will seem unbecoming, coming from a Republican; but see, I have this bad habit. Partisan or no partisan, when I look at a fact, I try to point it out. And the truth of the matter is that right now all of those material factors cut in favor of the Democrats, and the Republicans have an uphill battle in this election year convincing the American people that a change is required on those grounds.

However, there is more than a little bit of hope for a Republican victory. Because looking back over the last several years--and I, of course, have the advantage of doing this from a position where I had spent several years prior to that talking about the issues of moral concern to the country--I think back over the last several years, and lo and behold, I have been going around this time talking, of course, to Republican audiences and others and guess what? I have no problem whatsoever now convincing people that America is in the midst of a great moral crisis that affects our institutions at the highest levels. I wonder why?

Actually, I think all of you could guess why. We have but to say two words and most Americans are put in mind of that moral crisis, and of the impact that it has had on our national institutions, on our national pride. We have been through a degrading and shameful period, and for most Americans the pain of it was far more substantive than I think, generally speaking, we give credit for.

Because most Americans love their country. And I think most of us are kind of proud of it too. We look back on our heritage, particularly in the course of the 20th century, and we see a nation that in many ways has answered the call of decency and of justice, has fought the great battles against tyranny and oppression, has stood in the world for something that--with some blemishes here and there, but nonetheless, on balance--moved things in the right direction. And was something that, when you mention it to your children, or show them the flag, or talk about the role that you may have played in it, you can do so with pride.

I think that sense of a justifiable, not overweening, but still clear pride, is precisely what has been challenged in the course of the last several years. And what I have found is that many Americans actually grieved deeply because of the perception that we have somehow lost the luster of that moral dignity for which this nation has stood, and has deservedly stood, in the course of the 20th century. It's not a good feeling when we have to be ashamed of the President of the United States. It's a painful feeling when there are aspects of his tenure we feel loath to speak of in front of our minor children. It is a painful experience when we know that on that account, the aspiration to serve the nation, even at the highest level, has been dulled. For what dulls that aspiration is a symptom of what dulls citizenship in general in this society, and the loss of a sense of commitment to that citizenship actually is one of the things that portends the end of our republic.

And that's why I think that, all things being equal, the Republicans could actually look at this upcoming election with a sense of confidence. Because there has, in fact, been an egregious failure of moral stewardship on the part not only of the President, but on the part of the party that circled the wagons around his lies, his corruption, his betrayal of oath and conscience. If the American people go into the voting booth thinking about that failure of moral stewardship, then the Democrats--in spite of economy and everything else--will be tossed out of the White House on their ear. And they will deserve, and have indeed deserved, to be tossed out.

And I think that that is at least in part because Americans are not as stupid as some people think we are. We know that the great prosperity, the strength, the victory in wars, the overcoming of enemies--all of it was the result of the moral heritage, the moral strength, the moral foundations, that allowed this country to persevere when the material factors were not in our favor; to get through depressions, and wars for which we were not readily prepared, to fight enemies that, at times, seemed already to have engrossed the earth with their power. We did not give up, we were able to persevere, because we looked back upon a moral heritage that gave us strength: a moral heritage that gave us the confidence, in the end, to understand that though in a general kind of way we are probably no better or worse than most human beings, in terms of our national identity, and our national aspirations, there is much that this nation has stood for, and much that it has achieved, to help mankind both articulate and reach toward the better aspiration of its moral nature.

If, as a party, you squander that moral heritage; if, as a party, you show no regard for that true basis of our strength--then that too becomes an egregious reason for the American people to toss you out. The question, therefore, that faces the Republicans right now is whether they are going to be able to articulate for the American people the nature and significance of the moral challenge that faces us, so that by the time folks go into that voting booth there will be a sufficient number of them convinced that the moral crisis is relevant, and that its political consequences are intolerable, and that therefore the Democrat stewardship of the White House must be rejected.

