Let Alan Keyes spout all he wants, but gag me with a spyewn

Dan Rodricks

May 20, 1992|By Dan Rodricks

Has anyone informed Alan Keyes that he is setting off gag meters all over the state? Mine went off over the weekend and I had to call in a technician to reset it. Could we get a Republican to tap Al -- may I call him that? -- on the shoulder, wave him into a corner and suggest that maybe he muzzle it a bit about being hard-pressed on $8,500 a month?

I'm not suggesting a complete gag order -- just a few less gags.

As far as I'm concerned, the man can flap away all he wants in that rambling, rapid-fire delivery that sounds like a thesaurus pushed through an Uzi. Listening to Keyes is like watching "American Gladiators" on TV -- it's amusing for the first five minutes, then it becomes annoying.

One is inclined to approach the man to say: "Hey, Alan, chill."

In much the same way, one is inclined to approach his opponent, Barbara "A Little Schwarzkopf In Earrings" Mikulski, with a cliche-extractor to remove a few of those corny metaphors and phrases she uses.

But, hey, I don't presume to be Major Domo of the Aesthetic Polizia. To each his own, I say. It's all a matter of styles. If Keyes wants to go on and on, let him. He's a professional yapper. He gets $3,500 to deliver breathless diatribes on the American system, to lambaste liberal Democrats like Mikulski and to decry wasteful government spending. The people who hire Keyes for speeches get a lot for their money because he probably delivers more words per second than anyone else in America. Certainly more than, say, Democratic Sen. Howell Heflin of Alabama.

But anyway, that's Keyes' style.

He just needs to be told that his recent decision to pay himself $8,500 a month out of the campaign chest while he runs for the U.S. Senate has kids of all ages saying, "Gag me with a spoon." (Of course, in good ole Baltimore, that's: "Gag me with a spyewn!")

"I'm not willing to subject my wife and family to undue hardship," Keyes said Friday in Rockville. To maintain the lifestyle to which they have grown accustomed, Keyes said, he needs to have $8,500 a month. That works out to $102,000 a year. And I know what you're thinking: That's Big Paper.

But, hey, Keyes earned $290,000 last year from the conservative Citizens Against Government Waste.

That means $102,000 would be a 65 percent cut in pay. And you can't expect a man to sacrifice, to jeopardize his present lifestyle for a chance to represent a few million Marylanders in the U.S. Senate, can you?

Keyes certainly wants no lifestyle interruptions -- no "hardships" -- so he'll be taking money from campaign contributions to pay the mortgage and a few other house hold expenses, at a rate of $8,500 a month.

It's no sweat off my back. If Keyes insists on going this way -- apparently, it's legal -- that's his business. If he wants to whine about how hard it would be to live on less than $102,000 a year -- "Just enough so I can make sure my family wasn't turned out in the street" -- that's his choice.

But I've got to be blunt with you, Al -- may I call you that? I'm getting the distinct impression that this is hurting you in some quarters. Republican Party officials call it "a perception problem."

I heard from the sweet Flo Kennedy of Essex the other day. She's 75 years old. She's been listening to Alan Keyes, considering his candidacy. But her gag meter went off when she heard the part about $8,500 a month. Flo lives on $6,000 a year in Social Security benefits -- $583 a month.

"What nerve," Flo wrote in an open letter to Keyes. "You want fTC people to pay you while you try for a career job. God, what a world this would be if when I was out of work people paid me to get a better job with all kinds of perks for the rest of my life."

"I always worked, I was never on welfare," Flo said yesterday. "I receive no help from no one. I pay rent, and I have about $35 a month for food. I bet [Keyes] pays $35 for lunch."

I asked Flo if I could quote the rest of her letter to Keyes. She agreed.

"Do you know," she wrote, "how it feels to go to a food store and see something you would enjoy but walk past it because you can't afford it? To watch TV and see an ad for Red Lobster and see shrimp and lobster, then go out and try to decide whether it will be hot dogs, eggs or a slice of beef liver?

"Do you know how low you feel when you find yourself thinking about taking some tuna fish cans and putting them in your pocket? I never did it, but I have thought of it. I am ashamed of it and glad I never did it.

"Sir, I think you have a lot to think about. They say you are quite smart. I personally think you are quite dumb."

As I said, Al -- may I call you that? -- you have a perception problem.

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