By Robert Mann
I don’t know if any public officials will join Gov. Bobby Jindal at LSU for his Jan. 24 prayer rally, sponsored by the Mississippi-based American Family Association. For anyone thinking of attending, here’s some advice: Take a lesson from Rep. Steve Scalise’s 2002 speech to the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO) and stay away.
By now, everyone knows Scalise has acknowledged his appearance at that infamous EURO conference in Metairie. The House Republican whip — then a state representative — says he had no clue that the group he addressed was a white supremacist organization headed by neo-Nazi and former KKK leader David Duke. If only Google existed at the time (it did), Scalise suggested he would have known better.
Regardless, the news has caused Scalise and his party considerable embarrassment. Yet, barring any new, damning revelations, Scalise will probably keep his leadership position. But he is damaged goods, and he knows it. Scalise also knows that speaking to a Duke-affiliated group was politically stupid (not to mention morally repugnant).
However, it’s not clear that he knew this in 2002. Suburban Jefferson Parish, which Duke represented in the Legislature, is not widely known as a bastion of racial enlightenment. In other words, to an ultra-conservative Republican state representative from Metairie, attending a Duke-affiliated conference was not exactly a huge political risk. Scalise is, after all, a politician who once reportedly bragged to a journalist that he was “David Duke without the baggage.”
Talk about changing times. Duke, who earned 60 percent of the state’s white vote when he ran for governor in 1991, is now almost as detested as the U.S. Congress. No reputable politician would wish to have even the hint of an affiliation with him.
Which brings us back to “The Response,” the name Jindal has given to his scheduled prayerpalooza. To all but the most sympathetic observer, Jindal’s rally is obviously a kickoff, of sorts, to his nascent presidential campaign. Jindal rejects that. “It’s not a political event,” Jindal insists, “it’s a religious event.”
Whatever the case, before any Louisiana politico with eyes on higher office wanders into LSU’s basketball arena that day, he or she should consider the Scalise/EURO affair and examine the radical beliefs of the American Family Association (AFA). Next, ponder the wisdom of spending time with an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center labels a “hate group.”
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