Thursday, January 10, 2008

Alan Keyes and History

Jeff Fecke, a component of the blogospheric hive mind known as Shakesville, has posted the latest edition of his GOP Power Rankings on the current state of the Republican presidential race. Amidst the well-merited liberal schadenfreude (the post is subtitled "Someone's Gotta Win, Right?), Fecke has this to say on the subject of Alan Keyes, whom he ranks ninth and last:
Alan Keyes received a grand total of 220 votes in New Hampshire. I'll wager you a friendly bet that I could get 220 votes in New Hampshire. Alan Keyes is no longer a joke merely among Democrats; he's just a joke. That said, he's a joke that never stops being funny, so here's hoping he stays in the race a long time. I can't wait to hear how he manages to blame global warming on abortion.

Fecke is not alone in finding Keyes a source of amusement. The commenters at Balloon Juice had what amounts to an online party when news reached them that Keyes had qualified for a spot in the Des Moines Register/Iowa Public Television presidential debate on December 12.

Clearly, then, Keyes plays a vital role in adding entertainment value to the Republican presidential race. Fecke hopes he stays in the race a long time, and that got my thinking. Will Keyes stay in the race till the bitter end? What was his motivation for running in the first place? That's when the year 1860 occurred to me.

The 1860 presidential election was, hands down, the most important in American history. The Republicans were a recently-cobbled-together antislavery party confined entirely to the North, the nation's first major regional party. The Democrats had split in two when Southern Democrats broke with their insufficiently-proslavery Northern colleagues. And in an eerie foreshadowing of Unity08, the Constitutional Unionists attempted to create a centrist party that ignored the slavery issue completely.

Among the free states, the election was a contest between Republican candidate Abraham "Honest Abe" Lincoln and Northern Democratic candidate Stephen "The Little Giant" Douglas. This was particularly interesting because two years before, Lincoln and Douglas had faced each other in a race for a senate seat from Illinois.

And this brings us to Alan Keyes, who faced Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama four years ago for . . . a senate seat from Illinois. (Disappointingly, the seat in play in 1858 was not the seat in play in 2004. Obama's colleague Dick Durbin currently occupies the Lincoln-Douglas seat.) In the extrordinarily unlikely event that Keyes wins the Republican nomination, we could see a repeat of the Lincoln-Douglas rematch.

The Illinois senate elections of 1858 and 2004 were both historically important elections. The 1858 contest produced the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, which served to crystallize Northern opinion on the subject of slavery. The 2004 contest quantified the Crazification Factor, which is the percentage of the population that will vote for any Republican, however crazy, over any Democrat, however sane.

In both the 1858 and 2004 senate elections, the Democrat defeated the Republican, though Douglas' victory over Lincoln was a narrow one, and Obama's victory over Keyes was overwhelming. As noted above, both men are now running for president, though Obama is one of the Democratic frontrunners and Keyes has practically no support among Republicans.

Is Keyes basing his presidential hopes on somehow replicating Abraham Lincoln's victory over his onetime senate race opponent? I have no idea, but I'm willing to bet that if you used the Vulcan mind meld on Keyes, you'd find that the answer is yes.

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