Back in November 1988, The New Republic instituted the "Quayle Watch," predicting that journalists would tire of calling the vice president "a moron" and would eventually discover "new-found depths of wisdom" in him. In that spirit, I would like to institute the "Duke Watch." We are about to be told the blow-dry bigot of the Bayou got 60 percent of the white vote for reasons other than racism.
In fact, I may be too late. Already I have seen an op-ed piece attributing David Duke's showing to factors other than racism. The syndicated columnist Joseph Sobran tell us there is "another way" to look at the Duke vote. "Mr. Duke repudiated his past, and those who cast their ballots for him may have taken him at his word." Yeah, sure, and the check, Sobran, is in the mail.
This, though, will be the line. Duke will soon be portrayed as a latter-day populist. Sobran tells us that Duke's 1990 message is something altogether different from whatever it was that compelled him to wear a Ku Klux Klan outfit and head up a latter-day version of the Nazi Party. Almost certainly, Washington will be told to pay heed.
To what? To a former Nazi -- whatever that may be. To a former member, if not Grand Kookoo, of the Ku Klux Klan? To someone who was selling racist and antisemitic literature out of his legislative office in Baton Rouge? No siree. The man has one message and one message only: racism.
In fact, I bet almost everyone who voted for Duke thought he was a kook. After all, the man had gallivanted around in a hood, worn a Nazi uniform, lied about his background, written a sex manual, had his face reconstructed and changed his hairdo to suit his new face. He had been booted out of the Republican Party. Do you know how bad you have to be to be written off by the GOP? Duke is a category unto himself.
But none of that mattered. What mattered was Duke's raw racism. I don't think a single person who voted for Duke thought of himself as voting for the man as such. No, they were voting against black people. Everything and anything else they said, whether in interviews with the press or in response to poll takers, was a lie. David Duke got 44 percent of the total vote -- and 60 percent of the white vote -- because he is a racist. That's the truth.
And it's those who tell us otherwise, who will say that Duke represents the authentic voice of a frustrated voter, who will be doing nothing less than legitimizing racism. If it's lower taxes the voter wants, almost any Republican will do. If it's racial equality he wants, then he need only point to the Constitution. It guarantees it. As for the permissible exception, affirmative action, I doubt that 600 people in all of Louisiana have been affected by it. Even so, I bet they could find a candidate who is not a racist to articulate their grievance.
Sometimes Duke is compared to George Wallace, the former Alabama governor and obsessive presidential candidate. It's an apt comparison. In the 1972 campaign, Richard Nixon was so spooked by Wallace that instead of repudiating the man and his tactics, he tried to co-opt them. That was the beginning of the so-called Southern Strategy, in which the GOP tried to pry white conservatives from the Democratic Party. In presidential campaigns, that strategy has worked. That's why David Duke's a Republican and why blacks, who know where they are not wanted, vote overwhelmingly Democratic.
The tragedy of that campaign is that Nixon, with a mighty lead over George McGovern and with Wallace no longer a factor, chose to continue wooing white southern conservatives by telling them what they wanted to hear about busing, affirmative action and other civil right programs. The kernel of that message was race -- and it has been thus for the GOP ever since.
Now we await the remaking of Duke's image. Just as he redid his face and hair -- not to mention his resume -- others will refashion his constituency. Racism will be transformed into economic frustration, maybe even some apprehension of the loss of the ozone layer, and politicians sensing the gold of votes in Duke's message will start their mining.
As a nation, we have been this way before. Not again, please. David Duke is a racist, and anyone who calls him anything else is either a fool or an opportunist.