Friday, March 21, 2008

'Haunted' by Willie Horton?

In relation to Soren Dayton's suspension from the McCain campaign, W. James Antle III writes:
In a political culture where Willie Horton has haunted Republicans for a generation, the McCain campaign moved quickly to distance itself from the video and the aide who was distributing it.
Eh? To start with, the Willie Horton ad aired in 1988, and 20 years is not a generation. More important, it was a perfectly legitimate ad about a perfectly legitimate issue -- and the issue was not race, but crime.

Willie Horton was a convicted murderer sentenced to serve life in prison in Massachusetts for a 1974 robbery-murder. Under a state furlough program supported by Gov. Mike Dukakis, Horton received a weekend furlough in 1986 and skipped out. While on the lam, Horton kidnapped and tortured a Maryland couple, raping the woman.

The Horton case received national publicity -- including an account in Reader's Digest -- and was used against Dukakis by Al Gore in the Democratic primary campaign. But it was not until the issue was cited by President (George H.W.) Bush in summer 1988 that the media began to suggest that it was "racist" to mention the case.

The whole point of discussing the Horton case in 1988 was to highlight Dukakis' record of being "soft on crime," since Dukakis as governor of Massachusetts had supported and defended the furlough program that let Horton out of prison. Since Dukakis himself boasted of being a "card-carrying member" of the ACLU, and since the U.S. at that time was in the midst of an upsurge in violent crime sparked by the crack cocaine epidemic, a lot of voters were worried about crime in 1988.

While it is always possible (especially with 20 years of hindsight) to second-guess campaign tactics, the fact is that Bush got 53% of the popular vote and carried 40 states in 1988 -- which is more than any GOP presidential candidate has done since then. If anyone is curious about the reality of the Horton case, and how it was used in the 1988 election, there is a very informative chapter about the case in Ann Coulter's book Godless.

To cite the Horton case as an excuse to justify the suspension of Soren Dayton over the Obama mash-up video strikes me as bizarre in the extreme. Soren didn't produce the video, and by the time he Twittered it, the video was already all over the blogosphere, so it wasn't like Soren was the exclusive or primary distributor. (Perhaps the rule should be, once it makes Memeorandum, it's fair game.)

Antle seems less interested in the basic facts of the issue and more interested in acting as an unpaid advisor to the McCain campaign:

If noted liberals like Bill Clinton and Geraldine Ferraro are unable to handle these issues with care, insensitivity will definitely blow up in a Republican's face.

How can McCain take advantage of the concerns that Obama is not who he appears to be -- a real uniter, not a demagogic divider -- while maintaining the moral high ground? How can he McGovernize Obama in the eyes of Middle America without turning himself into Archie Bunker in the eyes of the fourth estate?

Who cares? Certainly not me. As a journalist, I'm enjoying the spectacle of the campaign, and have no personal concern for the strategic problems facing the candidates. If the Republican Party wants to pay me for advice, I'll be glad to provide it. But since the GOP hasn't paid me a dime -- and is unlikely to do so -- I can afford to laugh at them. And do.

No comments:

Post a Comment