Republican Presidential Debate

Alan Keyes

March 2, 2000
CNN/Los Angeles Times




JUDY WOODRUFF: Next question for Alan Keyes.

Mr. Ambassador, a central target of your campaign has been what you called the moral crisis gripping this country. And yet, all independent surveys show, over the last six, seven, eight years, the abortion rate is down, teen pregnancy rate is down, welfare rolls are down, violent crime rate is down. Now, granted, none of these are acceptable. They're all too high. But my question is, given all of these trends, are you prepared to give the current administration some credit for these very clear improvements?

ALAN KEYES (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not at all. Not at all because most of those improvements came as a result of the work of governors and Republican mayors like Rudolph Giuliani. I may not agree with him on everything, but I sure think he cleaned up crime in New York to such an extent that, by itself, New York's drop in the crime rate has accounted for part of the drop in the national crime rate, as everybody knows. So, no, you don't give to a shameless, lying, oath-breaking president any kind of credit for an improvement in the nation's moral atmosphere which he has polluted with his lack of integrity, and which the Democrats have polluted by circling the wagons around that lack of integrity.

As a matter of fact, I think that that issue is going to be the issue on which Republican victory depends in the fall. In a booming economy, such as the one we have, it is highly unlikely that we're going to defeat the Democrats on the basis of some economic arguments and things of that kind. But we will be able to defeat them if we drive home the point that that betrayal of this nation's moral heart wasn't the result of Bill Clinton's foibles. It's the result of the fact that the Democrats...


KEYES: ... have betrayed the basic moral principles of this nation's life.

WOODRUFF: Mr. Keyes, if a president matters, and I assume that you believe he does, why did all of these indices go down during a Democratic administration, albeit not enough, while they went up during previous Republican administrations?

KEYES: Well, you make a wrong assumption. I don't think the president does matter that much. I am running for the office of president not because I think his power matters, but because I think the abuses of power that have undermined the position of Americans: control of money, control of schools, control of their lives. It is the American people that have produced this booming economy. It is people who have come to their senses and started in their churches, and neighborhoods, and schools pushing abstinence programs and marriage counseling. They're the ones who have achieved this turnaround, not politicians. I know the politicians like to hog the credit.


KEYES: But it's the people who have made the change.

. . . .

JEFF GREENFIELD: Ambassador Keyes, this campaign has been surrounded by a lot of talk about religion, so let me broaden it out. Article Six of the Constitution flatly says that there shall be no religious test ever required as a qualification to any office. That's a prohibition on the government. But as an individual matter, if a candidate for office professed to believe in no religion at all, do you think that would be a good and sufficient reason, a justifiable reason, not to vote for that candidate?

KEYES: Actually, I have to confess that I think it's kind of an irrelevant question at one level, because...

(LAUGHTER) No, seriously, the -- first of all, that prohibition against religious tests was for the national government, just as the First Amendment was intended to make sure that at the national level there would be no established religion in America. The specious doctrine of separation as developed by liberal judges in the last 40, 50 years which extended that doctrine to the states through a perverted interpretation of the 14th Amendment is simply wrong and has been interfering, in fact, with the free exercise of religion in this country at all levels.

At the time that amendment was put in place, there were religious tests in most of the states in that country. The founders couldn't possibly have meant for that amendment to eliminate those tests, and in fact it was worded in such a way as to make sure the federal government did not interfere.

As for the question of somebody's religious views, I follow Christ, you know, by their fruits ye shall know them. And I will judge an individual according to those fruits, because I think they are the best indication of heart...


KEYES: ... not professions, but actions and results.

GREENFIELD: Let me follow up with another perhaps irrelevant question. Suppose...


GREENFIELD: Suppose a candidate believed that as a matter of deeply held religious faith that while he respected other faiths, his faith was the one road to salvation. Would those of other faiths be justified in voting against him?

KEYES: Again, I'd say that's a question that everybody has to make. That's why everybody gets into the voting booth in privacy and votes their own conscience. And it's not an issue that I think we have to discuss. People will apply those tests for their own vote that they believe are appropriate. And I think that that's the way it ought to be left, and not I or anybody else should try to dictate or influence that. I do think it's important to remember one thing, though, that this nation was founded on the principle that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. That means that America...