That's going to require, by the way, something that you don't ordinarily see in politics. It is going to require that someone stand forward and, with a kind of boldness that has been egregiously lacking in dealing with these issues up to know, is able to present them, both in terms of principle and application, in a way that makes them relevant to the conscience and choice of the people. On this hinges the prospect for victory of the Republican Party, in my view.

And that means that the folks who are part of the electorate choosing the Republican standard bearer had better wake up from their delusions. Those people who are trotting out folks with big names, and this kind of money and that, and yet who have nothing in their background or experience that prepares them to meet the moral challenge of this election year, and to articulate it in a way that the American people understand. As a matter of fact, they are so far from understanding it that some, in spite of their record and background, have no sense whatsoever of the relevance of these issues.

The main example of that, in my opinion, at the moment, is the fellow who was sort of vaulted into the lead, they tell me--I don't know, because these polls have been so wrong about who is leading what--John McCain. Apparently he got real comfortable on a bus trip in New Hampshire with his buddies in the press, and some of the folks there made him feel so much at ease that when he was asked a question about abortion--he was asked what he would say if his 15 year old daughter came to him and said that she was pregnant, and she was going to have an abortion. And his response--now verified, apparently, by the transcript; he did try to pretend for a while it was taken out of context. Not a good pretense for this "straight-talking" Senator, but what can I say?--his answer was that he would try to counsel her, and he would tell her that he thought that this wasn't such a great idea, and it was wrong, and all of this. But at the end of the day, it was her decision, her choice.

Now that, as we would all recognize who understand the nature of this debate, is the classic so-called "pro-choice" position. It is the one rejected, in principle and practice, by the platform and the majority of people in the Republican Party. But he took that stand, and when he was sort of beat up about it for a little while, he decided that it would be a family conference instead of his daughter's decision. I don't know which was more ironic and amusing to me. I mean, after all, if your daughter comes to you, as I pointed out to him in one of the debates, and says, "Dad, I want to kill grandma for the inheritance," I doubt that you would counsel her that this was not really the world's best idea, and that personally you oppose the idea of murdering grandma for the inheritance, but if when it came right down to it, she felt inclined that way, it was her decision.

I don't know how your daughter would feel about that way of approaching the issue, but I'm pretty sure how grandma would feel. And if you then went on, when you were caught out a little bit, to suggest that, "Oh, yeah, she's a minor child; therefore we have a family conference about it," I'm not sure that would be terribly helpful. So you gather the family together, and what are you going to do, take a vote? Shall we vote it up or down, that we kill grandma for the inheritance.

The reason that you are laughing, of course, is that the very idea is absurd. You are laughing because you understand that there are certain issues of moral choice where you don't look at people and pretend that they in fact have a choice. You look at them and you say--particularly to your children--and you just say, "No; you don't do that. Not allowed. Not done. You step across the line in a way that is totally unacceptable."

Now, there are folks, I guess--I call them the pro-abortion folks--who wouldn't agree with that. There is no one truly pro-life, however, who would not agree with what I just said. Because the pro-life principle is clear: that child's life in the womb is not a matter for human choice, because as a matter of American principle it is understood that the right to life, along with our other unalienable rights, is based not on human choice, but on the choice of our Creator, God. A power beyond our power, a will beyond our will.

And you will excuse me, I guess, if I take that very seriously. I understand that for some people it is just a rhetorical thing--"Weren't those nice words that Jefferson penned?" Any black American who thinks that is apparently unfamiliar with the history of both oppression and deliverance of black people in America. The oppression done in disregard of that great Declaration principle, and the deliverance coming about when the conscience of the nation was moved to understand that those are not just words, and that they must be applied in such a way that we understand that whether the Constitution is interpreted by some court, or the law is passed by some majority, in a way that denies to any human being their God-given rights, that is not lawful; that is not right; that is not just; and it should not stand.

And if I, or anyone else, would claim that that had to be the case with respect to black folks who were enslaved, I surely think we must stand today and make the same argument on behalf of the vulnerable, the voiceless, the helpless babes in the womb.

