I hear David Duke is running for president and I, for one, am glad. Now, that may sound strange coming from a black man, but I think it is time for some honest soul-searching in our country, time to wake up and realize the old demons and bugaboos are alive and well. Mr. Duke's candidacy is America's wake-up call.
The former neo-Nazi and grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, now a surgically prettied state legislator from Louisiana, cannot be dismissed or denied. He steadfastly and unapologetically drags the skeletons from the collective closet and forces the issue. We cannot sit on the fence. Mr. Duke will make us stand up for our beliefs, and that is good.
This Republican candidate is an extremist only in the sense that he is brash enough to say out loud what so many keep to themselves. He has tapped into that part of America that always lurks just below the surface, where people whisper of Jewish media conspiracies and wring their hands over the "browning" of America.
His candidacy and its appeal shows us that all our talk of civil rights and the very real sacrifices made to make this country live up to its promise, have not touched the souls of millions of Americans. He shows us how far we have yet to go before this country can be made whole.
When he announced his candidacy Wednesday, Mr. Duke said he stands for the middle class. I wonder whom he thinks comprises that group. He said he is for the grass roots of America. Again, I ask myself: Who can that be? My weekly pay stub tells me I'm middle-class. I trace my family's lineage and see nothing but grass roots, salt-of-the-earth types. Am I the kind of voter Mr. Duke is looking for? I think not. To put it bluntly, Duke's appeal is to the largely white, disaffected part of this country. I say largely white because four percent of the blacks voting in the recent gubernatorial election in Louisiana cast their ballots for Mr. Duke. One benefit of Mr. Duke's run is that he may force a re-evaluation of political buzzwords and bring a new precision to our use of language. He might make us say what we mean.
He might also challenge the ignorance and arrogance so prevalent in our society. Consider his mocking use of broken English when he said: "You no buy our rice. We no buy your cars."
That comment, aimed at the Japanese, sounds like the sort of native-speak you'd hear in a 1940s Hollywood movie. Yet his supporters find it acceptable. In reality, you would be hard-pressed to find any high-level Japanese official who spoke in that manner. But we as a nation have tolerated such talk, have made it part of our jokes, part of our way of seeing the world.
When I hear Mr. Duke talk about preserving our "Christian" values, I can't help thinking I read somewhere that religious freedom was one of the reasons for this country's founding. Even worse, is to hear him equate "Christian" values with Western Civilization.
One does not equal the other. Yet, for too long we have linked the two. History has been disregarded. I read somewhere about the Judeo-Christian world, the Arabic numerals, the influence of the Moors. Mr. Duke blithely sidesteps all of this. With cross in hand, he wraps himself in the flag and declares Christianity and Western Civilization as being solely European. His ignorance is appalling. But it is what so many have been taught to believe.
In his call for protecting our borders, Mr. Duke says we are a white nation, forgetting that the same rhetoric he uses was employed by those in earlier times who feared the coming of the Irish, the arrival of transports steaming from Europe, their holds full of people hungry for the promise of America. Unfortunately, too many politicians remain silent on the issue. Afraid of angering disaffected white voters, they are struck dumb. The lie continues.
It's time for a leader to step forward in our country, someone who will stand up and say: "No, this is not a white man's country. Distortions of history and reality for political expediency must stop. Though our coins bear the inscription: 'In God we trust,' Christianity is not the only acceptable belief." I do not know if this leader has arrived. I do not think he is in the White House.
A recent political cartoon showed the president watering an oak tree. An acorn fell to the ground with "Duke" written on it. Hmm, the president said, where did that nut come from? Neither George Bush nor Ronald Reagan are solely to blame for Mr. Duke's ascendancy. They merely created a comfortable atmosphere for him.
And we in the media are not exempt from blame. After all, the images we throw into America's living rooms are the clay from which many racially-tinged buzzwords are formed.