A forum held last Friday night for U.S. Senate candidates Barack Obama and Alan Keyes highlighted drastic political and personal differences between the two politicians.
While the forum initially began as a serious attempt for the two candidates to outline their platforms and address questions from a selected panel and audience members, the event eventually began to resemble an amateur comedy night.
"People brought their real concerns to Obama, and it was comedy hour with Keyes," said first-year in the College Henry Nangle, who attended the forum.
The night began with a benediction from Reverend Calvin Morris, a member of the Community Renewal Society, which hosted the event. Obama, a lecturer at the Law School and state senator, spoke first, delivering a two minute opening statement addressing his record in the state senate and his "concrete, specific, and positive vision to success."
Obama then answered questions from a panel ranging from the pubic housing crisis in Chicago to the No Child Left Behind act to current immigration laws. Obama said that he was dedicated to creating more effective border control, ensuring that employers obey immigrant rights, and aiding the housing shortage with more mixed income housing. He stated that he was a strong supporter of legislation such as the DREAM act, which attempts to help immigrants without citizenship or resident status apply for educational benefits.
He also criticized the No Child Left Behind act, stating that the legislation "set up the schools for failure."
Republican Alan Keyes spoke next, stating that the most serious crisis affecting America was "the failing structure of the family," and called for the need to "empower families and communities."
Keyes frequently referred to the "utter breakdown of the family structure" and dedicated himself to restoring "the church" as the center of family values. When asked about the housing shortage in Chicago, Keyes demanded that the government help individuals work to get themselves access to property and ownership.
The turning point of the night came when a panel member read from a Fox News report in which Keyes criticized Senator Hilary Clinton for moving to a state she didn't live in and running for senator. Keyes himself is originally from Maryland and, like Senator Clinton, moved to Illinois in order to run for the U.S. Senate. The panel member asked whether Keyes would remain in Illinois if he lost.
Keyes refused to answer, instead avoiding the question. The audience grew restless, grunting and moaning, demanding that Keyes answer the question. Even moderator Joyce Ewell asked, "Mr. Keyes, are you sure that's your answer to the question?"
After answering panel questions, Obama addressed the fervent demands of audience members. The first two speakers, representing the Cabrini Green and Lawndale communities, demanded that Obama visit their housing projects, which were being torn down without being replaced.
One member of the audience asked Obama what he planned to do regarding to the "cowards in blue" who were killing young African-Americans. While Obama tried to explain his position, the man continued to yell at him, disrupting the forum, and preventing other audience members from asking questions.
Questions from the panel challenged Keyes's ability to relate to Latino and black Illinois voters, and his legitimacy to run for a Senate race in a state where he has never lived.
When an audience member asked Keyes how he would plan to place "the poor and the vulnerable on the national agenda," Keyes also avoided the question, and instead began to discuss his fervent opposition to abortion. The audience laughed at Keyes, demanding that he answer the question.
Another individual asked how Keyes would use the position of senator to instill moral Christian values when the separation of church and state forbid such actions. Keyes responded with his interpretation of the Constitution, claiming that the "doctrine of separation is a lie."
Some felt that the audience's criticism of Keyes was too strong. "In a way I feel badly for Keyes," said Megan Tormey, a third-year in the College also in attendance.
When the press attempted to ask Keyes controversial questions about his view of homosexuality and the claim that his own daughter is a lesbian, Keyes launched into a heavy criticism of the press and media's "lack of basis for facts and quotes."
In his closing statement, Keyes called for a new solution to address a new moral crisis. "Throwing money isn't going to solve our problems," Keyes said.
Obama closed with a statement of dedication to building "coalitions to solve the concrete problems of everyday people."
As a frustrated and bewildered crowd left the forum, most expressed their disbelief at what they just witnessed. "Every question asked was answered by a speech about abortion," said Bridget Fahey, a first-year in the College who attended the forum.
"Senator Obama spoke very well, and it's unfortunate that he was interrupted so many times," she added.