It is that kind of understanding of principle, that application, if you like, of the great principles of America's moral heritage, that must be the key to approaching this election year. So that Americans understand that the moral component of our way of life is not incidental; it is essential. Lose it, and we lose the only common ground for the American identity.

We are an enormously diverse people, of every race, color, creed and kind. We have gathered folks here from all the four corners of the globe. We cannot claim a common ethnic stock, a common racial heritage; even, these days, it is unclear that common language will bind us. But one thing is clear--that we stand on common ground of our moral aspiration, that we stand on common ground of our claim to human rights and dignity, which we have offered to all those people, from every corner of the globe. Not because it is our choice, but because it was understood by our Founders to be God's will.

If we back away now from that moral heritage, we lose the ground both of our moral identity, our common ground as a people, but we also lose the ground of our discipline as a people. For in the end, our confidence that our rights will not be abused comes about, at least in part, because the same authority on the basis of which we claim those rights must be respected in our exercise of those rights. If we lose that sense, then we rightly lose confidence in principle in the ability of this free people to sustain freedom without terrible and hurtful consequences.

For at the end of the day, freedom is a curse if it means the ability to do whatever you please, whatever you like. If it is unbridled greed, and lust, and passion, and interest without check, it is a curse. The blessings of liberty are to be derived from an understanding of freedom constrained and disciplined by the knowledge that the same higher power and authority on the basis of which we claim our rights and dignity must be respected as we use them, in such a way that we respect in others what we claim for ourselves, that we grant to others what we would seek for ourselves, that we do not deny to others what, by the grant of that Creator, God, we may lay claim to for ourselves.

This is the great crisis, I believe, of our nation's life today. Not an economic one, not an international one. It is the crisis of heart and spirit which Lincoln and our Founders predicted would be the crisis of our republic's survival. We either get back to the ground of that moral principle on which the republic is based, or we shall lose it ALL.

And that doesn't mean, by the way, that we won't be prosperous, and America won't be strong, and all of this. I keep trying to remind people that some of the most prosperous periods in the history of the world were presided over by some of the worst despotisms in the history of mankind. Like the Roman Empire, which strung together several prosperous centuries, in fact, for the part of the world that it dominated. Only at the sacrifice of human decency, dignity, and so forth.

This is not supposed to be our goal. We Americans are supposed to offer the world an understanding that, yes, incidentally has meant strength, and wealth and prosperity--but at its heart is about achieving the better moral destiny of the human race. The knowledge that it is possible, in spite of all our differences, to come together, under a constitution of moral principle, to respect the rights and dignity of human beings, and to build a society that, because it is founded on that just foundation, offers hope that mankind, in spite of all our frailties, will yet achieve the better destiny marked out for us by the Creator, when first He said, "Let Us make man."

It is this hopeful future into which we can proceed, but only if we are willing, now, to turn back to the moral ground that offers us that hope. If we do not, then we shall, as Lincoln feared, meanly lose this last, best hope. But if we do, then we can enter the new millenium with the confidence that the same light of hope which has beaten back the shadow of tyranny once, twice and thrice in this century will still be there to encourage and enspirit the forces of dignity around the world in the millenium to come.

Thank you very much.

Q & A session


Question: We have enough questions here to last until after the last exit poll of the year 2000. The first one, given that we have students in the audience, I always prefer to give to a student. A ninth grade student at Alice Deal Junior High School in Washington, DC, asks, "In what ways would you help me, and students in general, to improve our education?"

Keyes: I think the most important thing that I would seek to do is put the control of that education back in the hands of your parents, who ought to have the first responsibility for deciding where you go to school, and what faith and values and aspirations are reflected in the substance of what that school offers. I believe that we have made a great error in the course of the last forty and fifty years in America, allowing education to be dominated by professional educrats and government bureaucrats. It is the parents who stand before God with the first responsibility for their children, and we ought to rely on their sense of that responsibility, and their love for their offspring, in order to assure quality in education.

