Address to Newt Gingrich's GOPAC
May 1, 1995
In May of 1995, two months after announcing his candidacy for
the Republican presidential nomination, Ambassador Keyes addressed a
Washington, D.C. convention of the top donors and supporters of Newt
Gingrich's "GOPAC." The audience of key national activists, major
donors, and other Republican movers and shakers was basking in the glow of
the Republican landslide of the previous November, and Ambassador Keyes was
warned privately that the last thing they wanted to hear about was the
Dr. Keyes' address to this group, and the question and answer session that followed, were one of the most dramatic and important moments in modern American politics. It has been compared, and rightly, to Lincoln's "House Divided" speech. Recordings of this speech were distributed by the thousands during the 1996 Keyes presidential campaign, and it is generally acknowledged to be the most impressive appearance of the entire campaign--which is saying a great deal.
The GOPAC speech shows Ambassador Keyes addressing the premier group of elite conservatives in the country, and leading them by the force of his statesmanship to a conclusion they were determined to resist. It is a speech to ponder, to listen to over and over again, to think about, and to imitate.
[This summary was taken from Alan Keyes' 2000 campaign website, Keyes2000.org.]
Gay Hart Gaines introduction: Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention. I hope you all were as stimulated by this morning as I was. This isn't just a social gathering, although I do consider you all my friends. This is a very hard-working active group of Republicans who are committed to our children and grandchildren. Now, at lunch, we had a very interesting discussion at our table with Alan Keyes. Some of it may or may not come up in his talk to you today, but I said to him, "I don't even want to go up and introduce you, because I don't want to miss anything you're saying." I don't totally agree with everything, but I'm fascinated by everything.
Alan Keyes has spent his life defying the expectations of those who underestimate him. At a young age, Alan Keyes was winning praise and awards for his ability as an orator. He is twice a Harvard graduate. He is also twice a Republican senate candidate. Under Ronald Reagan, he served as assistant Secretary of State, and more importantly, as ambassador to the United Nations as part of Jeanne Kirkpatrick's team. It was here that he was best able to put his oratorical skills to use--facing down the lies and perversions of freedom put forth by the enemies of liberty. He has served as a university president, and as president of Citizens Against Government Waste--where he founded "Taxpayer's Action Day," and led the fight for smaller, more efficient government. He is now seeking the Republican nomination for President, and again, defying expectations, he is always insightful, always provocative, and always a stem-winder. Please join me in giving a warm and generous welcome to Ambassador Alan Keyes.
Alan Keyes: Thank you very much.
Now how do you follow it up here when somebody says that you're always a stem-winder? The only way I can make sure that that's true is by winding my watch before I put it down, because otherwise I wouldn't be sure of it at all. But I'm not sure so much today that stem-winding is the order of the day. I want to take a few minutes to talk about the issues I believe are fundamental in the course of the next couple of years of the Republican Party's life. And then I want to open the floor to questions, 'cause that's the part I enjoy the most, actually, since I already know what I'm going to say, whereas I never know what people are going to ask. So it's much more fun for me when the Q & A starts.
But I do think it's important to take stock for a couple of minutes, as people always say, of where we have been and whither we are headed--and whether we don't have some fundamental choices to make in order to make sure that wherever it is we are going, it is the place we want to get to, because you can't always be sure of that, can you?
In the course of the last few months, obviously, we as Republicans and those of us who are associated with the conservative causes in this country have had great reason to be elated, since we accomplished in the course of the last election cycle in 1994 that remarkable feat of taking over the deliberative body of the US government.
And we have also, I think, accomplished the remarkable feat in the last several months of demonstrating that, contrary to what the Democrats seem to have proved over the 40 years prior to our takeover, it is in fact possible to use the institution of the Congress of the United States and produce some good results. And I think that that is something that the American people are certainly going to be prone to reward us for.
But to tell you the truth, that's not really what elections turn on. Some people think it is, but it's not.
People are not rewarding you for what you did yesterday, because they know good and well that what you did yesterday doesn't say anything about what you'll do tomorrow.
More important than what you did yesterday is the vision you can present to folks of where we are headed now, what the future will hold under Republican leadership--what are the things that we consider important and fundamental to this country as it approaches the 21st century?
