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Jewish World Review March 20, 2000/13 Adar II, 5760

Don Feder

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Draft Keyes as Bush's runningmate -- If conservatives want to elect George Bush and guarantee that a Bush presidency is worth the effort, they should immediately launch a movement to draft Alan Keyes as the his running mate.

This is not without precedent. In 1920, Warren G. Harding was -- like Bush -- the establishment candidate for the GOP nomination. Massachusetts Gov. Calvin Coolidge captured the nation's imagination with his no-right-to-strike-against-the-public-safety speech.

Republican reformers started a Coolidge for vice president boom at the convention. When faced with a groundswell, Harding took Silent Cal as his running mate. Something similar happened at the 1944 Democratic convention, when FDR bowed to the will of delegates and let them choose Harry Truman as his running mate.

Bush needs Keyes, and not just to fire the right. If Republicans are wise, they will make morality the overriding issue of this campaign. No one is better at articulating this message than Keyes.

I caught him on C-SPAN the weekend before Super Tuesday. After delivering a consummate speech (aren't they all?), the ambassador took questions.

An earnest young black man announced that he's part of a group trying to counter inner-city violence. What would Keyes do to get guns off the streets? he asked.

"Guns don't need control," Keyes countered, "people need control." He then launched into an appeal for inculcating values in our children. As he spoke, the camera cut to the questioner, who solemnly nodded his head. Keyes has a genius for reaching people -- all kinds of people.

Asked why he always brings up abortion, Keyes explained that, in the 1850s, a political leader who didn't discuss slavery at every opportunity would not have been doing his duty. That, said Keyes, is why he never speaks without addressing the great moral question of our day.

Conservatives could begin by contacting delegates to the GOP nominating convention, most of whom will be chosen at state conventions this spring or summer, and selling them on the idea.

At the same time, there'd be a drive to generate publicity and bring the movement to the attention of delegates who can't be reached directly. Keyes partisans could introduce resolutions at everything from precinct-level meetings to state conventions, urging the party to nominate Keyes for vice president.

Naturally, the Bush campaign will resist a Keyes draft. They don't want the governor perceived as beholden to the right -- even though, absent overwhelming support from conservatives and the Christian right in the primaries, today John McCain would be working on his acceptance speech.

Given his natural inclinations, Bush will pick a running mate who's nominally conservative, nominally pro-life, perhaps even nominally Catholic (someone like Illinois Sen. Peter Fitzgerald). Conservatives must let him know that nominal isn't acceptable.

Bush can't count on Al Gore to mobilize the right for him. (Clinton didn't do it for Dole.) But there's hardly a conservative in the land who wouldn't march into hell with a song on his lips for Alan Keyes.

As the first black man to run on the national ticket of a major party, Keyes would give Bush an inestimable boost with minority voters the Democrats always take for granted.

Keyes' Catholicism and social conservatism would also appeal to family-minded Hispanics, who voted overwhelmingly for California's defense of marriage act on Super Tuesday.

George W. Bush is a decent man who has to strive to be mildly interesting. As Stuart Alexander, a Keyes partisan from Raleigh, N.C., explains, the governor needs a hammer to pulverize the party of moral decay. In 1964, an ex-actor gave a speech for Barry Goldwater ("A Time for Choosing") that electrified the nation. It came too late to do the senator much good, but it catapulted Ronald Reagan into the California governorship two years later -- the first step on the road to the White House.

What would the outcome have been if Goldwater had had Reagan on his ticket or if Dole had a running mate who would have compansated for the senator's shortcomings as a communicator?

With Keyes as the party's vice presidential candidate, let half of the voters hear 5 minutes of one of his speeches at some point during the campaign, and Bush will be a shoo-in.

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