Father Time Spells It Out

GARLAND L THOMPSON

March 07, 1992|By GARLAND L.THOMPSON

Memo from Father Time to David Duke: In your face, chump.Therace-baiting tricks that made George Wallace a force to be reckoned with are old and the situation you face is new. New strategies to revive old racist claims to dominance will continue to meet rejection where black voters have any say at all. And when whites start actually thinking about the facts behind the era you're so nostalgic about, forget it.

New memo to Patrick Buchanan: You're next. Your nostalgia for a 1950s lifestyle that will never again be possible and your admiration for David Duke's racist pleas are very close to the gutter of American politics. Blacks will never return to the subservient state in which you met them as a boy. Nor are unlimited vistas still in place for a politician with a classical education who cannot outgrow a youthful penchant for acting like a Yahoo.

The passage of so much history in the 20th century means the Patrick Buchanans will have to learn to share the America of the 21st century with those a revolutionary mid-1960s study once called ''The People Who Walk in Darkness.''

David Duke didn't believe that when he won a race for the Louisiana legislature and seemed larger than the realities against which he railed. Then he went gunning for a U.S. Senate seat, and found out the Voting Rights Act had given black Louisianans a way to answer his challenge. They did, joining ranks with the whites who understood that racial pretensions would never put any bread on their tables. Bye bye, Senatorial Dream.

Mr. Duke had failed to learn two critical lessons: a century-long push for education has radically changed the face of black America; and that education, gained in community activism, military service and on the job as well as in schoolrooms, in turn has radically changed the demographic tapestry that makes America what it is.

National news reports focused on how the Duke campaign for governor forced Buddy Roemer out of his party and his office. National analysts zeroed in on how would-be Governor Duke garnered a majority of white votes. What was ignored was that 45 percent of Louisiana whites sided with the blacks.

It had always been true, during segregation's worst days, that a minority of whites would stand up to the racism their neighbors knew was wrong. Louisiana's progressive white minority was a big one. When the black citizens Mr. Duke's code words insulted came out in record numbers, the Duke who would be a king got aced out again.

Memo to Pat Buchanan: Listen up, pal. David Duke talked tough about coming to Maryland and other states with big black populations to spread his message of racial resentment, but then he backed down. The ultimate, daunting reality of nationwide politics is that you have to win state by state. In the biggest states and in the South, thanks to a 60-year civil-rights campaign, large groups of black and Hispanic citizens have enough votes to swing majorities their way. You, like David Duke, seem not to understand that.

It's worth noting that Mr. Buchanan won a smaller percentage of Georgia's voters than pollsters had predicted. It's worth repeating that the New Hampshire primary, for all the bluff and bluster since then, produced Mr. Buchanan's highest percentage mark.

dTC Protest votes against a president with a weak response to the scariest economy since the Great Depression are one thing. Convincing a majority of citizens you can run the country is quite another. George Bush's White House tenure started when Ronald Reagan's ''voodoo economics'' was mesmerizing people who should know better. The Reagan-Bush GOP used the Laffer Curve to sell people something for nothing.

''A rising tide lifts all boats'' was the favored line when George and the Reaganauts were slashing social programs and promoting tax-law transfers of wealth to the well-off. But too many of the expected new investments went into real-estate speculation, stock-market raids and leveraged buyouts, not new plants. Today's biggest tide, after a decade of ripping apart productive companies, is unemployment. Despite the appeal of ''Morning in America,'' many of those who once sneered at the ''truly needy'' have now joined their ranks. At such times, liberalism, so often said to be dead, often comes back into fashion.

Buchanan adherents should be able to see that in the loss by conservative Democrat Beverly Byron to a more liberal opponent in a Maryland congressional race where relatively few black votes were cast. For now, it appears Mr. Buchanan won't. Thus, Father Time's last line: Next turkey, step up.

Garland L. Thompson writes editorials for The Sun.

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