Gill: Edwards, King reprise 1991

Somewhat belatedly, it’s former Gov. Edwin Edwards’ turn to be interviewed one-on-one by Larry King. He must be licking his lips.

Toward the end of the runoff election that left the world aghast at Louisiana politics in 1991, Edwards declined to appear on King’s show alongside David Duke, who took full advantage of the opportunity to lie and bamboozle as the creampuff questions kept coming.

A pussycat doesn’t change its stripes, so there won’t be any rough stuff when King emerges from retirement to quiz Edwards at the LSU Union Theater in September. The TV reality show Edwards and his new bride have taped is also due to air this summer, so his rehabilitation soon will be complete.

Who knows what Duke is up to these days? He was easier to find back when he was a big wheel in the Invisible Empire.

It’s a far cry from 1991, when no less an authority than Ted Koppel observed, “David Duke and TV were made for each other.” Perhaps that’s why Edwards declined to share a studio with him. Duke, relaxed, besuited and well-coiffed, could always fake an air of sweet reason. No interviewer who had done even cursory research could be taken in, but King always seemed more inclined to play Mr. Nice Guy than grill a guest. His lack of preparation on this occasion was spectacular.

King noted that Duke had called Nelson Mandela, who had been released from prison the year before, a communist, but did not wish to draw any unfavorable conclusions from that. “I assume you oppose apartheid,” he said.

No, there was no hint of irony. King apparently accepted the yarn that Duke had renounced the cross-burnings of yore and was now, as a mainstream Republican, all for the brotherhood of man.

Duke’s real view of apartheid, of course, is that we should try it in America. And segregate the Jews too, while we are about it.

King clung to the idea that the GOP might harbor extremists.

Was there not, he asked Duke, “a cuckoo element to the right of you?”

Larry, Larry. This is the man who dons a party hat for Hitler’s birthday, and thinks Josef Mengele was a great scientist.

Viewers all over Louisiana were sitting on their sofas making cuckoo noises when you came out with that one.

Although Edwards had never been convicted of a crime in 1991, the choice was widely advertised as crook or racist.

As is turned out, the choice was also between two crooks. Even in Louisiana, history is made when both candidates in a gubernatorial runoff wind up in prison a few years later. Edwards did significantly more time for racketeering than Duke did for tax evasion and mail fraud, but there is no doubt voters made the right choice in 1991.

If Edwards was dishonest, he was also a highly competent administrator. Duke’s only saving grace was that he was too ignorant of government to pursue an evil agenda effectively.

For a while, and with King leading the cheering section, he nevertheless seemed to have a realistic shot at winning. King certainly owes Edwards one now. Perhaps he could say, for instance, “I assume you oppose extortion.”

Whatever King asks, Edwards may be counted on for a witty rejoinder. One of many differences between the candidates in 1991 was that Edwards could always make his audience laugh. There was never much room for fun in Duke’s world.

Edwards being as famous for dropping his pants as for lining his pockets, King will presumably bring up the subject of philandering. Edwards could hardly have wished for a less-censorious interviewer on the subject of marital constancy; his current, and expectant, wife is his third, while King, who is six years younger, has been wed eight times.

Edwards could hardly have wished for a less-censorious interviewer on any subject.

King, having managed to make Duke seem like a respectable candidate 22 years ago, now has a chance to even things up and turn Edwards into a saint.

James Gill’s email address is jgill@theadvocate.com.