Austin Bay

"Vote for the crook, not the kook."

That visually parallel phrase assumes that political criminality requires an appreciation of reality and consequences that political fanaticism inevitably lacks. The sleazy opportunist is less dangerous than the obsessed ideologue.

As a slogan "crook over kook" had immediate currency during Louisiana's 1991 gubernatorial campaign, which pitted the ethically challenged Edwin Edwards against former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke. It reappeared in the 2002 French presidential election, when the slimy, smarmy, prevaricating Jacques Chirac defeated Jean-Marie Le Pen, an ex-paratrooper and arguably "Old Europe's" best-known neo-fascist.

Duke and Le Pen employed militant swagger and an updated "code language" richly littered with implicit violence. Both traits characterize the political fringe, and to the credit of Louisiana and France the kooks went down to defeat.

As for the victorious crooks? Readers may gag, but Louisiana and France are democracies with the rule of law. Ex-Governor Edwards ultimately went to jail. Ex-President Chirac now faces a judicial inquiry investigating several scandals during Chirac's tenure as the mayor of Paris.

These poor alternatives are a common political motif, though "human affliction" may be a more apt description. The crook and the kook run for city council and school board. The crook intends to shovel contracts to contractor pals. The kook wants to lard school textbooks with conspiratorial drivel.

But these American manifestations are merely irritating; neither is murderous nor nation-shattering.

Pity the Palestinians. Their crooks -- the corrupt Fatah -- and their kooks --Islamist Hamas -- both rule by the gun, not law. They had an election in 1996 where the crooks prevailed. In 2006, the kooks took control of the state-let.

The United States and Europe have decided to back the crooks. It's not quite an echo of Louisiana 1991 and France 2002, but at the three-by-five card level of analysis, the United States, Europe and Israel are making the same bet: that the corrupt Fatah, defeated in the latest flare-up of Palestinian civil war, understands the benefits of cooperation far better than Hamas' firebrand ideologues.

Will Fatah seize the opportunity?

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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