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Speech
Address at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco
Alan Keyes
March 4, 2000

Thank you, thank you all very much.

I want to say, first of all, what a special pleasure it is for me to be here, especially in response to such a strong and warm personal commitment which has made this event possible today. I was saying on the way in that, in fact, it is characteristic of what this effort has been about--that everything that we have done has been the result of the heartfelt commitment of individuals at the grassroots, who have put together the campaign, made the events, got the name on the ballot. I mean, all I do, basically, is show up to second the motion of people at the grassroots who are responding to the basic idea that my campaign represents.

I sometimes wonder why people do respond to it, because, at one level, it's kind of a gloomy idea. But, it's a gloomy idea stated in the hope that, if we wake up in time to our real situation, we will in fact be able to do something about it. I'm not sure of that, especially the way things are going these days, who can tell. But I surely keep faith and hope because God is in his heaven and miracles are always possible.

But first, I have to make clear where I'm coming from. We are in the midst, right now, of very good economic times which, I think, have pretty much--I've been all over the country, and I think there are certain areas of difficulty, as we encountered them in some of our rural areas in Iowa and so forth. But by and large, folks in the country confirm that things are going pretty well, in a material sense--and probably as well as they have gone in the lifetimes of many Americans. We stand on the threshold of great possibilities that are being opened up by the reorganization of our economic life, by new technologies that will tap into economic potential that, in the past, we have been unable to organize, but which will be organized now, because of new means of communication and transportation of goods and services.

However, we are in one respect forgetting, at least in this country, who we are and what we are about. And the very preoccupation with our material situation is one of the symptoms of our corruption and decline. And this is what worries me. Whatever strength we have, whatever greatness we have achieved, if you look back over the course of this century, what's clearly proven is that it was not because of our material goods. We had braved crises, including the greatest crisis of the world's economic history, and we came through that crisis not because of our material strength--which was at an end--but because of our moral heritage.

We faced great enemies in the world. Two or three times in the course of this century, those enemies threatened to overshadow the entire world with principles of tyranny that would have robbed humankind of that hope for dignity that this nation, in fact, is suppose to be dedicated to. And even when we were caught unprepared, as we certainly were at the beginning of WWII, we still managed to rally our forces and to deal with adversity, even in the face of a situation where it looked as if that evil was bidding fair to conquer great parts of the entire world. We rallied our forces, and we came back stronger than before. Not because of our military might, which was laid low in the beginning, but because of our faith and our moral spirit; because of our refusal to surrender our belief that this nation represents a unique resource for human hope, and human justice, and human dignity. I think those moral reserves are in fact the key to America's survival, to America's strength, and to America's hoped-for future.

Now comes the hard part. Because the hard part is that, for the first time in our history, we have systematically begun to destroy and surrender the basis of that moral heritage. And I don't believe that we can get away with this. I am not sure we fully understand what we are doing. If we do not, then we need to pause and take a careful look at what is happening, and then we need to resolve that we shall restore the basis, morally, of this nation's life, or we will lose that liberty and that sense of human dignity and rights which is, in fact, the foundation of our way of life.

Now, why do I say all of this? Well, I think it's quite simple, actually. America was founded on a premise--a unique premise, in fact, in terms of states in the course of human history. That premise was articulated in our great Declaration of Independence when the Founders wrote that "all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights."

Over the course of our history, we have argued about the equality and we have argued about the rights. We have fought, in fact, great wars--including the greatest war of our history, the Civil War--over issues that flowed from the question of whether the allegiance to that basic principle was going to be respected, in the way that our Constitution was interpreted; in the way that our states carried out their affairs; finally, in our modern days, in the civil rights movement; in the way that we conducted our economic affairs and our business enterprises. In all of these cases, we finally ended up giving in to arguments that appealed to American conscience, on the basis of the simple fact that if that original premise was true, then whatever was said in law or Constitution that was adverse to that principle, had to be discarded.

I think, sometimes, living with the fruits of those great struggles, we forget the basis on which they were conducted. I think of that every year when we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, and everybody is all gung-ho to talk about how much respect they have for Martin Luther King, and how wonderful what he did was, and so forth and so on. And yet, time and again, we forget the basis on which he acted.

The basis on which he acted was, first of all, to make clear that he did not fight for justice for this group or that group; that even though injustice was being directed against black Americans, he fought not only for black Americans, but for all people, for all human beings, and for the justice that was suppose to be their lot--according to what?

Well, according to the fundamental premise of that great principle, which is that our demand that we be treated with respect for our dignity and basic rights is not a consequence of Constitution or law. It's not a consequence of the Bill of Rights. It's not because some judges somewhere said so. It's not because the President believes it's so. It's not because the Congress has decided by majority vote that people have rights and must be respected. None of these human sources are the source of our claim to rights and dignity. Every individual, whatever their station, their background, their race, their creed, can demand of every power on the face of this earth that their basic dignity and rights be respected, because those rights do not come from human power and choice, they come from the power and judgment of the Almighty God. That is the premise of our lives.

