Bush ducks on Duke

November 04, 1991|By New York Times

PRESIDENT BUSH remains disturbingly equivocal about David Duke, a Republican and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard who could well become the next governor of Louisiana on Nov. 16.

Prompted by reporters, Bush last week said the minimum expected of him. "I'm not going to support David Duke because of the racism," the president said. He begged off further comment because, he said, he didn't want to be drawn into local politics.

David Duke is a grave national concern, not a parochial worry. The rising tide of racial hatred he exploits and represents is as dangerous to the American social fabric as the Arab-Israeli conflict is to the stability of the Middle East. Bush is not the least bit reluctant to deliver firm, clear advice to Arabs and Israelis about political and social stability in the Middle East. Why, then, is he so diffident about the future of Louisiana?

Bush may feel his conversion on the civil rights bill is a sufficient statement of opposition to Duke and to race-baiting. It isn't. Bush spent two years subtly exploiting racial fears by calling Congress' civil rights legislation a "quota bill." His conversion is welcome. Yet his past manipulation of racial politics has made racism like Duke's seem more respectable. Bush thus bears a special responsibility in racially charged matters. He cannot discharge this responsibility by changing his tune on civil rights while maintaining an ambiguous stance on Duke. It's up to the voters of Louisiana to choose their next governor. Bush's duty is to speak unequivocally against the racist impulse Duke represents and to denounce the campaign of barely disguised hatred that has brought Louisiana and the nation to this unfortunate pass.

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