Ambassador Duke

COON RAPIDS, Minn., Sept. 15, 2000—Saw Buchanan on CNN last night, minus his gallbladder, which judging from his baggy suit and flapping neck flesh, must have weighed about 20 pounds. Not that he’s running short on bile. Even in his weakened condition, there’s no doubt in my mind that Pat Buchanan is capable of surging back from minus 3 percent in the polls (thanks to the margin of error) to a relatively robust zero percent, or roughly where Mussolini stood in 1921. Coincidence? Yeah, sure.

In any case, he better move fast. As the Olympics begin to crowd everything else off television, I think you’ll see Pat go into a funk. Someone once told me that if you really want to push Pat Buchanan’s buttons, just ask him about Jesse Owens. Pat likes to think of himself as standard-bearer for the Forgotten White Guy (much as Trump briefly reveled in championing the Forgotten Jerk), and the sight of so many Olympians clearly not from his village is bound to provoke comments that’ll drive his numbers back into the basement. If Cuba (black and Communist!) wins big, you might as well stick a pitchfork in him—he’ll be done.

Which would just leave Gore, Bush, and me—plus fringe players like Nader and whoever. At the moment, I see Gore as my biggest problem and not just because he’s got a few points on me. My problem with Al runs deeper than that—it festers at the level of our respective roots—mine in a succession of ratty trailer parks and his in that gilded cage of a Washington hotel. Now, I’ve known the transient life myself, so I don’t resent Al Gore because he grew up with room service. I resent him because he grew up with good room service. When Al was 15, he could have called down for a basket of hookers, and boom—it would have been at his door faster than you could say, “Want fries with that?” Is that fair? Not where I come from.

It’s not just that I missed out on the St. Albans blazers and the willowy girls with pink yarn in their hair, and sweet, languid summers on the family farm, sitting in the shade of the pumphouse, listening to old retainers carry on about how swell my grandfather was. I would have settled for my own toothbrush and one family member—just one!—who wasn’t in the Klan. I know class resentment isn’t a pretty thing, but when after a lifetime of paying major dues, you find yourself sitting in Room 17 of the Coon Rapids E-Z-Rest Motor Court with nothing to show for it but bedsores and burnout and everything that’s unspeakable about ‘70s music still looping through your brain, over and over, sugar pie, honey bunch, and it just won’t stop even after countless visits to specialists, well, you can see why a man might become crazy enough to run for president. Just to redirect the noise, to blow out the pipes …

Here’s my dream, my U.S. Dream (I don’t like to call it the American Dream because that’s led to so much misunderstanding in “Latin” America): I see myself walking through the East Wing in my favorite slippers late at night, brandy snifter in hand, stopping to pause at each of the portraits of McKinley and Harding and Mrs. Wilson, you know, all the greats. And when I get to Grant’s portrait, I’d bow in a courtly manner to the old soldier, and I’d say, “Good evening, Mr. President. My name is Duke. I only have one name because when I was 5 years old my mother pinned a little piece of paper that said ‘Duke’ on my shirt, and she drove me to the first day of school, and she never came back to pick me up. Now, I’m not looking for sympathy here, Mr. President. Only having one name was actually an advantage when I was first trying to break into the porno business in East Muncie. And it did toughen me up. Not as much as if my name had been Winifred, but tough enough. Tough enough to reach for the brass ring—the American presidency, running only on a shoeshine, a smile, a richly featured Web site, and a pillowcase full of soft money. I may never have experienced good room service, or pink yarn on my pillow, or any of the other entitlements that flow from a strong family brand, but on good days, I know who I am.”

And with that I’d wink at Grant, slip out a side door, and trundle on across the street to the Haye-Adams bar for a nightcap and the ESPN round-up. And back at the White House, my trusted valet Raoul wouldn’t let on, he’d just smile at the panicky Secret Service agents and say simply, “President Duke has left the house.”

And life would be good.