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.