KEYES: ... must believe in God.

. . . .

DOYLE MCMANUS: Ambassador Keyes, if you'll allow me to switch subjects, we are in Los Angeles. This is the capital of the world's entertainment industry, and a lot of Americans worried about the texture of our culture, the civil morality point their finger at Hollywood.

If you were the president of the United States, a few moments ago you said it wasn't that big a job, it wasn't a job that could do everything. But what specifically would you do to stop what many feel is the coarsening of our culture? What actions would you take?

KEYES: I think the most important way to stop the coarsening of our culture is to return that culture to its basic moral principle. I think the most incredible coarsening of American life occurs when we sanction things like abortion, which are basically on the argument that might makes right, because the mother has absolute power over the child, she can dispose of the child's life according to her will. That notion that you do what you can get away with, that you go after anything that's successful, that you make your profits exploiting human lust, greed and whatever effects it might have on the decency of a society you go forward, that is what is destroying us.

So I think the first thing we better do is get the house in order of the government itself, so that in decisions like this, that turn their back on our fundamental principle of moral character, we go back home to the principle that our rights come from God and must be exercised with respect for the authority of God. Having established that foundation we can reintroduce a proper understanding of the limits and constraints upon freedom that we inculcate with moral education in order to produce people in all these walks of life...


KEYES: ... that will have greater respect for our moral decency.

MCMANUS: I think I understand your framework. I didn't hear a lot of specific actions, though. The president appoints members of the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC has the ability to regulate television. Some conservatives have proposed yanking licenses from stations and networks if they don't follow a ratings system. Would you favor that kind of measure?

KEYES: I would be willing to look at approaches that were going to hold people accountable for their respect for public decency. After all, the licensing process is a process that throughout its existence has been understood to be based upon a respect for the needs and requirements of the public and the obligations that those holding licenses have to the public. I don't think that, that would be a change, but only perhaps a renewal of the kind of understanding that we have always had of that licensing process.

In the end, though, I think moves in the direction of government censorship are no substitute for the willingness of our citizens to do what they ought to do...


KEYES: ... which is police the use of their money and their time to withdraw support from those who are destroying our moral fabric.

. . . .


WOODRUFF: Ambassador Keyes, a question -- another criminal justice question.

As you are well aware, a New York jury this past week returned a verdict acquitting four white New York City police officers in the shooting death of a West African immigrant, Amadou Diallo. He was hit 19 times by the officers, even though he was unarmed. He was carrying a wallet, no weapon. Are you comfortable with that verdict?

KEYES: Well, I don't know that I'm qualified to comment on it or anyone else who didn't sit through the trial and hear all the evidence. The notion that because you are unhappy with the overall policies of the New York City Police Department, you will scapegoat four police officers rather than base your judgment on the specific details of the case is a travesty. And we should never surrender to that kind of injustice.

The people who are enforcing the law on our streets deserve that they be treated with the same justice we would expect, and that means judge according to the facts.

And the reason I withhold judgment, I didn't sit through all the testimony. I haven't gone over all the details. The jury did, and they reached a conclusion that I think they in conscientious detail thought was the correct conclusion. The only thing I have heard from a lot of the critics of this case have to do with the number of bullets and other things. I haven't yet heard a good case made that, on the facts that were presented and that existed, one should question that verdict. And until I hear that case, I'm not going to indulge in sort of emotional rhetoric, scapegoating police officers.


Should there be, Mr. Ambassador, an automatic federal Justice Department review in a case like this, where you have alleged police abuse and the verdict goes in favor of the police?

KEYES: No, absolutely not. I really protest against the liberal tendency to want the federal government to take over those responsibilities which rightly belong to states and localities. On the assumption, I suppose, that we are to consider people at the state and local level too depraved to do justice without federal supervision. I believe that assumption that the people of this country are too depraved to defend their rights and acquit their responsibilities as citizens is a wrong assumption, and therefore we should not turn over power to the federal government based on that assumption.