And I just want to make one simple point in the next six or seven minutes, which doesn't go into a lot of arcane issues and so forth and so on, but which I think is critical. It may be the essence of the challenge that faces us right now as we go into the future.
We can try to make all kinds of points on a discrete set of issues that would be as long as your arm by the time we got through writing them out, and we might do pretty well or pretty badly depending on how many we managed to achieve, but we would still miss the point. Because I don't think that's the great challenge the American people are worried about right now.
I've had that confirmed in the last several weeks because of the phenomenon I've been going through that kind of put me in the improbable position of throwing my hat in the ring for the Presidential nomination.
What finally convinced me to do it was that in response to some of the speeches that I was giving where I thought that I was making a fairly simple, common sense point--it turned out that I was in fact speaking to the heart and the grief and the anxiety of many millions of people around this country. And it is a heart and a grief and an anxiety that doesn't have to do with the rate of inflation, and it doesn't have to do with the rate of unemployment, and it doesn't have to do with the size of the deficit this year. And it doesn't have a lot to do, in fact, with whether or not we are going to cut taxes today or tomorrow.
All those things eventually will be affected by it, but they are not the issue.
Americans have finally, I think, after many years of wandering in a relative liberal wilderness, begun to question whether or not the common sense they had surrendered to the social science experts and the liberal ideologues wasn't right after all. They have begun to wonder whether their sense, which they see confirmed all the time in their daily lives, isn't actually true also of the society and of the country at large--their sense that it is not what you have but what you are; their sense that this country's foundation is not our material prosperity, our dollars, our huge corporations but in fact the heart, the soul, the moral being of its people, and that if we allow that character to be finally destroyed, then nothing will save this republic or this people from self-destruction.
We may not understand that, but I believe a lot of people in this country do understand it. I got letters from thousands of them, and they move me deeply, because I got the sense that I was reading things from people who were kind of waiting out the death of a dear friend or relative who had kind of gotten really ill with a terminal illness they didn't quite understand, and which had come to them as a sudden shock, which I think it did.
'Cause a lot of folks in this country had been going about their business, doing the things that people do, having families, raising kids, you know, doing their work, taking care of their farm, doing their chores, whatever they might be. Going to church on Sunday, a lot of them, and even when they didn't, believing in God and expecting that at some point or another He was going to have His say, and they'd better be mindful of that from time to time. So, not perfect people but people who never lost the sense that, at the end of the day, you did have to try to do the right thing--by your wife, by your children, by your family, by your community--and they just went along that way every day the way Americans have through the decades and centuries of this country's existence.
And then something woke them up, and they started to look around. Now, you and I would have to say--I certainly say--that it was a long time coming. But we can really, I think, be mindful of God's providence in one thing, and I know it came as a blow to us in 1992 when it happened. But you know, one of the best things that may have happened in the history of this republic was the election of William Jefferson Clinton. Because when people looked up one day and they saw somebody like Joycelyn Elders as Surgeon General of the United States, they realized that the America they carry in their heart may not be America any more, and they woke up. And they said that it was time we did something to put this country on the right track. And in 1994, they made a start.
But you have to understand that their
rejection of Joycelyn Elders, that wasn't about
economics, wasn't even about the tax rate--though all that is important,
don't get me wrong. I spent a lot of years of my life organizing people at
the grassroots telling them to get angry about excessive taxation and
government and wasteful spending, and so forth. So I take it very seriously.
But I think that what was really more important to people, and you can confirm it by looking at the overall makeup of our Republican freshman class, what was more important to people was that they woke up to the moral crisis of America. They woke up to the fact that since the 1960s, we have gradually been eroding or throwing away almost every important value and tradition that we believe in. And they woke up to the fact that finally, somehow or another, those who most believed in the destruction of that great tradition were in control of the levers of power of the national government and determined to pursue their agenda.
And I honestly believe it frightened some of them, no so much out of their minds as into action.
And this is a good thing. But it's only a good thing if we resolve that we are going to speak to it and act on it.
Because, if people are looking for a leadership--and when I say the following words, don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about a morally perfect leadership; I always caution people against looking for morally perfect leaders. Go back and read Madison. He said if men were angels, government would not be necessary. The premise there is that men are not angels, human beings are not angels, we're not going to be angels. The only pick you're ever going to have is somebody who's a relative degree of imperfection.