Now I, as I go around America, I get in front of audiences, and everybody seems to still believe that there is something important in that view that I just expressed. And that makes me wonder how it is that we can be so complacent about what's been happening over the course of that last 30, 40 years. Let's think about just a simple example of it. Let's go to any school, government school--I call them government schools, the ones that are run by government fiat and so forth--go to any government school in this country, and what will you find? Here we have a premise: all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Is there any government school in which the name of the Creator can be mentioned in the classroom, in which the authority of the Creator can be invoked in the classroom, in the United States today? There isn't. There isn't. If it is a government school, supported with tax dollars, the very idea of the Creator, much less the concept of His authority, has been discarded from the curriculum.

Now, here I ask you a simple question. Has anybody come up with a substitute for that premise of our rights? I hear, every now and again, people try to do it. I was on a panel sometime back with Barry Lynn, the ACLU guy, and he came forth and he looked at the audience and said, "Our rights come from the Bill of Rights." And I had to correct him on this point. I mean, his rights may very well come from the Bill of Rights, but the rights of people of color in this country were stomped on and destroyed, despite what that Bill of Rights had to say, despite what the Constitution might have to say. No rights were accorded to us until, what? Until somebody stood up with the guts successfully to appeal, beyond human law and Constitutions, to the will of God on behalf of our human dignity. And consciences shaped in the fear of God responded to that appeal, in order to make headway for justice where there was none.

Rights don't come from human documents. The very idea is only worthy of contempt. Human documents are nothing but pieces of paper. They are nothing but words until, by will and conscience and courage and commitment, human beings turn them into reality. And what motivates that, and what has motivated that throughout our history? Some people don't want us to remember this, but every struggle for basic rights and dignity in America has been spearheaded by people of faith--people who were willing to stand against the tide of human power, because they believed that God was on their side, who were willing to walk out front and bear the brunt of every danger, because they did not fear death or consequence out of strong commitment based on their faith in God. That was the heart of the civil rights movement. It was the heart of the abolitionist movement in the 19th century. It was the heart of the patriotic movement with which this country began.

At every stage, therefore, in any sense, there has been no substitute for the principle that our rights come from Almighty God, and that every individual who feels trampled upon and abused in their dignity and rights can appeal beyond the human powers that abuse them, in order to appeal to that existence and authority of the Power beyond human power, the Power beyond human will, Who commands respect for basic human rights and dignity.

Now, what are we to make of it, then, if--as is quite clear in our schools--we no longer teach the ideas that are essential, if those words are to have any meaning? Oh sure, we can stand around and mouth the words of the Declaration. What meaning do they have if we deny the existence of God and have contempt for the very idea of God's authority? They have no meaning whatsoever. And if our house of freedom is based upon a foundation that clearly and explicitly requires that we acknowledge the existence and respect the authority of God, when we fail in that acknowledgment and turn our backs on that authority, what will happen to the house of liberty? Though we haven't realized fully yet, it's got to fall. Liberty can't survive on any other basis.

And the sad truth that, I believe, is quite clear in our time is that it is not surviving. And why is it not surviving? It's not surviving because without that faith in God, which is the basis for our claim to rights, we refuse to have consciences shaped in the fear of God, which then becomes the basis for our proper use of our rights.

Very simply, if we live in a society in which people are going to abuse their freedom, none of us would be willing to tolerate it for very long.

I can think of no society that would be uglier in its results than one in which everybody was determined to do whatever they could get away with, and in which no obligations or responsibilities were acknowledged to other human beings, to parents, to children; in which, essentially, we had defined freedom as "do what you please" and "go as far as you think your power will carry you. Despoil and exploit anybody you have to, because as long as you get away with it, no one will stand in your way."

And that may sound pretty harsh, but you realize, that's how most human societies have been organized in the history of the world, and that's, sadly, the way most of them are organized to this very day. Respecting no principle except success. Or, to put it in another way, respecting no principle except superior power.

"Might makes right. Justice is the good of the stronger. He who has the gold rules. Whatever power wants, power gets." That has been the rule in human life. The great principle of this nation's life is a ground on which the weak and the powerless, and the despoiled and the exploited, can stand, in order to look power in the eye and deny that power, alone, gives any claim to rule, any claim to oppress.

If we abandon that principle which stands between human beings and oppression, what on earth makes us think that oppression will not follow? See, this is what I don't understand, particularly standing at the end of the 20th century. Has there been a worse century in the history of the world than this one? Has there been a century in which more millions of human beings have perished as a result of abuses of power? Well, I can tell you, there has not been one.

Oh, we like to preen ourselves as we come to the end of this century, as we approach the beginning of the millennium, "Oh our science is wonderful, and our economy is wonderful, and we're so wonderful." No. We have proven in this century that man is utterly depraved--that, deprived of the guiding constraints of conscience, we are capable of all atrocities of every description with no limit whatsoever. And everywhere you look practically in the world, you will find some examples of those atrocities, and the dead piled up so high that our imagination cannot even begin to encompass the number of the dead. That's what this century tells us.

