Alan Keyes was back, and boy was he mad! And Ron Paul said, "End the war. Bring home the troops. Become diplomatically credible. No more preemptive war. Not threaten anyone. Not threaten Iran." And now that we know that Iran, like Iraq, is not building a nuclear weapon, "turn the Navy around."
I watched the final Republican debate of the primary season on CNN, but if you want to watch the video, go to www.pbs.org. You might miss the clever little candidate-profile sidebars, which were distracting, but more fun than the opening remarks on the economy and security. Ron Paul has delivered 4,000 babies as an Ob-Gyn. Tom Tancredo was a junior high school teacher. Who knew?
I was spacing out as Mitt Romney did a dead-on Ronald Reagan impersonation, and Huckabee came back with some bland patriotic talking points when there, out of nowhere, appeared .... Alan Keyes!!?!
Keyes is back, and boy is he mad!
He's so mad he even shouted down the dour moderator, who effectively cowed the other candidates by scolding them like bad boys for taking too long to answer her questions and not sticking to the point. Naughty Republicans! Fred Thompson finally threw a spitball at her and refused to raise his hand in answer to a question on global warming. This emboldened the rest of the field and they refused to raise their hands, too. Take that, liberal media!
Soon they fell right back into line, though, and politely conceded that global warming is real and we ought to do something about it--just not anything that involves "mandates" or costs real money or involves any sacrifice.
No such pussyfooting around for Alan Keyes. He wouldn't even ANSWER the question on global warming. Instead he used his 30 seconds to bash those traitors to conservatism on the stage with him, "the very elites who've destroyed our Constitution, betrayed our principles." "Ask yourself," he said, addressing Iowa voters, "who represents your voice"—the voice of authentic conservatism, "the one voice they're determined to leave out."
The other candidates pretty much ignored that outburst, and went on with the rest of the debate.
Tancredo gave his usual wild-eyed warning about "immigration without assimilation" leading to a "polyglot boarding house."
Huckabee pitched himself as the little guy: "It's a long way from the little rent house where I grew up to the Presidency," and made some winning comments about bringing the nation together, and doing more in the areas of health care and education to help the poor. He even made a pitch for more funding for art and music in the schools, tailoring classes to individual students' interests, and not neglecting the "right brain" in favor of the "left brain." This guy is a conservative a liberal could almost love . . . if you forget about quarantining AIDS patients.
Which is apparently why Alan Keyes went ballistic. "I'd like to address the question!" he burst in, when the moderator tried to turn to another candidate. It wasn't his turn. "I'D LIKE TO ADDRESS THE QUESTION!" he shouted, and the cameras swung his way. That mean moderator, looking like a ruler-wielding teacher herself, conceded him 30 seconds out of turn. Not good enough. Keyes pointed out the other candidates had gotten one minute. "Your unfairness is now becoming so apparent, voters in Iowa must understand there's a reason for it," he said, hinting at some dark Des Moines Register-PBS-Republican Party conspiracy to silence him.
He then turned on Huckabee, condemning his insufficient religiosity. Apparently art and music classes don't fit into the social conservative plan. The real problem in education, Keyes explained, is, "We allow government to drive God out of our schools." Kids can't learn science and math without God, he said. "They don't want to talk about this," he said of his opponents (yes, he is apparently running for President) "except when they are squabbling about their own faith."
Once again, the other candidates more or less ignored him, and went on to tilt at the traditional Republican straw man: It's all the teachers' unions' fault. Thompson started the union-bashing. Tancredo seconded it, then got in a jab at Huckabee for supporting art and music in the schools. Romney got in the cheapest of shots, pointing out that students in Massachusetts score better on standardized tests than students in Arkansas, and therefore he would be a better President. Duncan Hunter suggested we hire aerospace engineers to teach school, and Romney and Giuliani each got in a little more bashing of the NEA. Except for Keyes and Huckabee the unanimous Republican position on education was: We'd have great education if only we didn't have teachers.
Asked what they would accomplish in their first year in office, most of the candidates, led by Giuliani, mentioned the war on "radical Islam" or "global jihad" and said they'd tighten the borders. Romney said he'd end illegal immigration altogether. Huckabee said that was all fine, but the important thing is bringing the country and even the party together. "We've got to quit fighting among ourselves and become a better nation." Too bad for Alan Keyes. As usual, my favorite overall on this question was Ron Paul. He pointed out that a year isn't very long, but that there are a few things we could do to change the direction of the country: "End the war. Bring home the troops. Become diplomatically credible. No more preemptive war. Not threaten anyone. Not threaten Iran." And now that we know that Iran, like Iraq, is not building a nuclear weapon, "turn the Navy around."
Keyes took one more sidewinder at the rest of the field. Oozing contempt, he declared that the first thing we must do is "restore sovereignty" to our nation, which was opaquely but directly related to his promise that in his Presidency "no action will destroy the Constitutional rights of those in the womb." He added that he'd abolish the income tax and seal the borders. But the real point he was there to make was that "we need to restore the credibility of the Republican Party." Looking nearly unhinged with rage, he attacked Mitt Romney for "sadly" not being authentic, and Giuliani, whom he said he would never vote for.
Both candidates got a chance to respond, and both knew, without any explanation by Keyes, that he was talking about abortion. Romney rehearsed his pro-choice-to-pro-life conversion. But Giuliani sounded more principled. He's pro-choice. "It's a position that, in spite of the fact that Alan wouldn't vote for me, I wouldn't change."
Finally, this debate offered some up close and personal video of the candidates that made them look truly creepy. Romney appeared oily in his soft-focus cameo. Tancredo talked about "feeding the good side" not the dark side of one's nature. Eep!
In closing, McCain declared he couldn't think of a single time he compromised on principle. It must have been brain lock. Even I could think of a few: endorsing Bush, speaking at Bob Jones University, reversing himself on the Confederate flag, and compromising on anti-torture legislation.
Aside from Alan Keyes, the outcome was unchanged from the last debate. Huckabee was by far the most appealing candidate. Giuliani and Romney were phonies. (Giuliani brushed aside a question about the lack of transparency in his New York administration by denying the overwhelming evidence of his own secrecy and stonewalling.) Ron Paul gave a dose of reality on Iraq and terrorism, and Hunter and Tancredo carried the nativist, xenophobic flag.
Poor Keyes stayed on my mind after it was all over. He's right the system is rigged against populist, grass-roots candidates. Wolf Blitzer's "expert" team of analysts didn't even mention Keyes, and characterized the debate as bland, cordial, and unsurprising. But that's because they literally had eyes only for the presumed frontrunners.
The people who care passionately about policy and the soul of the party are sideshow freaks, whether or not they are Alan Keyes.