Whistling Dixie

October 10, 1990

A Tulane professor says of David Duke's strong showing in his race against Louisiana Sen. Bennett Johnston, "Certainly there's a strong racial backlash, but just as powerful is the anti-incumbency backlash." We don't buy that for a minute.

David Duke is an out and out racist, who may not still have formal ties to the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party, but openly campaigns to keep America "mostly European and mostly Christian." That's not populism, it's nativism.

David Duke's voters weren't mad at Senator Johnston because he is an incumbent, a part of the establishment. They were mad at him because they believe he supports the rights and needs of blacks, Hispanics and Asians. They voted for Mr.. Duke because he attacked welfare, teen-age pregnancy, affirmative action.

Some Americans may be inclined to write this off as a Southern aberration. That's just whistling Dixie. It is not Louisiana's geography and history that are important here, it is its economics. Louisiana led the nation into the recession. Oil and gas and construction workers have seen their real income drop by over a third. If something like that happens in other states -- and it might -- look for other politicians to copycat David Duke.

Senator Johnston says the Duke voters were sending "Ol Bennett a message and Bennett got it." He says he won't abandon principles, but during the campaign he and the official Republican candidate moved right on welfare reform and law and order issues as they felt the Duke pressure. He better be careful. At some point, yielding to a David Duke constituency on its terms becomes a prelude to disaster.

The Republican Party, to its credit, opposed Republican Duke and supported Senator Johnston when its preferred candidate dropped out of the race. Some critics of the Bush administration accuse it of fanning racist flames in the first place by opposing the new civil rights bill. That's unfair, but the president must see now that it is important either to support the bill or make it absolutely clear that his objection to the affirmative-action elements of the bill are in no way, shape or form similar to objections lodged earlier by Mr. Duke.


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