DAVID DUKE, the ex-Nazi who wants to become fuehrer of Louisiana, was on a TV show the other evening matching wits with a noted liberal journalist.
His adversary was Michael Kinsley, a regular on the show "Cross Fire." Kinsley is the show's intellectual left-winger. Patrick Buchanan is the show's intellectual right-winger. The format has them interview some public figure, then snipe at each other's ideology.
Anyway, David Duke was the guest and Kinsley tried his best to zing him. However, Duke took advantage of the free air time to make his campaign pitches and remained calm until Kinsley asked him whether he had undergone cosmetic surgery.
I don't know why, but the face lift seemed significant to Kinsley, so he jabbered shrilly, trying to trap Duke into a lie or a confession. Duke tried to respond, but they were both yammering at each other until two words seemed to jump out of the TV.
Duke said: " ... you worm."
For a long moment, Kinsley's gaunt face seemed to freeze. His eyes bugged. Actually, they always bug, but they bugged even more. I guess nobody has ever called him a worm before. For the remaining minutes of the show, he seemed subdued, even rattled.
Watching that show, I think I spotted the source of the liberals' image problem. Someone like Michael Kinsley goes on TV and is seen by millions and he comes across as a weenie. He looked and sounded like the kind of arrogant kid who was the smartest in the class, but was a schoolyard sissie.
For all of his education and knowledge -- and he's been a Washington boy wonder for several years -- he managed to let an ex-Nazi and ex-Klan snake-oil peddler come away with no worse than a draw. Why? Because he looked and sounded like a weenie. Even worse, a shrill, smart-alecky weenie.
And for some reason, those are the sort of liberal journalists who wind up on those Washington talk shows and shouting matches.
If you have ever seen the McLaughlin Group, a sort of political zoo with everybody yapping at once, you've seen that show's house liberal, Morton Kondracke.
Morton is very smart and decent. I've known him on and off since he was a young and earnest reporter in Chicago.
But when he gets on TV, he acts like a weenie. Not as big a weenie as Michael Kinsley, but a weenie nevertheless. He sits there while McLaughlin the Windbag and Robert Novak the Sneer beat up on him. Then he smiles sheepishly and says something decent and earnest and weenie-like.
With that kind of public representation, it's little wonder that liberals, as a group, have such a weenie image. Many thought of liberal George McGovern as kind of a weenie. And they saw Ronald Reagan, Hollywood warrior, or Dan Quayle, legal draft dodger, as macho guys. Yet, McGovern was the genuine war hero.
I'm beginning to suspect there is a conspiracy by the TV executives to put weenie-type liberals on these Washington shows, while stacking them with tough talkers like Novak or big-shouldered snarlers like Buchanan. (The hawkish Buchanan, incidentally, sat out the Vietnam war with an owwie knee. Now he jogs several miles a day. A miraculous recovery.)
It seems to me that they should be able to find a liberal who wears more than a 13-inch collar, doesn't have translucent wrists, and never shrieks like a boy soprano.
My friend Mortie, for example. Mortie would have made a far better showing against ex-Nazi (and I wonder about the "ex") Duke.
Mortie might have said: "So, you used to celebrate Hitler's birthday, huh, kid? And wear swastikas, and you said that Jews should be dumped in the ash bin of history? Well, I'm Jewish and I fought in the Marines in Worl War II, and I noticed you skipped Vietnam, and I can still do a hundred fast push-ups. So when the show's over, why don't we meet in a dark alley somewhere and I'll give you a reverse face lift, you two-bit fascist?"
And if Buchanan gave him any lip, Mortie might ask: "Hey Pat, you closet pacifist, you ever try jogging on crutches?"
Instead of Kondracke, I would offer the McLaughlin Group my friend Big John, who looks something like Lucca Brazzi, the Godfather's prize torpedo, but thinks faster than a computer. He might tell someone like Novak: "I could explain why your observations are stupid, but you wouldn't understand, so I'll just warn you that if you sneer one more time I will take your head home as a paperweight."
But I suppose it's too much to hope for. So I'll simply suggest that Michael Kinsley go lift some weights, get his adenoids removed, stop jiggling that Adam's apple, watch John Wayne's movies instead of Woody Allen's, and maybe a fascist creep won't call him a worm.
After all, if he's going to act like a worm, somebody's going to put him on a hook.