Thursday, June 02, 2016

Telling the truth about David Duke

In 1989 John Treen lost his bid for a Jefferson Parish based Louisiana House of Representatives seat to David Duke.  Treen's strategy during the campaign had been based on "telling the truth about David Duke." Those quotes are just from my own memory of watching Treen talk to TV reporters on election night. I can't find a direct source on those exact words. But here's an LA Times article that comes pretty close.  
Treen, a Metairie home builder and brother of the state's former governor, David Treen, called Duke "a disaster for our area."

"I know what this man really is," he said. "The public . . . doesn't or they wouldn't have voted the way they did. He's a master of deception. He conned them into believing he is something he is not."
Treen had been operating under the assumption that Duke voters just didn't have enough information about him. Surely if they had only had the facts; if they had understood "what this man really is" they would have behaved differently.

But the problem with David Duke was never that he was hiding some awful truth. The awful truth was out in the open. It was, in fact, the source of his appeal. As it turned out, it was Treen who didn't understand the awful truth about the voters. This is from a New York Times report just days before the election.
If some of his support reflects blatant racism, much of it comes from working people convinced that politics as usual has failed to serve the white working class. 

''He is appealing to a frustration that is pretty deep,'' said James Boulware, a state court administrator in Jefferson Parish, which includes the 81st District seat Mr. Treen and Mr. Duke are seeking. ''They're angry about minority set-asides, affirmative action, busing. I think they feel the fairness of society is being tampered with.''
Thankfully, frustrated white working class voters who "feel like the fairness of society is being tampered with" are totally irrelevant in today's political landscape. So there's really no point in trying to learn anything from the David Duke experience. But, just to continue with the point for a second, John Treen was wrong. Duke voters understood exactly what that man really was.
For instance, two contractors, Jon Procell and Charles Worth, were at the bar together when Mr. Duke strode into Martine's, television cameras in tow. 

When asked why he supported Mr. Duke, Mr. Worth said, ''I don't like John Treen, and I don't like n__s.''
Doesn't seem like those guys needed a whole lot of supplemental instruction from John Treen. But, again, there is clearly nothing like that situation happening anywhere in today's politics. So there's no lesson anyone could possibly learn from John Treen's failed campaign strategy of just making sure the voters know "what this man really is" rather than offering them any sort of positive alternative.  We'd really hate to see someone make that mistake in an election that affected more than just one Louisiana house seat, right?

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