On the Sunday August 25, 2013 episode of Meet the Press, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal spoke of his first election, some general sentiments regarding race in this country, and the history of race and politics in his state of Louisiana. Jindal then wrote an August 26, 2013 opinion piece for Politico that summarized these statements on his own terms. In both venues, Jindal felt compelled to bring the name David Duke up.
In 2003, I decided to run for governor of Louisiana, a state where David Duke got 44 percent of the statewide vote in 1990. The pundits said I was insane to even try. Friends worried about my mental stability and begged me not to run. I narrowly lost that first race, but I’ve won every race since then. I wish I had a nickel for every time East Coast political journalists have asked me about discrimination, and I wish I had a dime for every Louisiana voter who has broken those journalists’ ugly stereotypes.”
It’s obvious that Bobby Jindal brought the name David Duke up to lay the groundwork for the narrative of his start in politics, and we all understood that by the time he was done, but many Republicans, around the country, were mentally screaming at the TV: “Why can’t you just let that particular name die?!”
It’s been twenty-two years since David Duke left his lone, rather inconsequential office, yet many in the media make it sound like he once held a prominent place in American politics, and specifically in the Republican Party. Many in the media also keep the name alive to a point that some believe David Duke just left office a few years ago. They just won’t let it die.
The question isn’t why the mainstream media won’t let the issue of David Duke die, we all know the reason for that, but why does Bobby Jindal feel the need to add to their narrative. First of all, Jindal is a Republican Governor from Louisiana, and he probably reflexively denounces David Duke whenever he makes a public appearance. When his public appearance is on an NBC show, and that show is moderated by David Gregory, Jindal probably denounces Duke just to take an arrow out of Gregory’s quiver. Another reason Jindal felt compelled to roll out the decades old name on this occasion, was that this particular episode of Meet the Press was themed on race, and the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s march on Washington, and the progress America has made since the speech King gave there. So, Jindal probably wanted to use himself as a symbol of his state’s progress against the David Duke past of Louisiana politics. The question remains is it a proper definition of Louisiana politics to use one insignificant election that occurred twenty-two years ago, as indicative of the history of politics in Louisiana? Duke did appear in other elections, in which he gathered a percentage of the vote, but he always ended up getting slaughtered by his opponent.
Before continuing any piece on David Duke, it’s incumbent upon a writer to distance one’s self from the beliefs of David Duke. A vast majority of Republicans, including this writer, denounce David Duke’s racist views as thoroughly as possible. We believe in the power of the individual, and it embarrasses a vast majority of Republicans to learn that a former Democrat switched to our party and succeeded in one, obscure election on the premise that a human being’s intelligence, abilities, or qualities could be based on the color of their skin. We believe that this irrational belief is held by insecure and frustrated individuals that profess such idiocy to give them feelings of group power that they cannot otherwise achieve as individuals. We also feel that the election of such views as representative of one’s views is (was?) a worrisome sign that some scary degrees of racism did exist, twenty-two years ago, in one city, of one state, in this nation’s history.
As Governor Jindal alluded, the name David Duke still haunts the state of Louisiana, the south in general, the Republican Party, and to some degree the entire nation. His name has become synonymous with racism in American politics.
Most Americans, that have heard the name David Duke for over a generation now, would probably be surprised to learn that he only won one election, and they would probably be more surprised to learn that that election was a House of Representatives seat in the Louisiana State Legislature. They might also be surprised to learn that he only won that election by two percentage points in an off-year election. Those of us that have heard his name bandied about in the halls of the media for over a generation now, were sure that he must have been a Governor, a U.S. Senate seat holder, or at the very least, some prominent position in Washington. He did run for many of those seats, including two runs for President, and he got slaughtered in all of them. He even lost a re-election bid to that one seat he won, ten years prior.
