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Radio interview
Alan Keyes on the Tavis Smiley Show (NPR)
August 31, 2004

TAVIS SMILEY, HOST: From NPR in New York City, live from the Republican National Convention at the Garden, I'm Tavis Smiley.

On Monday, when this convention approved, by voice vote, a party platform that endorses, among other items, constitutional amendments banning gay marriage and abortion, a cheer went up from the corner of the room that might support a guy like Alan Keyes. These are issues that define the personal politics of the former ambassador and erstwhile presidential candidate.

Alan Keyes is now campaigning, as you know, for U.S. Senate seat from the State of Illinois, in the Land of Lincoln, a state that he only moved to recently to take on the Democrat, Barack Obama--who you saw at the convention, of course, give that speech.

Mr. Keyes' chances of winning are seen by many pundits as slim, but he perseveres. The Senate race has given Alan Keyes a highly visible platform he uses to militate against abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage, and other issues that violate the strict religious code that he clings to. He's been making the rounds through this convention, and I'm pleased to have him in our skybox here at Madison Square Garden.

Mr. Ambassador, nice to see you, sir.


SMILEY: Glad to have you on. Let me start with a question that I'm sure you have not been asked, and the question is simply this: is there anything in all these interviews that you have done that you have wanted somebody to ask you that you have not been asked?

KEYES: Actually, there is. I've been very curious about it, because Illinois is a state that, among other things, is heavily Roman Catholic, and no interviewer has asked me yet how I plan to get the Roman Catholic vote.

SMILEY: Hold the phone. Mr. Keyes, how do you plan to get the Roman Catholic vote in the state of Illinois in this election?

KEYES: I think I plan to get it by appealing to the clear conscience of Catholics, and Christians, as well, in general, because the stands I take on the issues are the stands that are in fact required by the moral conscience that is shaped by the precepts of Christianity. I think that that's a really important element of this election that everybody's overlooking.

The simple fact of the matter is, we're dealing with a moral crisis in our country, and that moral crisis challenges conscience on a whole range of issues: the taking of innocent life in the womb, the matter of what we're going to do with the family structure--which is absolutely critical to every community in America, particularly those, by the way, that are most affected by problems of family breakdown, of crime and violence, of misbehavior among the young because of the lack of a father figure in the home.

As a black American, I'm particularly aware of and sensitive to this. We all know that the crisis is rooted in these moral factors, and I think we all recognize that, as ordinary people, just living our lives the way we do, our moral conscience is shaped by our religious faith. If you don't bring that faith to bear when you are judging about issues that have moral content, then you are betraying your faith.

And so, it becomes a serious challenge to me, as a Roman Catholic Christian, to others, whatever may be their background or denomination, simple questions like, would Jesus Christ allow Himself to be represented by somebody who is willing, as Barack Obama is, for instance, to allow a baby who is born alive--this is separate from the mother, completely living on its own--in the wake of a botched abortion, where they tried to kill it and didn't succeed, the baby is born alive, and hospitals, some of them, have the practice of setting that baby aside to die, just leaving it there to die like garbage?

I think that it behooves someone of the Christian faith to ask themselves, would Jesus allow Himself to be represented in that action? A matter of fact, we know He wouldn't, because we know that when we're thinking the way we're supposed to think, and we're asking ourselves, "What would Jesus do?" we know that Jesus would not let a helpless child die, simply because somebody else wanted to take its life.

SMILEY: Let me jump in and ask this question. It's going to sound a little strange, but the issues, for the moment, the issues notwithstanding, why do this? You didn't need to do this. And every poll, studies show that you ain't got a snowball's chance in Hades of winning this thing. Why do it?

KEYES: Well, first of all, all the polls are just made up by people who manipulate them in order to create a perception that favors one party.

SMILEY: But c'mon, Mr. Keyes.


SMILEY: I'm just asking you . . .

KEYES: You raise a question, I start to give the answer, and then instead of letting me answer, you talk over me in order, what? To prevent me from giving the answer? There is a reasonable answer, and I will give it, if I'm given the chance.