So when we talk of moral leadership, we're not talking about perfection. We're just talking about people who are willing enough to distinguish between those issues which go to the heart of our moral identity, and which can never be escaped, and which must eventually be addressed--and those issues which do not.
And when the public mind is finally focused on the issues of moral identity, then the statesman either rises to the occasion or he or she gets left behind.
And this is the decision the Republican Party is going to take in the next couple years. The American people are ready to deal with our moral identity crisis. All the signs are right out there, and 1994 was the best sign of all.
It may have taken a couple of decades before we got here. They have let the liberals and all the materialists try everything they could and take trillions of dollars out of their pocket in their massive government projects and experiments in the name of compassion--in the name, by the way, of a moral ideal. But they have finally awakened profoundly to the truth that it did not work, that it was not the right direction, and that in fact it has involved us all in the acceptance of some moral principles that threaten to destroy everything we are.
Now, at this moment, at this moment of great opportunity, when one could stand up and begin to have a rational moral discourse with the American people about how what we are becoming relates to what we ought to be in the light of our great founding principles, this is not the time, my friends, to debate them about economic sophistries. It is not.
Economics is important, but in the long life of a nation, it is ultimately subordinate to the moral facts. And when you reach a moment when your people are ready to discuss the serious and important moral issues that determine not so much the steps they take as the ground on which they take those steps, then you'd better face up to it. Because otherwise, they're going to reject your leadership.
Don't fool yourselves. This may seem like a moment of great triumph and victory. So did it seem in late 1990-91--the Persian Gulf War. We were all riding high; who would have believed?
Don't take your victories for granted. That's not what leadership consists in, patting yourself on the back. Let other people do that.
Leadership consists in keeping your eye on the future and trying to determine, in the midst of that darkness, where we really ought to be going. That's what people are looking to us to do. And they are not looking to us to do it because we think we have some powerful light of our own making we can shine out there, but because we have the powerful light of American principles that have shone down to reveal who we are throughout the decades and centuries of this country's existence.
Because Jefferson said it better than we will ever be able to say it, and Americans, by and large, still believe that he was right:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
In that little fifteen-second spot, he summarized every
principle that lays at the heart of every important institution in these
United States--our congresses, our legislatures, our elections, our system of
representation, our system of laws. Everything about us is summarized in those
If you really understand and respect that, then you also know that any issue whatsoever that contracts and denies and tramples those principles threatens to destroy the foundation of everything that we are as a people. There are some issues you can escape and run away from, but in American history, you never get away from the Declaration issues. They haunt you until you resolve them, or until they resolve you.
We have such an issue before us on the table in this country--don't clap yet, because I'm about to hit you with it, and you don't like it. [laughter] . . . We have such an issue on the table before us today, and you and I both know it. The abortion issue is a Declaration issue. It's an issue that goes to the very heart of our principles and how we apply them.
It is like the issue of slavery and the issue of civil rights, an issue of whether or not we really acknowledge the transcendent authority on the basis of which we have our rights, or whether we are going to arrogate that authority to ourselves and declare that we have the right to draw the line determining who is human and who is not. If we arrogate this power to ourselves, don't fool yourself. You have dethroned the authority of that Creator; you have denied His will. And this regime cannot survive.
I do not say that lightly. But I believe we can see the signs of our self-destruction everywhere, including an Oklahoma City bombing that then leads to all kinds of crazy proposals that we should sacrifice our liberties for the sake of order. But you see, when you are morally disordered, you eventually get into the situation where you must sacrifice your liberties for the sake of order. No free society can survive when it has lost its self-control, its self-discipline and the foundation of real authority in that society.
And the Declaration states for us that foundation. Our freedom comes from God. It must be respected out of respect for the authority of God. He drew the line. All we have the right to do is respect it.
And when we accept a constitutional doctrine that says, "No, you know, wives, mothers, spouses, daughters--they get to draw the line; we get to draw the line," it's not going to work. And we can talk ourselves into it and out of it all we like. But we'll just keep sliding down the slope of family destruction and urban destruction and violence in our heart and soul, because we have unleashed a spirit of violence that cannot be put away until we restore respect for the only authority that really cows most human beings, and that is the authority of God. [applause]
And I myself think that that states the fundamental issue that is going to be before us in the '96 electoral race. It's an issue not of Bill Clinton's moral character, but of the moral character of this people, of whether we intend not only in our public pronouncements but in our private conscience and choices to respect the basic principles without which our public institutions of freedom cannot survive.