. . . .

MCMANUS: Ambassador Keyes, to borrow a phrase from my friend Jeff Greenfield here, there's an elephant in this room that we haven't talked about but it's a wee little elephant. It's the limited success of your campaign in attracting votes. And I'd like to ask you about that. What does that mean? What has gone wrong? Is the Republican electorate -- it is Republicans you're appealing to -- you've been very eloquent throughout this entire campaign, but they're not flocking to your standard. Are they rejecting the message or are they rejecting the messenger?

KEYES: I'd be willing to bet a great many of them have no idea that I'm running because of the media blackout on this campaign. I always find it interesting. You guys play the game, put the mask over the eyes of the people, and then ask why they don't see me. And I refuse to dignify that little tactic with any more of a response than that. Other people in the country know what you are like and your colleagues are doing.

And I'll say, CNN and people like this may not be -- these debates have never occurred on the broadcast media that reach the mass of the American people. You guys do all right, but you don't get the numbers that ABC, CBS, NBC get, and they have never even put on one of these Republican debates. And I think it's in part because a lot of black people also watch what they do.

Aside from that, I do have to make one comment on what Governor Bush just said, because I -- just one short remark, because I think it reveals a lot about the problems with the educational approach that was being talked about there. Accountability is wonderful, but it shouldn't be accountability to government. It should not be accountability to the federal government. It should be parents who hold schools accountable and they should be empowered...


KEYES: ... to do that through school choice, so the money follows their decision, and they open and close the schools...


KEYES: ... with their patronage.

. . . .

MCMANUS: Ambassador, forgive me, because I'm still genuinely interested in your political future. If you're in this to carry on your message and maybe at this point not get the job -- let's go out on a limb and say that one of these other two gentlemen is likely -- more likely to get the nomination than you are, are you going to go out and support one of these two? And which of these two gentlemen is better-equipped to carry your message?

KEYES: Well, first of all -- I'm sorry, I have got to tell you...


KEYES: Let me answer. The short answer to that question. I -- short answer -- I announced several years ago to anybody who will listen, I will never again cast a vote for an individual I in conscience believe to be pro-choice, pro-abortion, not pro-life. Based on the confession of his heart in New Hampshire, when John McCain told us clearly that he would tell his daughter it was her choice -- and every woman is somebody's daughter, so if you tell the daughters of America it's their choice, you're pro-choice. He is pro- choice, he is not pro-life. I will not support a pro-choice, pro- abortion candidate. So that's clear enough. I've said it everywhere, and I say it...


KEYES: ... again here. It's not possible for me to do that.

. . .

WOODRUFF: All right, time.

All right, we just have time for one last question, and I'm going to take the privilege of asking all three of you to comment. We're interested in knowing how much each one of you uses the Internet, how much time do you spend on it, how much do you know about it?

We'll start with Ambassador Keyes.

KEYES: Well, I use it quite a bit. My campaign has used it quite a bit. I have to make one comment, though, and -- because I think that this whole campaign finance reform thing on Senator McCain's part is just another example of the hypocrisy of these politicians. They have shoveled the money in their mouths hand over fist, then walk into the arena professing to be shocked at the discovery that it's there, and then turn to us and say we should give up our right to give money to support the causes we believe in because they don't have the integrity to do their jobs.

WOODRUFF: How about the Internet?

KEYES: We shouldn't give up their rights. They should give up their offices and that would be the right kind of campaign finance reform.

WOODRUFF: Do you enjoy the Internet?

KEYES: And I think it's the kind that Senator McCain may very well need.


WOODRUFF: Do you enjoy the Internet?

KEYES: I answered, I said yes.

WOODRUFF: Governor Bush, what do you think about the Internet?

BUSH: Well, I put my contributors on the Internet for people to see. I believe in full disclosure, and I think all candidates ought to do that.

WOODRUFF: Do you go online?

BUSH: Yes, I do. I e-mail back and forth, e-mailed my mother the other day, as a matter of fact. She told me to stand straight, by the way, when I was at your debate.


WOODRUFF: How familiar are you with the World Wide Web?

