Know Your Right Wingers
There was a point last summer, during the height of the inexplicable and indefensible Birther Movement, which proposed that Barack Obama was not actually president, because he was, in fact, not an American citizen, when it seemed the last tenets of reason and sense had fallen. The Birthers were a collective so extreme that even Glenn Beck—FOX News’ most infamous shouting head—found them ridiculous. But Alan Keyes, former presidential candidate and the rare African American conservative, is no Glenn Beck.
Keyes, the famously furious, perennially losing politician, shouts down the dogs of reason. Unfortunately, Keyes’ Birther antics are only the tip of a large iceberg built of Keyes’ notorious bouts of right-wing vitriol.
Alan Keyes was born to Allison and Gerthina Keyes on August 7, 1950, on a Long Island, New York, naval base. His father was in the U.S. Army and his mother was a school teacher.
Keyes’ ultra-conservative politics are nothing new. He was embracing them as a teenager, when most aren’t politically aware. By the time he was in high school, he was the head of the American Boys Legion Nation, a position he used to make speeches in support of the war in Vietnam (where his father did two tours). From then on, he never missed the chance to state his far-right case.
When he wasn’t singing in glee club or the Hangovers at Cornell University, where he studied political philosophy, he was fervently engaging in the debates of the day, usually on the unpopular side. Though he joined the African American Society, he soon left it, feeling it was too militant. And when members of the group took over Cornell’s student center to protest Vietnam, he once again spoke out, chastising his peers and defending the war. As a result, he received several death threats from the students and had to leave school. He left the United States to spend a year abroad in Paris, then returned to finish his Bachelor of Arts degree and eventually his Ph.D. at Harvard; both of his degrees are in governmental studies.
While still in grad school, Keyes found himself in the Reagan State Department, where he helped form the language for the “Mexico City Policy.” The “Mexico City Policy,” also known as the global gag rule, was recently overturned by President Obama and prohibits funding for international organizations that perform or even mention abortion as a family planning option. Reagan remains a major influence for and inspiration to Keyes, and in his lifetime he said he was an enormous fan of Keyes’, even proclaiming at a fundraising dinner for Keyes’ first senatorial run in 1988 that “[he’s] never known a more stout-hearted defender of a strong America than Alan Keyes. He truly knows that freedom works.”
Keyes ultimately failed in his 1988 Maryland Senate race but tried—and failed—again in 1992. During his 1992 senate run, he made waves by taking a salary out of his campaign fund. He also ran unsuccessful presidential bids in 1996, 2000, and 2008. During his 1996 bid for the White House, he tried to force himself into a debate in Atlanta and failed. After his failed Maryland campaigns, Keyes took to punditry. On his Baltimore radio show, he was “Dr. Dream,” on his MSNBC show he was Making Sense, and on every show on which he appeared—both as an “expert” and a pundit—he was engaging and angry.
Keyes also has a reputation for being, well, weird. He may be a “stout-hearted defender of a strong America,” but he’s not as valuable a defender of decorum or common sense. In 2000, he made a scene on the evening news when he jumped into something called “Michael Moore’s mosh pit.” A stunt for Moore’s short-lived TV show, the mosh pit was being driven around the Iowa primaries, and any candidate who jumped into the pit would be endorsed by the program. Keyes was the only candidate to take Moore up on the offer, and he surfed the crowd of teenagers before moshing to Rage Against the Machine.
Some startlingly offensive moments came when Marylander Keyes carpetbagged over to Illinois in 2004 to become the nominee of a Republican party that could not find another candidate to challenge Barack Obama for an open U.S. Senate seat. During an interview with Sirius radio about homosexuality, the interviewer brought up Mary Cheney, the openly gay daughter of the former Vice President Dick Cheney. Keyes quickly confirmed that she was, like all other homosexuals, a “selfish hedonist” “by definition.” Rebuked by Republicans and Democrats alike, Keyes shunted responsibility to the interviewer for bringing up Mary Cheney in the first place. He also declared that “Jesus would not vote for Obama.” When he lost, he refused to make the customary congratulatory call to his opponent.
At the end of that same year, Keyes’s daughter, Maya, came out publicly as a lesbian (and a liberal). Keyes soon kicked Maya out of the house, refusing to pay her college tuition and essentially disowning her. Maya had deferred her start at Brown to help him with his campaign, but now was left on her own to afford college. Though Maya seemed to understand her father’s decision, saying that she knew he couldn’t condone or support her activities, it seems as if Keyes was only too happy to drop his family values to keep his sense of morality intact. .
Keyes’ latest 2008 loss ushered in his Birther era. Not only does he claim that Obama is not a citizen of the United States and that he’s ineligible to be president, but he brought an actual lawsuit against the president to court that was quickly dismissed.
Since then, you might you have seen Keyes in handcuffs, marched off the Notre Dame campus after illegally protesting Obama’s commencement speech there last spring. This was, of course, another anti-abortion rights stand, with Keyes protesting the Catholic university’s decision to bring a pro-choice president to their graduation ceremony. A picture of Keyes’ protest shows him walking around with a cabbage patch doll covered in blood. He also appeared at the radical Personhood conference in Washington, D.C., put on by the American Life League in January 2009, endorsing a radical pro-life movement that seeks to define life as beginning at fertilization. If such a law were ever enacted, it could outlaw birth control, in vitro fertilization treatments, and cause miscarriages to be investigated by police.
Most of the time, if there’s a decision that seems to make sense, Keyes pushes in the opposite direction. This doesn’t necessarily separate him from many politicians and pundits. But what does separate him is his incredible, determined, disturbing lack of self-consciousness. Unlike many of the screaming thugs that now populate the airwaves who often reek of showmanship, Keyes seems to have no such veil. He may be best understood through his blog, Alan Keyes is Loyal to Liberty. There, he is indiscriminately furious at RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) like Scott Brown and Mitt Romney, the media (even FOX News), and evil liberals. It is a pure, disgruntled diary tinged with an absolute certainty about his righteousness, a position that allows Keyes to summarize himself better than anyone else can: “I kind of represent, in political terms, the abortion.”
In his own words:
“Homosexuals are essentially incapable of procreation. They cannot mate. They are not made to do so. Therefore the idea of marriage for two such individuals is an absurdity.”
–On Gay Marriage, Sirius OutQ, Aug. 31, 2004
“How many Americans wake up every day longing to live under party dictators, worshiping at the altar of a propagandized personality cult, in a world where party hacks offer the only hope of relief from bureaucratic tyranny? All in exchange for a surfeit of meaningless sex and the license to kill your unwanted offspring.”
–On…everyone, his Loyal to Liberty Blog
Obama is a radical communist. I think it’s becoming clear. That’s what I told to everybody in Illinois and now everybody realizes it’s true. He’s going to destroy this country. We’re either going to stop him or the United States of America is going to cease to exist.
–On Obama, Feb. 20, 2009
Rebecca Foerg-Spittel is a staff writer for Campus Progress. She attends the College of Holy Cross.
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