If we grant to one another the right to do what is wrong, then in the end we shall grant to our government the right to take away from us all the rights we have. There really is no halfway point. And I think we are, as Republicans, going to have to face up to the fact that if we don't provide leadership on this question, if we continue to go into the back room, if we continue to fade away when people mention the issue and then declare ourselves to be something other than what we are, it's not going to work. Because that's not leadership. That may be many things; but at the end of the day, the leader is willing to stand up and to articulate before the people those things which relate most profoundly to their moral principles.
As a party, we have offered a home to many millions of Americans in the course of the last decade and more, because we were willing to do just that. If now, at this point of seeming victory, we back away from that stance of moral principle, they will back away from us, and you can bet that this party will fall down the same abyss that a lot of Democrats just fell down.
I don't want it to go there, 'cause I've dedicated my life to this party and its principles. So I'm going to spend some time fighting to keep us on the right track.
But if we continue as elites in the party to be obtuse about this--I think you've got to realize: you give them a choice between the future of America and the future of the Republican Party, and they will take America every time. And I don't blame them.
Thank you very much.
Q & A session
I think I left time for a few questions.
Question: Very inspiring. Let me ask you this question. There will be a convention, and there will be a national platform of several planks, because there are several issues; they're penned there and there are others. Or, put it this way: if you had a hundred hours to divide up to talk to the American people about what is happening in America, about what should happen, or what other way you want to do it, how much time would you allocate to what you're saying, versus the other, secular, we'll call them, issues--defined more secular than sacred--or which would be the wider or narrower planks in the platform?
Keyes: You know, it's a little bit of a question of . . . if you're gonna build a house, all right, how much time do you spend putting on the roof, versus how much time do you spend laying down the foundations? Well, you know, if you think about that for a minute, sir, you will realize that that ain't a question of time; it's a question of priorities. Because if you start building a roof before you've put down the foundations and the walls, you're doing yourself no good. And if also the foundations are crumbling, and you're upstairs repairing the roof, you're going to end up very unpleasantly surprised when the house collapses, and you collapse underneath it.
So I think what we really have to ask is, "Do we really want to devote some time renewing the foundations in principle of this republic?" And my answer to that question is, "We'd better."
But I also think that it's practically illustrated. Let's take several separate problems: welfare, poverty--which is related to welfare--crime, educational performance, illegitimacy--again related to welfare, but still all separate issues, right? Also, things like gangs and urban violence and so forth. Now, you and I have been reading the same studies. For the last several months they've been coming out one after another--the National Fatherhood Institute, the N.E. Casey Foundation, even the New Democrats have begun to see the obvious.
And that obvious is this: all of those problems, every single one of them, even in the mind of the most obtuse social scientist calculator, relate to one phenomenon--the self-destruction and breakdown of the marriage-based, two-parent family in this country.
And I think that what is clear, and maybe I see it a little more clearly than others, because I come from a community where if economic factors were going to destroy the family, they would have destroyed the family in 1910 or 1920 or 1930--and they did nothing of the kind. Matter of fact, in the black community, 75 to 80 percent of the children were being raised in two-parent families through everything that happened--until the government came to help. And then, when the government came to help, the government managed to accomplish what nobody else could. But do you know the reason that the government accomplished that, why the government did what even slavery couldn't do? During slavery, they estimate that between 50 and 60 percent of the children born to slaves were raised in two-parent families. Today, in our society, that number, by our measure, is 36 percent. You gotta work to do more harm to a community than slavery.
So how did we do it? We didn't do it by striking material blows at people. We did it by manipulating material incentives in such a way as to strike the most devastating moral blows that we could. To destroy the things that bind fathers to children, and mothers to fathers to children. It was those moral factors that destroyed the family. So when you ask me, "What should we spend our time doing, repairing the material or the moral factors?" I will tell you that what we have to spend our time doing is, first of all, ceasing our efforts to use material factors to destroy the moral ones--which we have been doing with a welfare system that devours families, with a sex-education course that reduces human beings to less than animals rather than respecting their moral capacity, to a system of justice that reduces human beings again to factors externally determined by their conditions, rather than moral human beings.
