As I mentioned in my previous post, the dinner for the CLC tonight featured a speech by recent presidential aspirant Dr. Alan Keyes. Keyes has operated on the fringes of the Republican Party for years, although he took on Barack Obama in 2004 as the party’s nominee in an ill-considered and mostly embarrassing carpetbagging run for the Senate in Illinois. Just a few weeks ago he declared his candidacy for the GOP nomination, but has garnered little interest, and was not invited to the Dearborn presidential debate this week.
I have never heard Keyes speak in person, although I have heard him on many television appearances, usually in shoutfests on cable news. Until tonight, I have never experienced the powerful oratory of a man who may well be the modern master of the form. Watching Keyes dominate the stage and thunder, whisper, muse, and cajole his message to the CLC’s convocation felt like being transported back decades, perhaps even a century, to when public oration determined the measure of the public man.
Keyes’ oration, however, felt troubling and at times even dangerous. It’s not that I didn’t agree with the basic message of his speech, which was that America has lost its thread to the core and genesis of liberty. In fact, Dinesh D’Souza makes the same argument in his book, What’s So Great About Christianity?, only D’Souza manages to make it with a lot less demagoguery than Keyes manages. The genius of the Declaration, and later its influence on the Constitution, came in the recognition of natural rights that flowed from man’s relation to his Creator. Eliminate the Creator, and humans become nothing more than mere organisms that have no claim to any rights as a natural function of their being, and instead must rely on the mercy of his fellow men and the governments they create to bestow or deny these rights. D’Souza makes this connection very carefully, through reasoned argument and historical exposition, to underscore a somewhat different point than Keyes.
As readers might imagine, Keyes attacked the other Republicans in the race for betraying this understanding — an attack made somewhat more uncomfortable given Duncan Hunter’s attendance at this dinner. For the most part, he attacked the front-runners, and those attacks related to abortion. Keyes argued that Mitt Romney had admitted he didn’t tell the truth about the sanctity of life while Governor of Massachussetts; that Giuliani had supported abortion and gay marriage in New York City; and that Fred Thompson had not lifted a finger to oppose abortion while in or out of office.
Had he stopped there, Keyes would have remained in the bounds of honest political discourse. However, Keyes went much farther than that, but it takes some explanation. He made an intriguing claim that the preamble of the Constitution forbids abortion in its mandate to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”. In this, Keyes claims to have found the language forbidding abortion that Justice Blackmun insisted he sought during Roe, because “posterity” refers to those yet to come — which would include unborn children necessarily. Websters defines “posterity” as “the offspring of one progenitor to the furthest generation” and “all future generations,” and Keyes says the framers understood exactly what they meant when they wrote that passage.
With that understanding, Keyes engaged in some jaw-dropping demagoguery. He claimed that Giuliani’s pro-choice standing put him in the “pro-slavery position”. That’s ridiculous on its face. First, the language of the preamble did not forbid slavery; it took the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to accomplish that. Second, in no way could anyone accuse Giuliani of being “pro-slavery”. It’s as though Keyes read the Constitution and decided that one has to go all the way to Z as a consequence of moving from A to B. It’s absurd.
After that, he talked about Mitt Romney being “the devil with the mask on,” and Rudy as “the devil with the mask off.” Fred Thompson wears masks, too, because he made a living as an actor. Don’t talk about Reagan being an actor, though, because Keyes says that Reagan had “character” while Thompson does not. How he makes this distinction, Keyes didn’t elaborate, but it seems somewhat daft considering Reagan was an actor by training, while Fred’s acting career was a lark that paid off.
Devils and traitors populate Keyes’ world to a degree not known by most rational people. In the real world, however, Keyes’ targets are human beings with foibles and faults not unlike our own. And this is the difference between real political debate and dishonest demagoguery. In demonizing his opponents, Keyes makes it impossible to actually debate policy. These men are not demons, but people with positions that differ from Keyes — and Keyes essentially runs away from the debate by calling them devils and scaring his audience into visceral reactions rather than inspiring reasoned and rational thought.
I was impressed with and dismayed by Keyes in equal measures. I also have to say that I was a distinct minority in the room. I did notice that Keyes had the good sense to avoid accusing Duncan Hunter of being the devil, at least not by name, although I’m not certain whether Keyes knew that Hunter was in attendance. I suspect that Hunter would not have sat quietly for that kind of demagoguery aimed explicitly at him.