David Duke's election to the Louisiana State Legislature should not come as a surprise to anyone. What is surprising is the fact that his election has caused such a tremendous controversy outside of the South.
Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, ran as a Republican against John Treen, another Republican. Treen had Lee Atwater and the Republican National Committee (RNC) backing him. The RNC brought out its heaviest artillery in the form of Ronald Reagan and George Bush to endorse Treen. The reason Duke won the election, however, was that he had the will of the people.
Mainstream and progressive press from all over the country, particularly in the East, gave front page coverage to Duke's campaign and the problems it would pose for Lee Atwater should Duke win. After all, this is a "kinder and gentler" nation, and now that the election is over, Willie Horton no longer serves a political purpose. The controversy surrounding Duke's election brings into focus not only America's historical amnesia concerning race relations, but more specifically, its moral schizophrenia.
Less than six months ago, it was Lee Atwater who turned Bush's losing presidential campaign into a winning one by saying the Willie Horton issue--a black convicted murderer who raped a white woman while on prison furlough--would play well in the South. The issue was supposed to have been crime. The image and its implication, however, were racially based.
For his good work, Atwater was made chair of the RNC. Now he says his main priority will be to attract blacks into the Republican Party. Duke's election undermines his efforts and exposes Atwater's, and the Republican Party's, hypocrisy.