We've been doing everything wrong, because we don't respect the moral identity of human beings. Don't you think that it's time that we got back to that respect? Because if we don't, none of the policies we put together on material grounds are going to work. In fact, like the welfare policies we're proposing, they're going to do more harm.
See, I'm watching this welfare reform debate. We spent thirty or forty years taking the fathers out of the home. Now we're talking about whether we should put the mothers to work. Now, I'll just say this very simply: I don't believe, when I look at the situation of America's poor folks--and I do, because being a black American, among other things, I spend a lot of time thinking about it. I don't believe that that situation exists because there are not enough women in the workplace, that there are too many mothers staying home to take care of their kids--I don't believe that that's why that happens.
Why is it then that we are proposing solutions to this problem that involve putting unwed mothers to work? Their problem is not that they are not at work; their problem is that they are not married. That is the problem that is shown in every study, in every survey, in every empirical study ever done. Their problem is that they are not married!
So why aren't we willing to stand up, look them in the eye, and say, "If you're gonna have babies, you gotta get married. We will help you out on that basis, but it's time that as a civil society, we began to restore that"?
Now I'll tell you something: that's not a material statement. That is a statement of moral preference. And I believe it's time we began to put some teeth back in that statement of moral preference. This society morally prefers that people be married.
So I would say, let's devote as much time as we have to the talking about these moral issues. 'Cause if we get them right, all the rest will follow. If we get them wrong, all the rest will fail.
Question, Arianna Huffington: Alan, you are demonstrating the power of culture. Because even if you win the nomination, you're talking about these things and you're affecting the culture. So shouldn't we really concentrate on certain issues without necessarily talking about legislation? Isn't there a lot of common ground among pro-life and pro-choice Republicans? Can't we all agree on one fact, which is that we want to bring down the tragically high number of abortions? Can't we do this through many ways: through encouraging adoptions; supporting crisis pregnancy centers; encouraging abstinence sex education; doing an awful lot that can be done culturally, that can really bring us together on one thing we can all agree? And there are pro-choice Republicans here, and there are pro-life Republicans here. I challenge anybody here to be pro-abortion. They do not belong in the Republican Party if they think abortion is right. But there is room in our party for both these positions, if we can all agree to work very hard, not just to pay lip service, but to work very hard to bring down the number of abortions.
Keyes: You see but, I agree. On a practical level, who can deny this? There is an evil out there, let's work to reduce it. OK? It's very clear.
But, you know, in terms of the basic problem we face, the question that faces this people is that first statement: "There is an evil out there. What do you do about it?" Well that depends on the nature of the evil.
There are some evils in this society that are kind of private evils. What I mean by that is they are issues of private conscience. And to put not too fine a point on it, between any two adult human beings behaving reasonably responsibly at the time, what they did in their bedrooms last night, I may or may not disapprove of it morally. It is by and large considered in this society none of my business; I will not make it my business.
That's an issue of private conscience. Why? Because at some level there are certain issues, like whether you eat pork, drink wine, and so forth, where we agree to disagree. They're religious differences, among other things. They are differences in our sense of how the principle of good applies. Right?
Is abortion an issue of private conscience, that we can kind of work to alleviate when we have a little common agreement on it, and otherwise leave alone? It is not. It is a challenge to the fundamental public principles of this regime.
If you believe that an evil injustice exists that contradicts the basic premise of this society, and you sit back and say, "Well, let's tolerate it for a while longer," I'm sorry. You'll excuse me if I don't have sympathy for that. You know why I don't have sympathy for that? I don't have sympathy for that 'cause it's that attitude that kept my ancestors in chains for several centuries, before somebody finally decided to do something. "Oh, we know it's wrong, but, you know, we'll deal with it some other time. Let's see if we can work to keep it out of the territories, reduce it a little bit here and there, do this and that."
But, it doesn't work--do you know why? Because in the end, that question always keeps coming back: if the thing is evil in that public and fundamental sense, why do you tolerate it? If the thing is not evil in that public and fundamental sense, why is it your business to work to make it rare? You see? That's the contradiction in Bill Clinton's position; he wants abortion "safe, legal and rare." The only thing I know that's good when it's rare is maybe a steak. But other than that, I don't think so.
