Did you miss Alan Keyes' big speech on the North Side this past weekend? You're not alone: While the Tribune-Review's coverage estimates the crowd at "several thousand," the Post-Gazette puts it at a more modest 1,500.
Which sort of sums up our plight as a country: Competing media outlets cover a political rally, but can't even agree on how many people were there.
Anyway, you can watch Keyes' speech for yourself by following these four links. Or you could, say, drive rusty nails into your gums. Your choice. But having sat through the full 40-minute experience -- no need to thank me -- I can tell you this speech is almost exactly what you'd expect.
It starts with Keyes comparing the Obama team to Al-Qaeda:
We have had foreign enemies who have sought to terrorize us with attacks, and we have domestic enemies who seek to terrorize us with economic collapse.
And works its way to a vision in which we are being led
happily into the slaughter pens where we shall go from being proud citiziens of the United States, fearing no one but our God, to being the subjects of a government where we must fear its every shadow.
In the spirit of the day, Keyes was willing to make a nod to bipartisanship. Leaders in both parties, he said, were
walking us over the cliff where our Constitution is destroyed, where our economy is bankrupted, where our independence is forfeited, where our sovereignty as a people is no more.
Note the stirring cadence of those remarks. Keyes is a good speaker, despite his tendency to start waddling back and forth like an overexcited penguin for emphasis. He can effectively move from a conversational tone to a Voice of God bellow, and then drop down to a whisper, all within the space of a few minutes.
The problem is, the guy is batshit nuts. I'm not just talking about garden-variety silliness. (For example, Keyes spoke derisively of "educated [people] with fancy degrees" -- even though he himself had been introduced as "Doctor Alan Keyes.") I'm talking serious cognitive dissonance here.
Let's recall that one week to the day before Keyes gave his little pep-talk, three Pittsburgh police officers were gunned down -- apparently by a guy who thought the government was going to take away his guns. It is in this context, in this city, that Keyes chose to praise his audience as a group in which "every individual is an army empowered by their faith in God."
I'm willing to bet that's how many lone gunmen see themselves. Especially the ones who would admire this line from Keyes' speech:
[N]ever as long as we have breath [will we] surrender the instruments with which we can defend [our] liberty against the depradations of a government no longer committed to it.
Make no mistake: I'm not suggesting that Keyes is encouraging people to go shoot cops. (His political program, such as it is, seems to involve "throwing the bums out" -- voting against every incumbent in 2010.) Nor would he be responsible if one of his audience later goes out and does just that. But Keyes talked quite a bit about how "liberty" wasn't all about doing whatever you wanted -- at least not when it applied to things like gay marriage. Maybe a word about the moral obligations of gun ownership would have been in order?
If you're in a city still grieving from a terrible shooting, you might want to think these things through. If only to show you actually give a damn about the city you happened to parachute into that morning with your rantings. This is almost like Charlton Heston showing up in Littleton, Colorado to do the NRA "not from my cold, dead hands" shtick after the Columbine shootings.
The temptation is to say there's something "chilling" about all this, but actually it's sort of sad. The folks at Media Matters have posted footage from other recent "Tea Parties," which pretty clearly shows what's going on here. Despite the rhetoric, the real grievance these folks have isn't that America has "lost its democracy." It's that these folks lost the last election. And they just can't imagine how the hell that happened. Look at this guy, for example:
Uh, buddy? Sometimes a person gets elected even if you, personally, didn't vote for him. That isn't called "stealing" an election; it's called "winning." Aren't you and your buddies the same folks who called Democrats "sore losers" and "whiners" back in 2000? What's striking is the sense of entitlement here: If I can't have my way, I'm going to take all my Mausers and go home. Where I will await the End Times.
Keyes, to his credit, appeared to be slightly less delusional than some of his followers. His rhetoric, at least, seemed to acknowledge that that most Americans simply don't agree with him or his audience:
We will have truly rediscovered our moral strength when we discover the strength that we find as we stand alone for what is right ... [T]hough you bow your head beneath the weight of all that loneliness, when you lift it up, you shall be standing in the light of our Almighty God.
Judging from the crowd response, it's pretty obvious that this sense of isolation flatters the audience's desire to be courageous. But it's probably also helping to drive them nuts. As polling data suggests, Obama remains quite popular. And my guess is that if Obama becomes even more so, these folks will become more resentful. It'll be bad for everyone if Obama fails, of course. But it will be terrible for these folks if he somehow succeeds. They won't be able to wrap their minds around it.
Which is to say that maybe, just maybe, these folks aren't feeling oppressed by their government. Maybe they're feeling oppressed by their fellow Americans.