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Keyes’ Ideological Quest

Salim Muwakkil

Alan Keyes, the conservatives’ black attack dog, has been dispatched to Illinois to sully the image of Barack Obama, the state’s Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate. Illinois Republicans failed to find an indigenous candidate capable of sinking Obama’s rising star so they drafted Keyes, a 54-year-old Maryland resident and well-known talk-show host who has unsuccessfully run for president and U.S. Senate twice each.

The state has lacked a Republican candidate since embarrassing divorce records forced primary winner Jack Ryan to drop out. Peter Fitzgerald, the Republican who currently holds the seat, is retiring after one term.

Tellingly, the same GOP leaders who selected Keyes never before managed to slate a black candidate to run for a major office in Illinois. Their choice of outsider Keyes was not just a cynical racial ploy: It was a slap in the face of the state’s Republican electorate. It stinks of rank political opportunism and deep hypocrisy, starting with this: Keyes, hired as a black hit man, opposes affirmative action.

And the hypocrisy doesn’t stop there. The Maryland resident derided the decision of Hilary Rodham Clinton to change residences to run for the Senate. Keyes told Fox News on March 17, 2000, that he deeply resented the destruction of federalism represented by Hillary Clinton’s willingness to go into a state she doesn’t even live in and pretend to represent people there.” But Keyes’ lesser-known hypocrisy concerns his professed affection for the equal rights guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence.

He recently chided Obama’s pro-choice votes as upholding the slaveholder’s positions” for denying unborn children equal rights. Cynics would be justified in questioning Keyes’ affection for equal rights considering his longtime support for the apartheid regime of South Africa, which notoriously denied black South Africans their equal rights.

Keyes served in the Reagan administration as ambassador to the U.N. Economic and Social Council under Jeanne Kirkpatrick and as assistant secretary of state for International Organizations Affairs. The articulate black Reaganite was in great demand as an apologist for the apartheid regime and the administration’s constructive engagement” policy with it. 

He was among the many extreme right-wing elements of the Reagan administration that were absolutely opposed to the leadership of Nelson Mandela, one of the 20th Century’s most revered symbols of freedom.

After he left government service, Keyes became an important lobbyist for the apartheid South African regime, often speaking out against the African National Congress and its international supporters. Keyes was a member of the World Freedom Foundation, a right-wing religious group that actively supported the apartheid government as a bulwark against communism. 

He also was listed as an adviser to the International Freedom Foundation (IFF), a U.S. group exposed as a propaganda arm for South African counterinsurgency operations in a famous July 16, 1995, Newsday investigative report. The IFF, which listed several influential conservative figures, was found by Newsday to be controlled and funded by the South African regime.”

Keyes also worked for the public relations firm of Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly to help facilitate the U.S. appearance of Angola rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, who became the darling of the extreme right in the United States because of his opposition to Angola’s left-leaning government. Until he was killed in February 2002, Savimbi was leader of the Angolan rebel group UNITA, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians and the laying of millions of land mines. Human Rights Watch reports that UNITA’s indescriminate use of landmines resulted in more than 15,000 amputees in Angola in 1988, ranking it alongside Afghanistan and Cambodia. 

Keyes supported Savimbi, a man now said to be one of the most bloodthirsty rebel leaders of the 20th Century, and he opposed Mandela. But he has not been chastened by this ghastly historical error. He has gained the admiration (and funding) of Savimbi’s and apartheid’s supporters, many of whom were the same people. In an ironic way, Keyes’ racial identity gives him considerable room on the ideological fringe and he has cultivated an extensive network of right-wing supporters, some from groups verging on racist ideology. It seems that all right-wingers are happy to have an articulate black apologist available.

But Keyes’ utility as an ideological warrior demeans the voters of Illinois, who seek a senator to represent the state’s interest. Keyes’ crusade also casts aspersions on Obama’s candidacy by suggesting the Illinois senator is merely mounting a racial effort. Perhaps the best that can be said of Keyes’ candidacy is that it assures Illinois will elect a black senator — although that would have happened even without his own destruction of federalism.

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Salim Muwakkil is a senior editor of In These Times, where he has worked since 1983. He is the host of The Salim Muwakkil show on WVON, Chicago’s historic black radio station, and he wrote the text for the book HAROLD: Photographs from the Harold Washington Years.
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