Conservative Republicans like to say that they lost elections before the advent of the late President Ronald Reagan because A) they minced words on their essential message, and B) they lacked a messenger who had enough star quality to get their point across.
Democrats too may end up looking to the ranks of current or former actors. A case in point is actor David Keith, a Knoxville native and Democrat who has been highly visible at statewide political events over the past year.
Keith, who played a memorable part in An Officer and a Gentleman a generation back and has starred in such films as the recent Daredevil, was a featured speaker this year at several of the state's official Democratic Party events, including the Kennedy Dinner held in Memphis during the summer.
At this year's Democratic convention in Boston, where he was asked about his own political plans, he allowed as how people in the state were probably talking him up for future office. Professing to have no plans, he acknowledged that he might be ready for something sometime in the next five years but opined that first he had to "read up and learn" everything there was to know about politics.
At this stage of the drama, Keith is pulling no punches. He stumped Shelby County for the Kerry/Edwards ticket last week, and this, in part, is what he sounded like last week to the Young Democrats at the University of Memphis:
• On Republican Party moralists: "They have convinced us that the Christian Right is 'the right Christians,' and that's not the case. The Christian Right is a conservative, prejudiced, racist group of elitists who want to control people by legislating what they consider the Bible is. They want to take what they think God wants us to do and make it law. There's nothing worse that you can do in this society. In this country, you have the right to worship any way you choose. It's not to be legislated, how you are to worship.
"And what I would tell someone from the Christian Right is to read the New Testament about love and tolerance and accepting people for what they are. The Old Testament is about the God of war and punishment and rigorous rules. And it didn't work. So He sent Jesus to teach us the doctrine of love and acceptance. The Christian Right is not about the New Testament."
• On GOP campaign advertising: "Most of what they say is just bald-faced lies -- like this Swift Boat Veterans for Bush. Most of that is just propaganda and lies, and you should go to jail for it in this country. You should also go to jail for federal election tampering, and one of these days [Florida governor] Jeb Bush will be in prison for that I hope!"
• On Republican domestic policies: "They want to privatize everything, so that companies can charge what they want. It all boils down to this: The Republican dream is of no more middle class, of an aristocracy and a pure servant class, so that if you are born into servitude, you stay in servitude. You learn to eat gruel.
"They want it just like their bedfellows in Saudi Arabia: a handful of rich, a bunch of poor. And that's the downfall of every democracy. Our country will be dead if that ever happens. But that's their dream, in everything they do -- privatizing and being able to make everything expensive, so that middle-class people become poor and the people at the top of the middle class move up to the aristocracy. The people who make it to the aristocracy -- those are the people they want to survive. It goes back to the survival of the fittest. So they pass legislation causing the fit to get fitter and the weak to get weaker, causing a chasm between the two."
Keith seemed surprised when he was told that his message seemed a turn or two past the usual stopping point on the Democrats' rhetoric-meter -- especially since the demise of erstwhile presidential candidate Howard Dean's hopes. Indeed, what he says may be downright impolitic. But so did Reagan seem -- at first. •