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Jewish World Review Feb. 14, 2000 /8 Adar I, 5760

Don Feder

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Keyes would help bush rally right -- I AM NOT in the habit of giving advice to candidates who leave me cold. But if George Bush wants to win the Republican nomination and go on to reclaim the White House for his party, he had better rally the right and fast.

Conservatives are understandably skeptical of the Texas governor. He sounds their themes weakly at best. ("We must teach children to write, but we must also teach them right from wrong" -- words not exactly destined to be memorized by generations of students.)

His tax plan is attractive, especially compared to John McCain's. Still, he's practically stopped talking about school vouchers and private retirement accounts.

When pressed, Bush will admit to being pro-life, but he won't commit to doing anything about it, like nominating pro-life judges.

Initially, Bush was contemptuous of those who are the heart and soul of the Republican Party. With his talk of "compassionate conservatism" (what does that make the rest of us?) and his attacks on his own party for not being sufficiently sensitive to the poor, Bush made it clear he didn't need conservatives.

That seemed to be the case. In a Los Angeles Times poll one year ago, the governor was running 14 points ahead of his closest Republican rival and beating Al Gore by 11 points. He was the $60-million man, governor of the second largest state and son of the last Republican president.

What began as a coronation is starting to look like a decapitation. One poll last week showed Bush and Sen. John McCain in a statistical dead heat in Michigan. If McCain wins South Carolina, Bush could still take the nomination. But both prospects grow dimmer by the day.

Even if Bush triumphs at the GOP convention, it's still a long, long way to November. Republicans lost the last two presidential elections with candidates the right disdained.

Imagine where Democrats would be without the fervent support of organized labor and minorities. That's the fate of Republicans when the right deserts them.

Running as the heir of Ronald Reagan, President Bush fooled us in 1988. After four years of an administration that gave us a major tax hike, American troops in Somalia and David Souter on the Supreme Court, he couldn't repeat the deception in 1992. In 1996, no one was going to buy dyspeptic Bob Dole -- the Democrats' tax collector -- as a supply-side insurgent.

Besides, this year conservatives could have an alternative they've lacked in the past -- Pat Buchanan on the November ballot as the Reform Party candidate.

There are several things Bush could do to shore up conservative support, short of changing his last name. He could start addressing our issues with conviction. At the convention, his people could craft a conservative platform.

But there's one bold move -- more than any other -- that would convince the faithful that he really is committed to being the second coming of the Gipper, rather than the resurrection of Read-My-Lips. He could pick Alan Keyes as his running mate.

Ambassador Keyes is the authentic voice of conservatism, not to mention the most eloquent voice in American politics. If Bush tapped Keyes for his ticket, that alone would assure the enthusiastic support of most conservatives.

Commenting on Keyes' eloquence is almost trite. He's also a man of vision and uncompromising integrity.

Instead of the usual campaign pap served on a bed of tedious cliches, Keyes discourses on grand themes -- the purpose of government, the meaning of liberty. "We do not have an economic crisis; we do not have an international crisis. We must address the moral crisis of our country," Keyes thunders.

He is honestly impassioned and necessarily blunt. The Harvard graduate, who did his doctoral thesis on Alexander Hamilton, indicts Clinton's presidency as "the most humiliating and degrading and shameful" in American history. As the first black man to run on the national ticket of a major party, Keyes would cut into a crucial Democratic constituency. Nominating an African-American would be condescending if he were unqualified or (like Colin Powell) outside the Republican mainstream. For the job of reaching the hearts and minds of Americans, there's none better that Alan Keyes.

After the nominating convention, Bush can return to Austin and govern Texas while Keyes campaigns for the ticket.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest book is Who's Afraid of the Religious Right. Comment on his column by clicking here.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate