ARE AMERICANS happy? Are we a kinder, gentler nation? Or are many of us filled with hatred for each other? And if we are seething and gnashing our teeth, how many haters are there?
These are questions you don't see answered by any polls. And there's a good reason for that. A pollster can't pick a name out of a phone book and say: "Good afternoon, I am from the Brainpicker Organization, and we are taking a poll. Do you have a seething hatred for anyone because of their race, religion or ethnic origins?" Click.
People seldom share their hatreds with strangers. That's what family and friends are for. Besides, if you revealed your hates to a stranger, he might turn out to be one of the people you hate. And what if he is big and strong?
So we really don't have any scientific way of measuring how deeply Americans dislike each other or why or how unhappy we are.
That's why I was pleased to see that David Duke received enough votes in Louisiana's primary to force a two-way runoff for the office of governor.
Duke is a handsome, glib fellow who used to be a grand beagle, or some such lofty position, in the Ku Klux Klan. He was also an American Nazi and until a few years ago would celebrate Hitler's birthday.
Of course, he now says he no longer puts on a white sheet or drinks toasts to the memory of the most crazed killer in the history of the world. He claims that his views have become more moderate and says: "I'm not putting other people down anymore."
Some people believe him and others don't. For all anyone knows, when the monster's birthday rolls around, Duke might still spend the day humming: "Happy birthday, mein Fuhrer, happy birthday to you." For old time's sake, if nothing else.
And since his political campaigns are rich in racist buzzwords, that old saying might apply: "You can take the boy out of the swastika, but you can't take the swastika out of the boy." Or something like that.
Because Duke used to be an outright, public hater and is now a more polite, subtle hater, it has to be assumed that many of his supporters share his darker views. Not that they are all former or present fans of Hitler. But they apparently think that someone who is can't be all bad.
So as a hate-o-meter, a form of measurement I have just created, the Louisiana election might be as precise as anything we've seen.
Duke will begin with about 400,000 votes, which is what he received in the primary. It represented about 32 percent of the votes cast. That can be looked at as good news or bad news.
The good news is that 68 percent of the voters didn't want to vote for a former Klansman-Nazi. The bad news is that the top vote-getter, who has never said one kind word about Hitler, received only 34 percent.
Most of the other votes went to the incumbent Gov. Buddy Roemer, a decent enough guy who might have done better if he had put in a plug or two for the memory of Mussolini.
So now Duke, who is running as a Republican, will fight it out in November with Edwin Edwards, a former Louisiana governor, who was popular until he stood trial on charges of being a crook. He was acquitted, but it did appear that politics had been kind to his bottom line. They know how to pick them in Louisiana.
And when the votes are counted in November, we'll have some idea how many haters there are in Louisiana. Besides adding to our sociological and political knowledge, it might provide others with career opportunities. Who knows? Maybe there are some old Nazi geezers still hiding in South America who might want to move to New Orleans and run for office.
Of course, the views of Louisiana's voters don't necessarily reflect those of the rest of the country. We hope. But if Duke is elected governor, we'll probably have a chance to find out.
It's a safe bet that if he becomes governor, he'll start thinking about running for president. Maybe on the campaign slogan: "Today Louisiana, tomorrow the world!" I wonder if he'd grow a little mustache.
Then the hate-o-meter would be put to a national test, and we would know just how kinder and gentler we've become.
All of this has become bothersome to President Bush, John Sununu and everybody else in the White House. Even though Duke is running as a Republican and did wonderfully in the most Republican parts of Louisiana, the White House Republicans angrily say that Duke is not a Republican.
If he says he's a Republican and Republicans vote for him, how can he not be a Republican? He also wears neat business suits and makes sneering remarks about the poor. When Spiro Agnew did it, that was good enough for Richard Nixon, so why should they deny Duke?
Remember, John Gacy, one of the most fiendish of modern-day murderers, was a Democratic precinct captain. But when all those bodies were found in his basement, the Democratic Party didn't deny that he was a Democrat. After all, in politics, as in anything else, it takes all kinds.
Come November, the hate-o-meter will be ready. So go get 'em, Herr Duke. Oops, Mr. Duke, although I'm not sure which he would prefer.