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Requiescat in pace. And in joy.
(Page 2 of 2)
Treen reviewed the record. He cited irrefutable proof, proof that many voters still, amazingly, were unaware of, that Duke had been a draft dodger, that Duke was a riot-fomenting lawbreaker, that he was a habitual tax delinquent — and that he was still a Nazi. Treen provided transcripts and audio tapes to prove his claims. And he spoke in clear, unadorned, Cheney-like words and tones.
“David Duke simply is not believable,” Treen said. “He is an opportunist who will say whatever is necessary to gain him votes.”
Then, he addressed Duke’s “Republican” status. This was important. Voters still were confused. Treen noted that Duke actually had lost the Republican convention, that the party had rejected him in numerous ways, and that he was an interloper.
“To my Republican friends, therefore, I say do not be persuaded in favor of Duke simply because he has adopted the Republican label…. Duke affiliated with the Republican Party for one reason and one reason only: pure political opportunism. It is my judgment that David Duke must be defeated. He can’t be defeated by voters staying at home out of disaffection for both candidates for governor.… There are but two names on the ballot: David Duke and Edwin Edwards. To defeat David Duke, one must vote for Edwin Edwards. That’s what I will do.”
Everybody in Louisiana knew the history. Everybody knew how Edwards had mocked Treen for 20 full years. Asked about this, Treen responded: “Everybody knows that I have had my differences with Edwin Edwards. Ummm. People know that he has attacked me personally. And some may suggest that for that reason, I should stay out of it. It has been so suggested. But this is too important. This election is far too important.”
I was standing there right in front of Treen, covering the event for Gambit New Orleans Weekly. It’s hard to describe the pathos of the scene. Among the assembled media, you could hear not a sound. The sincerity, the swallowing of personal pride and ego, and the clarity of Treen’s whole statement (only a small part of it is quoted above) left the normally cynical media struck dumb. They all knew of Treen’s moral objections to Duke — but for him to put himself on the line for Edwards, his own great nemesis, in such stark terms, was something that seemed to come straight out of Aeschylus or Vergil.
The center-left Louisiana scribe John Maginnis, in his brilliant book Cross to Bear, explained what happened next. Other endorsements came in for Edwards, including that of outgoing Gov. Buddy Roemer. The national media started attacking Duke. Volunteers came out of the woodwork for the “crook” over the Nazi. But: “According to [Edwards’ own] polling, the most important blessing came from Dave Treen.” As the Times-Picayune’s Tyler Bridges added in his own book The Rise of David Duke, Edwards’ “campaign polling showed that Treen’s endorsement mattered as much to Roemer’s supporters as did Roemer’s [itself].”
Read that again. Even Roemer’s own voters cared as much about the word of Treen, out of office for eight years, as they did for that of their own man. Such was Dave Treen’s reputation for disinterested probity.
Edwards pulled away and turned the nail-biter into a rout. Duke’s ascending star faded. The neo-Nazi tried several comebacks, but only one even came close. In a special election for Livingston’s vacated congressional seat in early 1999, when Treen was 70 years old, in the area of the state where Duke had been most popular, a multi-candidate field, almost all Republicans, was taking shape. Treen knew that if the rest of the field split the vote too many ways, Duke could sneak into a runoff even with well under 25 percent of the vote — and the nightmarish national attention would descend on Louisiana again. I met with Treen at his home as the field was taking shape. “I’m happily retired,” he told me, in so many words, during a lengthy discussion. “But I may be the only one with enough name-ID to keep Duke out of a runoff. I’m leaning toward running.”
Run he did. Sure enough, he came in first in the jungle primary. Duke was third. Without Treen in the race, Duke probably would have made the runoff and all Hades would have broken loose again.
But Treen spent almost the whole last week of the runoff (general election) campaign away from Louisiana, working to draw national media attention to the search for Treen’s grandson, lost on a hike out West. If it had been anybody else’s grandson, the young man probably would have died. Instead, Treen’s high-profile efforts drew national news helicopters from all over, and after a few days it was a news chopper that spotted him and called in the rescue team. Treen returned to Louisiana the day before the election, looking much older and wearier, and he had an exhausted/angry meltdown on camera about opponent David Vitter’s campaign tactics. Vitter squeaked out the victory, 61,661 votes to 59,849. Dave Treen had lost yet another campaign. But his grandson was alive; in effect, it was Treen himself who saved him.
…. And what of Edwin Edwards? Well, the wily old Cajun finally got caught in illegality and went to prison in 2002, where he remains to this day. Bizarrely, in the past two years Dave Treen started publicly advocating that the sentence of his old foe, now 82, be commuted. Reports my old boss at Gambit Weekly, Clancy DuBos: “Friends often asked why he would work so hard to free a man who had caused him so much pain. He told one of them, ‘Because every night I say the Lord’s Prayer, and when I say the words, ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,’ I would feel like a hypocrite if I didn’t forgive Edwin.’ Dave Treen may have lost his biggest political campaign to Edwin Edwards, but in the race that really counts, he was much the better man.”
(For a compilation of some of Mr. Hillyer’s past writings on Dave Treen, go here.)
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?