But that also means, of course, that they have to be empowered in order to make the choices that can reflect that sense of responsibility. That's why I am a strong supporter of school choice, the idea that the money we spend on education ought to follow the choice of parents, not the choice of educrats and bureaucrats and politicians. Once we have followed that road, I think we will reestablish the connection that ought to exist between home, and school, and faith, if a child is to go to school in a cohesive environment that helps to build both character and knowledge. That connection has been broken in our present system, and I do not believe we will see a real restoration of both security and quality in all our schools until it has been restored.

Question: I'd like to lump together a large number of hypothetical questions that came up, which all started, "If you don't get the Republican nomination . . . " Would you accept the nomination for vice president? Would you endorse whoever the Republican Party nominated? Would you endorse a candidate who had a pro-choice vice-president? Or what roll would you like to play in a future Republican administration?

Keyes: Well, people say that I very often answer questions by questioning the premise of the question. I would certainly question the premise of that question, since we are in the midst of a primary season to determine that very fact. So I don't have to contemplate choices about vice president.

I do have to say this, though. Because I think that it is important to make clear my position, and also I feel it incumbent on me now. I have said repeatedly, and I will say again here, that if the Republican Party abandons the moral principles that are its heart--if it abandons the pro-life plank; if it puts some pro-abortion candidate on its ticket--then of course, I will not abandon my principles in order to keep some partisan label.

The parties are to serve certain purposes. I know that for some they are just coalitions meant to obtain power, because that's what they were taught in Yale someplace. But I do not believe, in fact, that that is the decent purpose of politics. The decent purpose of politics ought to be to do our business as citizens--that is to say, to do what is best for our country. So if I think the party has abandoned its moral heart, and with it the moral identity of our people, I could not stay in the party. If it chose a pro-abortion nominee; if it chose a pro-abortion vice-president; if it gets rid of the pro-life plank--it will leave me; I will not leave it. But I will certainly not follow it down the road that leads to America's perdition. Step number one.

The logic of that, in terms of the present field of candidates, means this. There is one candidate whom, as I just pointed out, whatever his record--I know, there are these phonies who like to stand on their record, like Al Gore did for a long time, convincing pro-life voters to cast their vote for somebody who in his heart was not pro-life. I will say unequivocally: In his heart, John McCain is not pro-life.

"Alan, how can you profess to believe . . . you can't see into somebody's heart . . ." No, I can hear what he says to his children, though. And unless he is some kind of unnatural parent, what we say to our children reflects the deep-seated convictions of our heart. And if he is going to give a pro-abortion, pro-choice answer to his daughter, he has given that answer to the rest of the country.

And that being the case, the logic is very clear. I will never again cast my vote, consciously and knowingly, for anyone who betrays the fundamental moral principles without which neither I, nor any of my forebears, would have obtained their freedom. And that ought to be pretty clear, in terms of what happens to Alan Keyes in the event of a John McCain candidacy. He is not--and I say this for the benefit of any pro-life people out there; there are a few who look to me occasionally to see what I think; I'll tell you right now what I think about that--John McCain is not pro-life. Anyone who votes for John McCain betrays the pro-life cause.

Question: We don't identify our questioners here, but I just have to say, this woman got up this morning at 4 am in Nashville, and she also says even though she is from Tennessee, she is not a Gore fan. The question that she asks is, "What is your view on the relationship between the PLO and Israel?"

Keyes: I think that there is a tendency in American policy, and there has been for quite some time, to put too much stock both in the promises and the ability, I believe, of the PLO. I say in the promises because the record over the course of many years does not suggest that there is, in fact, a real and strong will for peace in Yassar Arafat and his PLO brethren. But of course, that remains to be seen, in terms of actions and things that are done.

