CHORTLING INTO his beer, Slats Grobnik said: "Hey, I see where this guy David Duke has got a lot of the Washington politicians and pundits all shook up."
It isn't funny. Who would have thought that someone with a background in the Klan and the American Nazi Party, an obvious racist and rabble-rouser, could get 44 percent of the vote for U.S. senator in Louisiana.
"Who would have thought? I would have thought. What I don't understand is why it's such a surprise."
L It's a surprise because this is 1990, not 1890 or even 1960.
"So? I know how to read a calendar."
So it was assumed that the days of the redneck were behind us; that we had become a more tolerant, gentle, caring society. Or at least a little more civil.
"That's sort of true. This David Duke ain't no beady-eyed, pot-bellied deputy sheriff, eating corn pone or whatever that chow is. Sure, he's a bigot, but he's a clean-looking bigot. Like somebody wrote, he comes on like a TV weatherman. So it means we're getting better taste in our choice of bigots."
That's little comfort. Of course, we must keep in mind that his strong showing came in Louisiana, a state that is among the nation's leaders in illiteracy, economic stagnation and overall backwardness.
"Yeah, but he did real good in the high-class sections. The people who got big houses, money and went to college -- the country club swells -- they went for him just like the guy with no front teeth. So that shows that if you give dentures to everybody who needs them, there really ain't much difference between the guy mowing the fairway and the guy riding the cart."
Then that election was some sort of aberration.
"Some sort of what?"
Aberration. It's something that deviates from the normal.
"Be careful. You're starting to sound like George Will."
I'm sorry, it must be the drink. But you get my point.
"Yeah, but I don't see why it's some kind of whatsis."
"Right. Why do you think it ain't normal for somebody like David Duke to get 44 percent of the vote?"
Because there can't be that many racists, haters, brooders, loathers and malcontents in any state, even Louisiana.
"Hey, where you been hanging out lately, the reading room at the Do Gooder Society? You stop in here and other joints like this, right?"
Every opportunity I get, or that she allows.
"So what do you hear? You hear them talking about the plight of the underclass? You hear anybody saying that we got to do something about teen-age unemployment in the inner city? You hear anyone saying: 'Oh, I just admire these set-aside programs for minorities. And I'm a big fan of equal opportunity hiring, and I just can't tell you how much I love quotas. Whenever I pay my income tax, it makes me feel warm and cuddly knowing that I am going to help a welfare mother.' You hear people say stuff like that?"
L Of course not. Those aren't subjects that people chat about.
"Sure they do. Except they say: 'Hey, (bleep) those programs. And (bleep) those people on those programs. And I don't want them to spend my (bleep) taxes on any of those (bleeps).' You've heard that, ain't you?"
I suppose words to that effect, although not put so delicately. But I can't believe that those sentiments are so widespread.
"Hey, they could get wider spread. We're heading into hard times. The Dow and the Jones are going into the tank. Our loan-shark pals, the Japanese, are pulling their money out. Ronald Reagan left us with the tab for the S&Ls. Now George Bush has got us up to our ears in sand fleas and angry Arabs. So when hard times come, what do people do?"
They tighten their belts and pull together.
"What you been reading, 'The Grapes of Wrath'? Nah, what people do when they've had it real good and figure they're always going to have it real good, and then times ain't so good, is they look around for somebody to get mad at. So this David Duke, he might be a louse, but he's a smart louse."
Yes, but people will see through his mindless appeals to their baser instincts. This is too sophisticated a country to follow so obvious a demagogue.
"Yeah, you're probably right. By the way, where was Beethoven from?"
Germany, of course.
"I thought so. And those other guys, Brahms and Bach? And lots of others, too, huh? I mean, high-class scholarly guys? Philosophers and writers? Lots of culture and all that? Real civilized and sophisticated?"
Yes. But why do you ask?
"I just wondered what went wrong."
Oh, shut up.