As a result of his one successful election, however, the Republican Party has been called a party of racists for even having such a man on a ballot, and the media still mentions this man whenever the topic of “race and Republicans” comes up. To be fair to the media, David Duke did run for president—first as a Democrat, then as a Republican, and most individuals that run for president achieve a certain degree of exposure just by running, but how many bottom ballot candidates—that couldn’t even achieve double-digit percentage points in their home state’s primary—get the kind of exposure an interview on the Today Show can provide? Katie Couric later claimed that she gained some journalistic bona fides by calling David Duke out for his racist beliefs in an aggressive manner she claimed had never been done before. I may be wrong here, but I’m pretty sure that every interviewer, that ever hosted a David Duke interview, rightly throttled him aggressively on his beliefs.
When Duke ran for president, as a Democrat, then an Independent Populist, he received scant, if any attention, and he didn’t gain any significant interviews. When he ran for president as a Republican, however, the media became so obsessed with him that some believe George H.W. Bush lost some votes by simply having Duke on the bottom of the GOP ticket. (Republican Party officials, it should be noted, tried to block Duke’s participation in the 1992 election, but they were unsuccessful in doing so.) Duke ended up getting 119,115 votes, or .94% percent of the vote. That’s point nine four, do not miss the decimal point. He couldn’t even get one percent of the nation in the campaign that occurred twenty-one years ago, yet he is still held up as a symbol of racism in America, and especially in the Republican Party.
One look through David Duke’s political history, however, shows that his success as a racist propagandist was pitiful. He should’ve never attained office in the first place, as his views should not have been seen as representative of anyone’s views, but the final tally he received that put him in office was 8,549 votes. I don’t know what the seating capacity of LSU’s Tiger Stadium was in 1989, but I’m guessing that it housed ten times that figure.
One question that rises out of that figure, based on the history of American elections in general, is how many of those 8,549 were 100% aware of Duke’s views? What percentage of those voters simply voted for a Republican because he was a Republican? Did 100% of those few voters know 100% of what Duke stood for? We can all look back now and say they had to know, and we can say that anyone that suggests otherwise is trying to make excuses, but at the time David Duke was a man that had unsuccessfully run for a Senate seat in the State Legislature twice, and he had one bottom ballot run for president in which he achieved 1% of the vote in the general election. He was, it could be argued, a relatively obscure individual at the time, running for a relatively obscure seat in the House of Representatives of the State Legislature in an off-election year where few but the devoted pay a great deal of attention. It’s possible that a large percentage of those voters of the suburban district in New Orleans had little to no idea what he stood for. Even if 100% of them knew 100% of what he stood for, those people still amounted to a 1.720% representation of the population of New Orleans at the time, and they had to live with a degree of shame that led David Bowie to write the song Under the God berating them for electing Duke to office.
Duke ran for Governor, as Jindal rightly pointed out; and he ran for Louisiana’s seat in the U.S. Senate, and he lost all of those elections. His lifetime record in elections —counting the loss in the Democrat primary and the general election of 1988 as two different elections— was one and nine, according to the Wikipedia listing. He had one win in ten elections, yet he is consistently held up as what is wrong in American politics.
Duke did have some better showings in other elections, percentage wise, but he basically got slaughtered in all of them. He did win one, however, and the media will never let the nation, or the Republican Party, forget it. He got 8,549 votes from a suburban New Orleans population that was approximately 496,938 in 1992, which calculates to approximately 1.720% of the city’s population at the time. This probably means that either an insignificant percentage of a major American city may have been racist, or that the city, as a whole, was so disinterested in this particular election that they accidentally allowed a racist to represent them in the State Legislature. Whatever the case is, if you ask a member of the media to come up with evidence to back up their claim that all Republicans are racist, they’ll inevitably come up with the name David Duke. If you’re liberal, and you’re in the media, and you’re trying to build a narrative of Republican racism, you’ll take that one city, that elected that one Republican, and use that generation old sampling of the city’s beliefs, that involves a plus or minus ratio of 98.28%, to note that it still falls within the margin of error that all Republicans are racist.