So what you're asking me to do, Arianna, is say to the American people that, on this fundamental issue of the Declaration, we can turn our back on the challenge to our principles, while we try to work at some practical level to reduce an evil when we can't even call that evil by its name. No. It doesn't work.
And at the end of the day, you come across without conviction. And you come across without conviction especially to your young. Because they know better. They know that if the thing is bad, you'll want it stopped; if the thing is good, then you will tolerate it; if the thing is harmful, then you will really try to discourage it.
And in the end, they will draw the lessons which are the lessons of your principles. And in this case, the lesson of your principle is that it is OK to harden your heart against your offspring; it is OK to treat that offspring as a dehumanized obstruction, and to remove it when it gets in your way. That is the lesson you teach. That is a lesson incompatible with civilized life. We don't "reduce the incidence" of that; we must break that in principle.
And that's the problem here. Abortion is not just wrong in fact. It is, in light of our common principles as a people, wrong in principle. And it is that issue that in the end we must address.
Question: What is your view of the past, present, and future of affirmative action?
Keyes: I think affirmative action has a brief past, and it has an even briefer future. And I think that that's for good reason. Affirmative action was kind of an aberrant betrayal of the principles of the civil rights movement. The principles were stated, and I often remind people of this, on the back of the NAACP card--which I don't have at the moment, 'cause I left my wallet somewhere. On the back of the NAACP card there is a principle stated among its six purposes. And the fifth stated purpose is, "to secure equal job opportunities, based on individual merit, without regard to race, religion, or national origin." Have you ever read that? Right on the back!
Now, if you read that, that's the original civil rights principle. Anybody here illogical enough to believe that that's compatible with quotas, and numerical preference systems? Absolutely not. It says, "based on individual merit," not group membership, not gender, not race, not any kind of group background. "Individual merit, without regard to race, religion, or national origin." That is what the civil rights leaders fought for. Not quotas, not privileges, not left-wing collectivist utopian disasters. No. They didn't fight for that.
They fought for fairness, for justice, for individuals based on their merit, so that every man, woman, and child in this country could get up knowing that if they did their best, no group characteristic would deny them the fruits of their labor. And that is the principle we've got to return to.
Question: Alan, what exactly would you have the Republican Party do about the issue of abortion? What do you want?
Keyes: Well, I can only say what I will do about the issue of abortion. What I am fighting to do in the first instance is to maintain the strong pro-life stance of the Republican Party in the convention platform plank, number one.
And all those people who say that "people who say that are making trouble"--excuse me. It is there. Those who want to take it out are making the trouble. You see, it is there. We have fought with it and by it and stood by it through lots of victories, including the greatest one we have won in the course of the last forty years. Why anybody wants to tinker with it is beyond me. Leave it alone. That's my first sort of premise: leave it alone. Don't touch it.
OK? We don't have to argue about this. This is all made up that we have to argue about this. We can have a great big tent, so long as people don't reach for the heart and soul of the party and try to rip it out. At that point we're going to have a great big fight, you understand? And I believe that I am going around this country demonstrating to everybody's satisfaction that there will be an enormous battle, if you try to touch a hair on the head of the party's commitment to the pro-life principle.
And whether the party survives it or not, I don't know. But I'll tell you something: I am not a Republican for the sake of the party. I am a Republican for the sake of this country. And I will not sacrifice this country's interest to any partisan motive whatsoever. Ever. And I think that there are a lot of other people in this society like me. So that's step one.
Step two. What I will do, if God graces me with success in this endeavor, first thing I will do--Bill Clinton couldn't wait to kill the babies, I can't wait to save them--I will restore every protection that Ronald Reagan put around the life of the unborn through his executive action when he was president as soon as I get the opportunity.
Step number three. I will at least push to put a human life amendment, some other kind of thing, on the table. And you know why, Arianna? It's not for the sake of the legislation. It's for the sake of the discussion that we have never had.
We have never had a full, clear, open debate on this issue, with all the facts laid on the table before the American people. The media has not allowed it; the Democrat majority in the Congress did not allow it; and now the Republican majority in the Congress seems too timid to permit it to happen.