But on the other hand, there is an even more serious question. Because, as our Founders recognized--if you read the Federalist Papers, they talk about what can lead to war amongst nations. And one of the things that can lead to war is the inability of a party to control the actions of those who are putatively on its side, so that they then act in ways that give cause and occasion to war. And one of the things that has always struck me about the PLO is regardless of what may be the will of their leadership and so forth, they don't seem to have the ability to restrain all the various elements of the Arab world who are in various ways anxious and eager to attack Israel, and to kill Israelis, and to destroy Israeli assets. That has raised a question for me continually, of whether or not the PLO is in fact a valid interlocutor for a peace process. Because in order to be a valid interlocutor, you must not only have a will to peace, you must be able to enforce the peace, throughout the realm of those who are putatively on your side or under your influence.

I don't think that the PLO has ever demonstrated an ability to exert that kind of control. Which means what? Which means Israel sits down, makes concessions, does various things, and at the end of the day gets an agreement that even if there is a will to respect it on the PLO side, there is not the means to enforce it.

That's why I always thought it a little bit wishful thinking to believe that one can reach a secure and permanent peace in a situation where the interlocutors are so unequal as they are in the case of the PLO and Israel. What do I mean? Israel is a state. And the PLO is not. Does that mean I am in favor of a Palestinian state? I am in favor, though, of recognizing a reality, and I have been throughout. The division of the old Palestinian mandate resulted in two states. One that was given over to the Israelis, and the other that was given over to the Hashemite kings of Jordan, though it does not represent, in that guise, the majority of people who live under their rule. If we in fact were dealing with a situation where the state of Jordan and the state of Israel were sitting down to work out their differences over the West Bank and other things, you would at least have some assurance that on both sides there would be an ability to enforce a peace once made.

For various reasons, American policy has never been willing to accept, look at, and pursue this reality. In a Keyes Administration, we would.

Question: Do you support New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in his race for the Senate? If so, why? And if not, why not?

Keyes: As I do not live in New York, I have no particular reason to impose upon myself the necessity of making that choice. And you know, the other day a reporter asked me what I would do if I were a Democrat having to choose between Bradley and Gore, and I said I hoped I would never be in that position, because it would sort of be like choosing between Satan and Beelzebub, as far as I am concerned.

In the case of Giuliani and Hillary Clinton, though, I think the choice would be somewhat easier. At least if you really had to make it. Because obviously Rudy Giuliani at least has the virtue and advantage of being somebody who has, in his tenure in New York City, accomplished some things that actually made sense, in terms of crime, in terms of his reform of the administration of the city, and so forth.

Personally, would I cast a vote for him? I think I just made that clear. Rudy Giuliani is a pro-choice, pro-abortion person. I will never again cast a vote for anyone who takes that position. And so, personally, I'd be kind of left out, even though I understand there is usually a right-to-life line in New York State that one could vote, or some other line. But I personally will not envisage that possibility, not again.

And you might say that is terrible. No, it is not terrible. The Democrats are proud of being the pro-abortion party; I don't see any reason on earth why the Republicans are so ashamed of taking the RIGHT position on the most important moral issue of our time. If they don't stop playing games with it, they will lose the majority that has in fact been forged on the basis of their moral commitment to the principles of the country.

That doesn't mean that I would seek to drive out of the party every pro-abortion person, or pro-choice person. That's not my point. I have to govern my own vote, at a personal level. I would certainly, as I will do in the New York State race, do my fellow Republican Rudy Giuliani no harm. And I certainly would, in light of his opponent, probably doubly restrain from doing him any harm. But as I don't have to face that choice, I will not have to "struggle" with my conscience when it comes time to cast a ballot in New York.

Though I would have to congratulate the court in New York, because apparently there are a lot of good hearted moral conservatives in New York who will now be able to vote their conscience in the presidential primary, because we have overcome the rigging of that ballot, and all the names of the presidential candidates will now be on offer in New York State for their suffrage.

Question: When the Pope speaks out against the death penalty, and in particular in the United States, is he right?

Keyes: You have to understand, at least as I understand, how the Pope has spoken out against the death penalty. Because there is no moral objection in principle to this authority of the state. That has been true throughout the history of the Catholic Church; it is true if you look at the Catechism today.

