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Jewish World Review Jan. 19, 2000/ 12 Shevat, 5760


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Alan Keyes Belongs
in the Cabinet -- UNLIKE MOST OF THE NATION -- just a guess -- I watched the Iowa GOP debate on Saturday afternoon. Gov. George W. Bush bested the serious competition --specifically Steve Forbes and Sen. John McCain --but he wasn't a patch on Alan Keyes, who, if Bush is smart, will be tapped as an integral member of the Texan's administration.

I'm not talking ambassador to Senegal, but a first-tier Cabinet slot. Keyes has earned it; his straight talk in the debates --far more honest than his opponents --means that Bush, who will be the next president, would be imprudent to let Keyes wander back to the talk radio circuit.

The press writes off Keyes as a fringe candidate, which he is; he doesn't have Bush's money or the press sycophancy that a phony like McCain commands. But his message, inflated rhetoric aside (which Keyes, in order to attract attention, is forced to amp up), is one that, if he were white, would earn him more support. His position on taxes, for example, is right on target.

Keyes said, in response to the other candidates: ''I think that as you listen to all these folks, you need to get a little aggravated with the fact that they're all going to give you something. And if you stand back and realize what it is, you'll realize that it's your own money. And at some point, you need to start asking yourself, I don't want you to give me this or give me that. Why won't they give you back control over your own money? Why won't they let us go back to the Constitution our founders wrote, which had a tax system based on tariffs, duties and excise taxes, sales taxes that put the people themselves in charge of the incidence of taxation?

''So that you can decide that if you need a tax cut today, all you'll need to do is change your habits of consumption. You'll be back in control of your own destiny. That is the tax approach that I recommend. Radically different from what they're all talking about. They want to remain the gatekeepers of your money. I want to put you back in charge of that money. It's the only basis on which we can hope to regain that freedom that we're supposed to have as a people. Abolish the income tax. Return to the original Constitution of our country and put the people of this country back in control of their own destiny.

Because Keyes knows he'll never win the GOP nomination, he says exactly what's on his mind. Gary Bauer, Orrin Hatch and Steve Forbes are fellow also-rans, but they play along with the game. That means thanking the sponsors of the debate, recounting the heartfelt conversations they've had with Iowans, and it's all a bunch of baloney. Keyes blows away the competition, with the most honest and articulate rhetoric of any American statesman today. Jesse Jackson? He's an infomercial hack compared to Keyes.

William Bennett and Bill Kristol, two conservatives whom I (usually) admire, aren't as naked in their public statements as Keyes; that's because they have reputations to uphold. Keyes doesn't give a darn. It's interesting that Keyes and Kristol were classmates at Harvard; now, the former is considered a kook, while the latter a well-regarded conservative spokesman (except by the liberally biased ABC, which stupidly didn't renew his contract for This Week).

In February's Esquire, the writer of the ''Esky column" had this pleasant description of Keyes, after the requisite praise of McCain and poke at Bush: ''Whom are we forgetting? Well, at press time there was still Gary Bauer and Orrin Hatch. They're creepy. Oh, and that black fellow. The one who keeps accusing the media of ignoring him because he's black. We can't remember much about him, except he's black and he feels very passionately about slavery (enough to detect it in the tax-cut plan of Massah Bush'); now, good people can disagree, but we feel there's been sufficient legislation on the slavery problem.

You wouldn't know it from Al Gore operative Richard Berke, who moonlights as a reporter for The New York Times, but the debate was mostly a snooze, a repeat of past gatherings. Berke's Sunday story, headlined ''McCain Leads the Way as Republican Rivals Attack Bush,'' was misleading in implying that it was a fiery 90 minutes. Actually, there was more jocularity on Saturday than at any other debate. But Berke saw it this way: ''In a determined drive to slow the front-runner only nine days before the caucuses here, Gov. George W. Bush's rivals today questioned his credentials as a tax cutter and ridiculed his centerpiece plan to pare taxes by $483 billion over five years. The assaults were led by Senator John McCain, who warned that Mr. Bush's prescription favors wealthy Americans at the expense of lower- and middle-income tax payers --and would threaten the future of Social Security.

In reality, the debate was mostly a rerun, except that Bush was more confident, Forbes even more churlish and McCain fully morphed into a Democrat. McCain evokes class warfare when he attacks Bush's tax-cutting plan as simply a boon to the rich, which led Jack Kemp, still a GOP hero in some quarters despite his disastrous performance as Bob Dole's runningmate in '96, to say last week: ''John McCain, who's a friend of mine, has made a big mistake. He has suggested that cutting tax rates across the board is somehow bad for the economy.

And even Hatch, who's really getting on my nerves in the debates with his lame quips, the constant use of the phrase, ''The fact of the matter is,''and his insistence that he was Ronald Reagan's sole lieutenant in the 80s --Bauer does this too --said on Saturday, ''We could have gotten President Clinton to give a bigger tax cut than John McCain.''Hatch might've also mentioned that McCain, in the unlikely event he becomes president, plans to create a new Cabinet post, a ''reform czar,''to carry out his cleansing of the government. Now, that's a Republican idea: add another level of bureaucracy in Washington.

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2000, Russ Smith