Well, I will make it happen, 'cause it's time the American people heard the full argument about abortion--how it relates to our principles; how it relates to our practical problems; how it relates in fact to our decent sentiments as a civilized people. It's time the truth were out and laid on the table. And one way or another, it's gonna happen. But if I have the chance, my leadership will be to make sure that that discussion takes place. 'Cause you don't win an argument you don't make.
Question: Obviously, you speak with a great deal of conviction, a great deal of compassion, and with considerable force. And what you say is very appealing, in fact you do it in such a persuasive way that one wants to nod their head. Nevertheless, as I pro-choice Republican, my feeling is that you paint with a brush that's a bit too broad; that you can still be a very moral person, you can still have agreement on the fact that the morality is the basis of the party, that the family values are the basis for the decency of the party, that they are critical, that the destruction of the family is at the heart of a lot of our problems.
And I think you can still feel all those moral issues are at the center of our party, without saying that however, notwithstanding all your convictions about all those moral issues, if you don't also think that abortion should be illegal, somehow all your moral convictions about the family and everything else are negated, and the whole party is doomed to failure unless we also uphold the notion of abortion.
Now, of course, the issue of abortion is a very difficult one. It's like an immovable object and an irresistible force. It's pretty difficult to come to a definitive conclusion; there is none. And I probably would be very unskilled as an advocate against you in handling the issue, because I'm not prepared to do so. But what I was feeling as I sat here was that I think you can have a lot of feeling about morality, and being at the center of the party, without feeling that being pro-choice negates all that and somehow foretells the destruction of the party.
Keyes: You know, I [applause] . . . I understand the sentiment. And I think that there's a certain amount of truth in it. I am not declaring that if somebody disagrees with me on abortion, they are taking some broad-based immoral stance on every issue. That's not the point. Not the point at all. There are a lot of decent, good, moral people. They are called our Founders. They are people who had tremendous moral insight, which I deeply respect. They came to some tremendous conclusions about human life and human nature which I, in fact, embrace and think to be the best truth that we've discovered as yet about human affairs, in politics especially.
All of this was true of them. But for all that admiration, it does not entirely negate the fact that a blighted, blasted, unjust institution was tolerated by their actions. That does not make them entirely evil men and women. But it does not change the fact of that injustice. And the fact that every human being ultimately was responsible for struggling against it.
So yes, the people who disagree on abortion, and take the pro-abortion side, the pro-choice side, they can be perfectly decent, moral human beings. I will respect their moral conclusions just as I respect the moral conclusions of the Founders.
And I will fight the evil they tolerate, just as I would have fought the evil tolerated by our Founders. And you'll excuse me, 'cause that's the lesson of my history. And I will stand with that lesson, fall with that lesson, fight with that lesson, die if need be for that lesson--because people shall never be enslaved again by the principle that one human being, whether it be a mother or a slave-owner, has the right to treat another human life as property.
Question: Your rhetoric was rather profound, and certainly your presentation charismatic and inspirational. However, to characterize those of us who may not believe in right-to-life--I do, but for those others who do not--as tolerating an evil, when the evil is only definition of a few of us, this destroys our coalition. And the only way this coalition can lose the next election, the presidential election, is by making this a divisive issue and having it on the platform.
Keyes: You know the sad thing? You guys are fooling yourselves. I am not putting this issue on the table for you--you understand this? I have nothing to do with this. It is not my doing; it is not your doing. It is not the doing of anybody out there that this issue is on the table before the American people.
Struggle with it all you like. The truth of the Declaration burdens this country. It's our thing we gotta carry. And we either carry it to glory, or we carry it to perdition, but we cannot lay that burden down.
And you may wish to! But look back at your history. You stand in a tradition of those who did not wish to face up to the need of racial justice.
You stand in the tradition of those who did not stand up to the need to fight the institution of slavery. The same points were made! The same arguments were made! "We can't touch this, it's divisive, it'll destroy the Union, it'll tear the country down!"
And the same voice of conscience was sounded in every generation, at every point. We either believe in those principles, we reason consistently from those principles, or we don't survive as a free people.
And I am not making that dilemma for you. That is a dilemma that the Founders set before us when they penned those original words, and when they took out of our hands the judgment as to whether or not we got to abuse one another's human life. We do not have the right to abuse one another's lives. That has been taken away from us by God, our Creator.
I am not saying that. The Declaration says that. I have the right in every generation, in every party, in every quarter on every corner of this nation to state the words of that Declaration and demand that you either put up or shut up!
