Ballot Box

Keyes Loses It

HANOVER, N.H.–The second Republican debate was enlivened by the presence of two hecklers who got inside the Dartmouth auditorium where the town hall-style forum was taking place. One, a young woman, shouted that military spending should be cut to provide better health care until she was ejected from the hall. The other, Alan Keyes, ranted and raved about a variety of topics but was allowed to remain.

Keyes is an intelligent man, but tonight he seemed truly deranged. In response to a question put to all the candidates about whether they supported a flat tax, Keyes declared that the income tax was both socialism and slavery. “The income tax is a form of tax that was advocated by Marx and Lenin because it cedes in principle to the government control of EVERY LAST DOLLAR that is made or earned in income,” he bellowed, walking to the edge of the stage. “THINK ABOUT IT,” he shouted at the audience. “If I have to give you a percentage of my income and you get to determine the percentage, how much are you in control of? HOW MUCH? ANSWER IT!!! ALL OF IT, EVERY LAST BIT OF IT.”

This assault left everyone a bit stunned, but it was just a warm-up for his answer to a polite and intelligent question about whether the United States ought to pay its back U.N. dues. “If you want to blame somebody for that billion-dollar deficit, blame me!” he shrieked. “I was one of the people in the Reagan administration who helped to put together and foster the policy that withheld our contributions from the United Nations. The United Nations that takes our money–tosses it down the RATHOLE!” During these screeds, someone in the CNN editing room kept cutting to audience members who were rolling their eyes, giggling, or trying to suppress gales of laugher.

I’d say Keyes was one step away from being hauled away in a straitjacket. He, on the other hand, thought he was the hands-down winner. As soon as the debate ended, he came upstairs to the hall where the press was watching on a big-screen TV and offered to take questions. Reporters, pecking out their stories on deadline, didn’t immediately respond with any. At that point, Keyes truly lost it, accusing the press of racism for ignoring him. I think his tirade is worth recording in full:

You know what’s fascinating? Can I make a statement here? The New Hampshire debate that was held in the ‘96 race, they did the polling afterward. I actually won the debate in the eyes of the people polled. I OFTEN win these debates, and every time I stand before you press folks, you have no questions. I find it kind of amazing. At some point, you know, one has to start to wonder. The people of this country have gotten over their racial sickness. I don’t know that you folks have. I think that merit means nothing to you because you can’t look past race. And I think I’m deadly SICK of it. Every time I get in front of audiences in this country, they respond, just as it was tonight, to the answers THAT I GIVE. But your response is nothing because you don’t represent those people. You apparently represent the same money powers that are seeking to destroy the representative nature of our government. I frankly think you all ought to be ashamed of yourselves. At some point you ought to wake up to your responsibility not to let vice take place in darkness and not to let virtue languish unnoticed. That’s your job, but you don’t do it, DO YOU? Instead you PANDER to the money. But if you were doing your job, we wouldn’t have to worry about campaign-finance reform, because there would be sufficient attention paid to every candidate in the race that the American people would know who they are and what they stand for without the expenditure of billions of dollars. But they don’t know, because you won’t do your job. That’s SAD! And it’s DESTROYING our democracy.

With that, Keyes stormed off the stage and departed the room, leaving reporters somewhat stunned. In fact, I think the racial factor works mildly in Keyes’ favor. If he were a white Republican, and thus less of a novelty, the press would portray him more directly as a fanatic. Ignoring Keyes is the kindest thing the press can do for him.

The rest of the evening was less exciting. If there was a theme, it was turning up the heat on George W. Bush for not showing. A New Hampshire television reporter who interviewed Bush before the debate asked if he wasn’t trying to get the job of president without the job interview. Bush took umbrage, saying he had to attend a dinner held in honor of his wife, Laura, and that his family came first. The excuse is, of course, bogus, as was Bush’s last one about having to attend a fund-raiser in Vermont. Several candidates took shots at Bush for his absence. Steve Forbes had the best line about how to get Bush to participate in the next debate. “If you call it a fund-raiser, he might show up,” Forbes quipped.

Gary Bauer launched the only direct attack on a fellow candidate, when he once again hit Forbes, this time on Forbes’s flat-tax proposal, which exempts inheritance and capital gains. Bauer said that his father was a janitor and that this wasn’t fair. Forbes responded that people should be “allowed to leave the world unmolested by the IRS.” He even got off a good line about  “no taxation without respiration” before dissolving into his trademark crooked-grin guffaw. Forbes also took credit for the fact that all of the candidates present (with the exception of Keyes) now support a flat tax. This is indeed amazing.

Perhaps the best answer of the evening was John McCain’s response to a question about whether the armed forces could be rebuilt without restoring the draft. After explaining that he thought the Army didn’t need volunteers, he turned to the issue of his temper, recently displayed in response to a negative New York Times story that he claimed was leaked by the Bush campaign. “People say that perhaps John McCain is angry. My friends, I get angry when we spend $350 million on carriers the Navy doesn’t want or need. … And meanwhile, my dear friends, we have 12,000 enlisted families, brave young men and women, on food stamps. That’s a disgrace. That’s an outrage. I’m going to fix it as president of the United States.” To my ear, the applause meter topped out on that one.

Unlike last night’s performance, which ended abruptly, tonight’s format allowed for 20-second-long conclusions, speed-speeches that recalled the great Monty Python “summarize Proust” contest. This was the most interesting part of the event. Forbes declared that he supported a “New Birth of Freedom,” beginning with “the freedom to be born.” Bauer decried what he called the “virtue deficit.” Keyes said the nation was in  “the worst moral crisis it’s ever faced.” McCain said he wanted to clean up government and inspire young people. Orrin Hatch, concluding the show, said that several Supreme Court justices were getting old and that he wanted to pick their replacements.