The Pope makes his stand on the issue now based, as I understand it, on an assessment of the current state of affairs in our judicial system, and in our penal system, and so forth. On those grounds, which have to do not with faith or morals, but with an assessment of the current empirical state of our penology, and our social situation, and so forth, I feel quite at liberty to disagree with the Pope.

And with respect to the death penalty, I believe deeply that two things are true. A society cannot afford to send the wrong message to those who, in a cold-blooded and egregious way target and take human life because it is in the way of their purposes. Now, when folks are motivated by passion, when there are other things going on, there is a mitigating element that might lead us to back away from imposing the ultimate penalty. But when, in the absence of that passion, they are--like some of the drug lords and other people--just motivated by their own profit and interest, and cold-bloodedly slaughter whoever happens to stand in the way of that interest, then I think, that kind of heart being hard to understand, and hard for us to perceive the mercy in it, I think we have to dispatch those people to the God Who is the judge of us all, and can see into their hearts, and understand what might be their for redemption, since we cannot.

I also think that the law is, among other things, one of the principal educators in a society. And if you mean for your citizens to take seriously the injunction, "Thou shalt not kill," then you had best reserve the ultimate penalty for those who do so in an egregious, cold-blooded way that assaults not only the life of another, but in many instances also the structures of the society put in place--law enforcement officials, courts--to protect that life.

For all those reasons, I believe it is an imperative of the respect for life that we retain as an element of law, in certain limited cases, the death penalty. And that if we do not, then we risk applying an egregious relativism to the business of our respect for life. Why do I say that? Well, I say that for this very reason. Some people say, "Well, that's in contradiction of your pro-life stance with abortion." No, it's not. Not unless we see no moral difference between the innocent and the guilty, a moral difference that is clear in scripture, and has been clear throughout the moral history of human kind. And that is why it has been considered particularly abominable when one assaults the innocent life of babes, dashes their heads against a stone, and does other things that sometimes characterize the most heinous brutality in war. Those assaults against the innocent are precisely the undoing of all decent moral conscience. And that would mean that we must reserve for them the kind of penalties that are required in order to show our respect for life. So again, I see a major difference. If you can distinguish between guilt and innocence, then you can distinguish between the abortion case and the death penalty case.

Final point. It does behoove us, though--and I think here, out of respect for the very concern that is raised by the Pontiff--to look at our justice system. And I would say that, in and of itself, in principle, the death penalty has a moral basis. If you carry it out in a way that is careless and discriminatory, and that in fact does not take care that we are making the most conscientious effort to ascertain guilt or innocence according to due process and the law, that then becomes a reason for suspending or opposing it. But this is not an argument in principle to remove the death penalty. It's actually an argument to improve the integrity of that judicial process.

Question: And what is your view of the current state of the American judicial process, in the way that it imposes the death penalty?

Keyes: I think that is going to vary from place to place. I would have to say it looks as if, in Illinois at the moment, it's in pretty bad shape. Whether that is true in the rest of the country, I don't know. I'm sure that G.W. Bush would suggest that in Texas it is not, even though they have had a number of executions there. Some people like to cite statistics that go to show that there is some disproportionate impact on folks in the black community, and so forth. I'm always a little suspicious of those statistics, though, I have to tell you. One of the things that I would suggest that people who indulge in that sort of thing do, side by side with the statistics about who is on death row and what their race is, I would like them to put the statistics of who is in the grave, and who the victims were. And I think that one would discover from that juxtaposition that if you send a soft signal to some of the folks who are in jail for killing people, you will find that there has been a lot of black on black violence out there. And that what you are actually doing is offering a license to the killers to prey on innocent, helpless people in their community. And I don't think that that ought to be the outcome.

So I think we have to be reasonably tough. And that includes, by the way, another issue, which I will just throw out there pro forma. I've been watching all this to-ing and fro-ing about racial profiling, right? In and of itself, people want to suggest there is something awful and horrible about this. I think that if you find that it is motivated by racism and discrimination, that is one thing. And that is obviously bad.