This doesn't exactly seem to me the time to be abandoning the great principle which, if it is inculcated by education and conscience, can in fact restrain the abuses of power, can teach human beings that whatever their success, it gives them no title to oppress, despoil, or destroy the lives of other human beings. To me, that is the great and important distinction of American life. We have already thrown it away. We have already thrown it away. The struggle right now in America is whether we're going to restore it, not whether we have already discarded it--because we have.

And that brings me to what is always the culminating point of my discussion. See, people wonder why it is, Alan, everywhere he goes, he always brings up this issue of abortion. And I never go anywhere without mentioning it. Why? Because abortion is to our time what slavery was to the 19th century. If anyone of conscience went anywhere in the 19th century and did not confront the American people with the evil of slavery, then they were not doing what statesmanship required. Slavery was what discarded and rejected and denied the fundamental principle of right and justice in America. And what was done in the name of slavery then is done for the sake of abortion now. The paradigm of it is quite clear.

What is it that is the argument made in favor of abortion? You can see it in Roe vs. Wade and everything else. It's a privacy argument. And privacy based on what? "Well, this is the woman's body and she has the right to decide what goes on with it." You start from that. And this child, this babe, this fetus in the womb, what is it? "Well, it's a part of her body, utterly dependent on her body, not viable apart from her body. She has, therefore, absolute power over this being, and given that absolute power, she has the absolute right to dispose of it according to her will."

We don't recognize what that's saying. What that's saying is that power makes for right. Might makes for right. If I have you in my power, I may dispose of you and your life according to my will. And if that argument is now accepted and we have embraced it as a fundamental principle of law, then we have rejected the right principle. For, if our most basic and conditional right, the right to life itself, comes to us not from God but from our mother's choice, then there is no human right that transcends in its claim human choice and human power. Abortion is the paradigm--the ultimate paradigm--of despotism, tyranny, oppression, slavery, holocaust.

And I see this all the time. I was down in South Carolina not long ago, and a young lady comes up to me, after I had given a talk just like this, and she says, "I was listening to your speech, and I want to know how come you can prefer the rights of potential persons to those of actual persons." I'll never forget that moment, because she was the very paradigm. If you want to think of some little slip-of-a-thing that projected the very wonderful wholesome air of American womanhood--and she was speaking to me in, what? In the chilling language of holocaust and atrocity. And she didn't even know what she was doing.

I looked at her and I said, "You know, I have a 17-year-old son. How old are you?" And she said, "19." And I said, "You know you make a very rash assumption in what you ask me there," and she looked at me quizzically. And I said, "Because, given my experience with my 17-year-old son, I have to tell you, there are many days on which I'm not entirely sure that people of your age are actual persons at all." [laughter]

And then to drive the point home even further, I looked at her and I said, "And I hope you don't think that I will hear those words and forget that 120, 130-odd years ago, Frederick Douglass had to go in front of audiences with a speech entitled, 'That the Negro is a man,' to prove that he and others like me were 'actual persons.'"

See, why do people forget this? They speak this cold-blooded language to people like myself, as if we're too stupid to remember that the day before yesterday we were not considered "actual persons," and that if today we deny the principle on which we stood in order to demand respect for our humanity, if we deny it to those human beings in the womb, it will be denied once again to us and to others. Because then it just becomes a matter of who you can get on your side to draw the line between humanity and non-humanity, personhood and non-personhood. And then the majority can oppress, and the powerful can abuse, and those who end up on the wrong side have nothing.

So, I think it's all important that we return to the right principle, so that we can shape our consciences, once again, in the fear of God--and by doing so, restore our sense that we are a people who will stop short of atrocity in the use of our rights, who can be trusted to use them responsibly, and in a fashion disciplined by the belief that power is no title to oppression; and that, in fact, freedom does not mean doing what you can get away with, doing what you please. It means, instead, having the opportunity to do what you ought to do--for family, and for community, and for humanity as a whole.

Returning to that principle, we restore our own self-respect. And on the basis of that self-respect, we can reclaim all of those rights and responsibilities which, unfortunately, we are surrendering to an ever-expanding government power--whom we now trust to do the things that we no longer trust ourselves to do, because we no longer believe in our own decency. That is the route by which we surrender our liberty. Because people afraid of themselves, afraid of their own abuses, no longer confident in their own goodness, are people who will surrender their freedom in order to avoid the consequences of their wickedness.

We stand at a crossroads, then, for America: between the principle of right justice and a principle that leads to despotism. I sound a voice in this country now that says we must choose the right principle again so that we can offer, on a sound foundation, this heritage of liberty and all its blessings to our children. I especially feel it, because I want to make sure that the children of the future are not like my ancestors, clanking about in chains, even though in the future, they would be chains fastened rather upon their minds and upon their hearts then upon their arms and legs. But those chains will be even more effective at blotting out the sun of real liberty.

I think we have this opportunity, and we've got to take it. And if we do, then we can walk into the next century, pretty secure that we will, in fact, pass on this heritage to new generations, and uphold the hope that this nation is suppose to represent--not just for our future, but for all humanity, whom, in one sense or another, we have gathered in this place to prove that humanity can live in decency, and justice, and freedom.

God bless you.
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