And I'll tell you, I'm doing it now. It was done by others in the past. And as long as this republic survives in freedom, it will be done every time in every generation. 'Cause I'll tell you, you call this the "pro-choice" issue, but where this issue is concerned, my friends, you've got no choice. You are going to face the argument, and you're going to get the better of it in terms of the logic of our heart and our mind, or you're gonna lose.
Because I'm not gonna leave it alone. And other just and decent people in this country are not gonna leave it alone, because I'm gonna stand up and make the argument from principle. And I'm gonna make it better than you can, because I believe I have the truth on my side. And if you disagree, then get up here and make a better argument! And we'll go before the American people, because that's all I propose. We'll go before the people of this country, and I'll make my argument, you make your argument, we'll both look at the Declaration, and we'll see where the chips fall. But it's going to be done.
Question: As a pro-life Republican who shares the core of your message, I have this question. I assume that Lincoln is one of your models of leadership. If we go over to the Lincoln Memorial and read the Second Inaugural Address inscribed on its walls, he says that they knew that somehow slavery was the cause of that war. But one side, the South, would make war rather than let go that institution, while the other side, the North, sought nothing more than to prohibit the territorial enlargement of it. The Fugitive Slave Act was what really got passions going, wasn't it? So--getting back to what Arianna Huffington said a minute ago--Lincoln was a prudential political leader facing prudential constraints within what is doable, right? And so he sought to do nothing more initially than stop the enlargement of slavery to the new territories coming into the Union.
Couldn't we start with where we agree? Let's educate Americans on the fact that Roe vs. Wade permits third trimester abortions, and start restricting gender-selection abortions, which is about a ninety percent issue, and start restricting the third-trimester abortions, which are opposed by a huge majority of Americans, and begin to contain that evil with measures that we really could enact into law. Wouldn't that be the best way to approach it, step by step, starting with big majority issues?
Keyes: I understand. You've missed the point of Lincoln's statesmanship. You see, because unlike the folks, some of the folks in this room, and apparently in the leadership of the party, when the issue was put on the table, Lincoln didn't go hide in the back room. He stood up, and he argued the issue from principle. He made it very clear in his arguments what the argument was. He made it very clear what the difference was between the right and wrong of it. He didn't run away from that. He stated it; he debated it openly. That is the first prerequisite. Because I agree with you--you know what real statesmanship consists in? It does not consist in compromising the facts at the expense of your principles. No. It consists in being clear about your principles, and then if necessary, compromising with the facts. What we are doing as a party right now is we are being tempted to compromise this issue in principle. We are being tempted to go down a road that says "OK, let's accept Roe vs. Wade, its premises and so forth, and see whether we can't operate within that to reduce this evil," and so forth. That's not a Lincolnian position.
The Lincoln position is to make it very clear what the right and wrong of it is. And when you have made that very clear and re-established the basic principle on which the country must approach the issue, then you can talk about those areas where some of the evil may be tolerated in order that the rest of the good that we certainly know this society represents can be preserved. But you don't allow the wellspring of your freedom to be poisoned, because if you do, the Republic dies.
And so, I only disagree on that one point. And what I am demanding, right now, and what I suppose I am acting out, is not the need to have, in the next fifty seconds, a strict solution to this issue. What we need to do is we need to have a frank and honest and open--a real debate, that lays the issues of principle before the American people. And you know why? I actually think that one of the problems with this whole thing is that we have folks, including our leading politicians and all, who think of this issue as a terrible problem, and wish that it would go away. And that's sad.
It's sad because the great issues of principle, and the challenges that arise from them, are also the great moments of education, when this country can make more profound its understanding of what we are supposed to be. It is a great moment for education--for the ennobling and uplifting of this people, so they can understand once again how what we are, and what we are about, transcends the dollars and cents, the grubby materialism that is always on offer, and really reaches up to the highest goals, the highest principles, the best aspirations of humanity. Why do we run from such issues? They may be tough and they may be difficult. But in them also lie the greatest inspirations, the greatest motivations, the greatest sense of challenge for a great people. We are such a great people. And we deserve a leadership that does not shrink from the moments of opportunity for our greatness, but grasps them, so we can understand our future with the wisdom necessary to make it real.
Thank you very much.