But I put it to you, if I am a taxi driver--that's going on right here in DC right now, among black taxi drivers too, by the way--or if I am a policeman, and I find over the course of my long experience that certain kinds of crimes seem to be committed disproportionately by individuals who are young black males, we shall now put a law on the books forbidding me to act according to my experience, forcing me to put myself in greater danger than my experience would suggest I ought to? Something in me revolts against this.

And I am reminded of the way I was brought up. And the way I was brought up by my parents was to remember, at all times, that yes I was out there, I was doing stuff for Alan Keyes, and this and that. But everywhere I went, I represented family, and I represented my race. When are we going to stop making excuses for some of the folks out there who don't want to remember that? Who don't want to remember that in everything they say, in everything they do, they are either building or destroying the reputation of the black community. I am SICK to DEATH of people making excuses--"they're poor; they're this; they're that."

So was my father! So were his relatives! That poverty did not excuse depravity, and they never took it for an excuse. Instead, they took it upon themselves to understand that whatever your condition, you can still have the moral decency to care about what your actions say to and about your community. And I wish we would get THAT message out there. Because I'll tell you--I would feel badly thinking that some racists out there were targeting black folks disproportionately without ground or experience or foundation. But on the other hand, if there is ground and experience and foundation, do you know the people I feel badly about? The people who are out there behaving in such a way as to destroy the reputation of my race. I am sick to death of them, and I call on them to examine their conscience and stop what they are doing.

Question: Do you find, after your experiences in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, or in the reception that you get from a largely white audience, that racism is dead in the presidential campaigns?

Keyes: No, no. I wouldn't go that far. It's not even entirely clear to me, sometimes, whether racism has taken a nap. But I certainly don't think that it is dead.

I would say this, though. And this is something that I feel badly about, because I think that the response to the Keyes campaign in different parts of the country--including, by the way, say, Alabama, which is a state in the deep south, supposedly representing intransigent resistance against civil rights during the civil rights movement. The famous images of "Bull" Connor and the dogs, and so forth and so on. Well, it turned out--we went down to take part in the straw poll there. And contrary to what some people in the media lyingly portrayed, that straw poll wasn't something were people came desultorily together, and Alan Keyes got some votes because he showed up.

That was a nonsensical lie. And sometimes I really do--and I'll get to this in a minute--wonder what is going on with media folks who have no greater respect for the truth than that. Is it laziness, or is it just a total disregard for the facts?

In point of fact, the Alabama straw poll went on for weeks. All the campaigns did their phone calling, sent their literature, lobbied the delegates who were going to that convention. And at the end of the day, when the vote was taken in the Alabama straw poll, Alan Keyes came in number one in the heart of the deep south.

I think it time we started looking not just at the negative things. Sure, there's a ways to go in terms of race relations. We all know this. There is bigotry, and there is prejudice, and there is hate, and there is racism still alive out there. But at the same time, don't we ever have the right to give ourselves some credit? Not only for the progress we have made in law, but for the change of heart that has occurred on the part of many folks, all over the country, especially in the south.

And I guess I am waiting hopefully, and praying, whether it is in South Carolina or somewhere else, that in a way that the country can't ignore voters will go to the polls and just vote heart and conscience, to cast before the American people this reality, that there are many, many folks in this country, of both races, who can put aside bigotry and simply vote for what they believe to be right for America.

It's universal? No, it's not universal. But I think there are enough, now, so that those folks in fact can be the determining element.

. . . in my experience, been egregiously guilty of this problem. And I don' t mean it in some hateful, racist motivation. Nah. I don't know about that. I do know, however, that the media tended to act according to their stereotype of black Americans. And if you didn't fit that stereotype, they filtered you out. They were unwilling to take seriously what you offered and presented, because according to that stereotype you were supposed to be a liberal, and a Democrat, and a pro-abort, and all these things.

