Whether Duke Wins or Loses

November 15, 1991

If the polls are correct, David Duke will lose to Edwin Edwards in Louisiana's gubernatorial election tomorrow. A Mason-Dixon poll puts Mr. Edwards ahead 49-42 percent, a University of New Orleans poll has his lead at 46-40, and a Loyola University poll has it at 54-46. Those are adjusted figures. Far smaller percentages of the Louisianans polled said they would vote for Mr. Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard and Nazi. The results were adjusted because pollsters know from past experience that many Louisianians are ashamed to admit they plan to vote for him.

That is the good news from Louisiana. It is good news because it shows that many people who on the issues agree with Mr. Duke still know he is a person unworthy of open support. We believe -- we hope -- that many people who agree with Duke stands on the issues not only won't admit it to pollsters but won't vote for him in the privacy of the ballot booth.

A Duke victory would inspire a lot of other David Dukes to run for high office. Much of his support is racist, but many people agree with him on issues even when the racist elements are filtered out. To be precise, he agrees with them. He has exploited certain of the public's concerns shamelessly and dishonestly. He says he is just a conservative who opposes higher taxes and big government, welfare dependency and discrimination, when in fact he is still the racist Nazi supremacist and statist he always was. He is against big government the way Hitler was -- just wait till he controls it. He has seen his true views don't attract, so he pretends to share popular ones.

Yet this good news from Louisiana is qualified good news. That such a racist demagogue as David Duke could do well at all is alarming. If he can ride the public's resentment on his cluster of issues so far, then the body politic is vulnerable to cleverer demagogues less burdened by such a past. This is not just a Southern phenomenon, either. A recent Gallup Poll asked people nationwide how they stand on welfare, big government, tax cuts, busing and racial preferences. The questions were posed not in the context of the Duke race (he and Louisiana were not mentioned till after these questions were answered). By lopsided margins, voters took the same stand as David Duke. The difference between respondents nationally and in the South was insignificant.

Politicians in both parties must try harder to defuse these explosive issues that, one way or another, have become inter-related with race and class. If they don't act responsibly and courageously, or if they try and fail, David Duke will win even if he loses tomorrow.

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