Back during the first Bush administration, the President invited some civil rights leaders to meet with him at the White House. They set a precondition -- that neither Alan Keyes nor Thomas Sowell be present at that meeting.
The Wall Street Journal was incensed that the elder President Bush agreed to these preconditions but I was more amused than anything else. For one thing, I had been to the White House the previous week and said what I had to say, not that it did any good.
Had there been a meeting that included Alan Keyes and myself, I could have sat back with folded arms and enjoyed watching Keyes make mincemeat of the intellectual lightweights who call themselves black "leaders." Keyes is both savvy and fearless, and is wholly undeterred by the name-calling that black "leaders" direct at other blacks who dare to disagree with them.
The memory of all this came back to me when I learned that Alan Keyes is now running for the United States Senate from the state of Illinois. This is an historic opportunity for the Republican Party, and if the Republicans have any sense -- a controversial issue on which I take no position -- they will make the most of it by backing Keyes to the hilt.
Some may see Alan Keyes as a much needed black Republican in Congress. That is not to be sneezed at but what may be more important in the long run is that he is a man who knows what he stands for, who is not afraid to take stands on a whole range of controversial issues -- from abortion to foreign policy -- and is articulate enough to go toe to toe with any Democrat.
Because the Republicans are at their weakest and most confused on racial issues, as a Senator Alan Keyes might be able to introduce some sanity and some backbone into the Republican leadership on this issue. Both blacks and Republicans could benefit from that.
The black vote today goes automatically and overwhelmingly for the Democrats, just as the old "solid South" voted Democratic for more than a century. But nothing political is eternal and Democrats today have to scramble to try to win victories in the South, which they could once take for granted.
Blacks are similarly taken for granted by the Democrats -- and get remarkably little out of the deal as a result. But it takes an alternative to change people's minds, and the Republican alternative has been presented badly to black voters, when it has been presented at all.
For reasons unknown, those Republicans who have tried to make inroads into the solidly Democratic black vote have too often tried to do it by offering what the Democrats are offering. But those blacks who want what the Democrats are offering are going to vote for Democrats, not Republicans acting like make-believe Democrats.
The painful irony in all this is that the Republicans have a better track record and better future prospects on issues that affect blacks, including civil rights. Unfortunately, too many Republicans today are defensive about their civil rights record, simply because they are unaware of history and all too aware of media spin.
A higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats have voted for every major civil rights milestone -- from the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery to the post-Civil War civil rights laws to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As Casey Stengel used to say, you could look it up.
On today's issues -- especially education, jobs, and crime -- the Republicans have more to offer blacks as well as whites. Democrats are too much in hock to the teachers' unions to allow the fundamental changes needed to give black children a decent education, which is increasingly the ticket to a decent life. Democrats are too much in hock to other special interests like the environmental extremists and trial lawyers, whose activities have the net effect of destroying jobs for everyone.
On crime -- a major concern in black communities -- Democrats appoint the kinds of liberal judges who are quick to turn criminals loose and slow to impose the kind of serious punishment needed to take them off the streets and deter others.
Democrats have inertia and racial demagoguery on their side. Republicans need someone like Alan Keyes who can talk sense.