SMILEY: Give me your reasonable answer.

KEYES: OK. The first reason I got involved, of course, is that I have a moral obligation. Somebody is assaulting the fundamental principles that I believe are essential to the moral integrity of the United States. They are the principles--the most important one, we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. That was the principle that was appealed to by the abolitionists to seek the overthrow of slavery. That was the principle that was appealed to by Martin Luther King to seek the overthrow of segregation. That is the principle that is appealed to for the protection of women's rights and children and everybody else, that no matter how helpless, voiceless, uneducated, lacking in wealth you may be, you have an equal claim to respect in your dignity that does not come from other human beings because it rests on a decision that has already taken by the Creator.

SMILEY: But that happens in every state, though. In every state, there's somebody who would run for office that would offend you. Why run in this race?

KEYES: Because I was approached by folks in Illinois, they told me they needed my help. They made the sovereign decision within the party to call on me to try to help, and I have often told audiences that in defense of these things, we should be willing to go forward and put ourselves on the line, to put ourselves at risk, to put everything we are at stake, if need be, in order to try to renew and restore America's allegiance to these fundamental moral ideas. I've said that for years. And the truth is, they came to me asking for my help in a situation identical to the one that I challenge people to stand forward in, and I felt like I not only had a moral obligation to respond, but if I had not, I wouldn't be able to look another audience in the eye and challenge them to do what I had refused to.

SMILEY: I know you've been asked this question. I've not heard you answer personally, so I want hear, but I'm sure you've been asked it. You, obviously, years ago, didn't like the idea of Hillary Clinton being a carpetbagger many saw moving to this state, New York, to run in the race, now the junior Senator from this state. Why and how do you juxtapose your running to Illinois?

KEYES: Hillary Clinton did what she did out of pure and planned selfish ambition. She shopped around America, chose the state she thought was opportune, prepared the ground here as a platform and steppingstone for her national ambition. I was called on by people in Illinois, but their choice, not mine. I had nothing whatsoever to do with that process. It came as a bolt out of the blue to me. And my original response was, "You've got to be kidding!"--until they got me to look seriously at the situation that they were in, and at who was running.

And at that point, I said I've got to answer the call, and I have joined the Illinois state party, I have joined the people of Illinois, and I have done something that was very hard for me. I've pulled up stakes and left what had been my home, because I feel like I have an obligation--and when I say obligation, I obviously mean an obligation that is moral in the sense that I understand it to be. Moral obligations are obligations in the end to a mighty God. You are doing what you believe to be required by your respect for God's will, and I think that that's what I'm doing in Illinois.

Now, in terms of chances and all of that, I think, when I have analyzed the situation--and I did it in these terms before I got in, that is, the moral terms. Since I've been in, I have, of course, started analyzing it in terms of, "OK, how do we put together a strategy for victory?"

And all I will tell you is, there is a very simple, a very straightforward, a very easy strategy for victory in this election, and that is to tell the truth about Barack Obama, because he takes positions on issues--like his willingness to support infanticide--that are totally contrary to the decent conscience to the overwhelming majority of people in the state of Illinois.

SMILEY: I got 15 seconds left. Tell me right quick if it means anything to you at all, it might not, that there are two African Americans for the first time ever running for a U.S. Senate seat.

KEYES: Well, I think it does have a historic significance, in terms of the leadership that's being offered by black Americans in this country. In other respects, I don't know. I'm wondering why it is that we're supposed to feel there's something, I don't know, unusual, some people even suggest hostile. Two white people run against each other all the time. What on earth are people making such a fuss about?

SMILEY: I couldn't agree more. I'm out of time. I got to run, Mr. Ambassador. Thank you for coming by to see me.

KEYES: Thank you.

SMILEY: Ambassador Alan Keyes, Republican Senate candidate, that is, for the U.S. Senate seat from the State of Illinois. We'll continue from the Garden in a moment.

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