Which, by the way, when you look at the surveys, do not track. Those things do not track, necessarily--the issues part of it, on abortion and things like that--with the real feelings of the black community. Many black folks are conservative on these issues. And certainly, therefore, one isn't justified in having some stereotype that acts as if those sentiments do not exist.

But the media did, and it does, act according to such a stereotype, in my opinion. And it has been REALLY hard battling that.

Now, you say, "Alan, that's not racism." Yes, it is. Or at least let's put it this way: it is bigotry. As a matter of fact, it was the characteristic of bigotry in America. Contrary to what we try to convince ourselves of these days, what made the American racial problem so intransigent was not hatred. It was prejudice. It was the ability of decent minded folks to act according to prejudicial stereotypes that would allow them to have great relations with their black maid and their black gardener and their black laborer in the field, but who just couldn't process the black lawyer and the black doctor, and others who did not fit their bigoted stereotypes. The heart of bigotry is prejudice, not hatred. The heart of bigotry is the application of stereotypes, which allow you to impose upon others what you think they ought to be.

The truth of the matter is that if we are to become what we ought to be, then individuals ought to be allowed--in their actions, in their words, in their conduct, in their views--to SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES. And folks ought to understand, no matter what side they are on, that you don't know what it means to be black in America until you have taken seriously what actual black folks do. And even if that doesn't correspond to your stereotype, you have no right to abuse and exclude it. And if you do, you are as guilty of bigotry and prejudice as ANY of your racist forebears were.

So you can excuse it for yourselves if you like, but you haven't gotten THAT far from the tree of prejudice and racism.

Question: How should news organizations behave in order to correct the bigotry that you find. Is it a matter of affirmative action to hire more black members of the press? What needs to be done?

Keyes: Well, no. Why is it that we always think we need some program, this or that. No, I would say very simply. You know what ought to be done? Just tell the truth. That's all. That's all I would ask. Just tell the truth. No special favors, no special treatment of any kind. Just tell the truth.

Don't do what the Washington Post does in this town. No, I'm sorry; don't do that. Because you can scour the pages of the Washington Post--and among my supporters it's proverbial now that on the day that a primary occurs and the Washington Post does not report to you who won, it means that I did. Their bias in this regard has been egregious. It's sick.

So no special favors asked or required. No this or that. In terms of affirmative action, the people all over the country who are responding to my message of moral priority and moral renewal are taking all the affirming action I need. And they will go out and continue, I hope, to take that action on behalf of the country. But I would just suggest that maybe it would be fairer if one didn't exclude the results, and if one was willing to report them with some fairness and equanimity to people around the country.

We talk about all this stuff that McCain is raising--he's raising McCain, right?--in terms of campaign finance reform and all of this. One last point. All that stuff would probably not be necessary. There would be less reliance on 60 second spots and all this garbage that everybody says is so awful in politics, if the media in this country simply did your job. Instead of trying to act as the censors and pre-selectors of the political process, just go out there and pass through to the people the information about what is being offered to them in the way of their political choice, and let them decide. Do that job with integrity, do it with consistency, and you will be back to making what ought to be, I think, your main contribution--and, by the way, your vital contribution, to the success of our political system.

Right now it has become, not only with respect to me, race, whatever, it's all too much about power now. And all too little about truth. I don't know whether you are picking this up in the journalism schools now, where like the law schools, the law is what the judge says it is. I suppose the news is what you people say it is. That's not the attitude you are supposed to take. The attitude you are supposed to take is that you are the servants of truth, not its masters, not its creators. And in so far as you go down that other road, you give in to the temptation of power in a way that will ultimately destroy our political system.
Terms of use

All content at KeyesArchives.com, unless otherwise noted, is available for private use, and for good-faith sharing with others by way of links, e-mail, and printed copies.

Publishers and websites may obtain permission to re-publish content from the site, provided they contact us, and provided they are also willing to give appropriate attribution.