BUSH: I am familiar. I can click around and surf around and -- but you know...


BUSH: But let me tell you something, we don't have time running for president. We're out there talking to the voters.

WOODRUFF: Senator McCain?

MCCAIN: Not as nearly as well as I should, Judy. My wife, Cindy, is a whiz, and when I want to find out what's on CNN, or the New York Times, or the Washington Post, or other Communist periodicals...


MCCAIN: ... I always go to it. But the phenomenal thing about the Internet as far as we're concerned, we have gotten like $7 million in contributions over the Internet.

It's been marvelous. Governor Bush talks about the interests in Washington, I think he's gotten $700,000. Seven million dollars, people just coming in on the Internet and contributing to our campaign because they want reform. They want the government back and they want it back in their hands, and that's what this campaign is all about, and I'm exuberant about giving it to them.

WOODRUFF: We are now at the point where we would like all three of you to give your closing statement and we're going to begin -- and by the draw that was done before the program, Ambassador Keyes goes first.

KEYES: Yes, one question that came up tonight is worth answering -- why am I here?


KEYES: Well, you know what, the reason that I am honestly here is because with the majority of people in the Republican Party I am the sentimental favorite. I am the one you all listen to. You know I am saying what's in your heart.

You know that I speak the truth, the true bedrock conservatism, do it better than anybody who has appeared in these debates, and it's one of the reasons that my colleagues did not feel that they had the strength to stand up and say, kick him out, you see, because they know that, that would rouse your ire. But if it will rouse your ire, how come it doesn't inspire you to get out there in the voting booth and stand with the same integrity for what you believe that I stand with here in this arena?

Unless you, the voters of the Republican Party start to be willing to show that kind of integrity, our cause will be lost. These gentlemen won't win in the fall, because they don't have the courage of our convictions, and they will not effectively communicate that to the heart of the American people, and that's what we desperately need.

WOODRUFF: Senator McCain.

MCCAIN: As we approach next Tuesday, which may be a seminal event in this campaign, I hope you'll ask yourselves a couple of questions: Who is most fully prepared to be president of the United States? And who is most capable of winning a victory in November and defeating Al Gore?

I am proud of the campaign we have run, which has attracted people from everywhere, young and old, rich and poor to our banner, under the banner of proud Reagan conservatism, has expanded the base of our party in a way that we haven't experienced since Ronald Reagan.

I assure you and I commit to you that I will restore honor and dignity to the White House, and then I will inspire a generation of young Americans to commit themselves to causes greater than their self-interests. I am very proud of this campaign. I am very proud of the fact that we have tried to build America up and tear no one down. I ask for your support and your vote next Tuesday, and I thank you for having me on this program.

WOODRUFF: Governor Bush.

BUSH: Well, I want to thank my friends here in California for all of their support and hard work. I am looking forward to traveling your state to earn your confidence. Alan, I disagree with you, I am going to become the president because I am going give this nation a fresh start after a season of cynicism. I have a plan that says the American dream will touch every willing heart by making sure every child gets educated. No child gets left behind.

I have got a record of reforming education in the state of Texas. I am going to take that record to Washington, D.C. I have got a plan that strengthens the military to keep the peace. I have got a plan that keeps the economy growing by giving people some of their own money back, the taxes are the highest they have been since World War II, and it's going to have a drag on the economy unless we have a president who says that the surplus is not the government's money. It's the people's money, and you should have some of it back. I want to usher in the responsibility era in America that calls upon the best of our country. It begins by a president who understands that the responsibility is to bring honor and dignity to the office and that's exactly what I will do.

WOODRUFF: Time. Governor Bush, Senator McCain, Ambassador Keyes, thank you all, gentlemen. Thank you all, three for being with us. Thank you, our panelists, Jeff and Doyle. And especially we want to thank "The Los Angeles Times" for co-sponsoring this evening. Please stay tuned for a special post-debate edition of LARRY KING LIVE with special guest host Wolf Blitzer. I'm Judy Woodruff, and good night from the Harry Chandler Auditorium at "The Los Angeles Times."


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