Ghost of Willie Horton
– by David Matthews 2
In the 1988 Presidential Campaign, Democratic presidential nominee and then-Governor of Massachusetts Michael Dukakis was plagued with problems.
He tried to show his credibility as a potential Commander-in-Chief by riding around in the turret of a loaned M1-A tank. It only served to make him look ridiculous. He tried to use his state’s economic success to his advantage, but it was quickly pointed out that the programs that he tried to claim were his actually came from his predecessor, and that his state was really on the brink of some severe economic hard times because of his own policies. He tried to offset the liberal whitewash by reminding people that his opponent, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, was the heir apparent to the Reagan Administration and was stained by the Iran-Contra scandal, but that mess was reduced to being nothing more that just political games.
And then along came “Willie Horton”.
“Willie Horton” was an October ad campaign by the late GOP strategist Lee Atwater. It pointed out that, as governor, Dukakis vetoed a bill that would have barred convicted murderers from taking part in a weekend furlough program. One of the consequences of that bill was that a convicted murderer named Willie Horton walked away from his furlough program and escaped to Maryland, where, in 1987, he kidnapped a young engaged couple and brutally assaulted them both, including raping the woman twice, before making off in the fiancée’s car. The brutality of the crime and the systematic failure of the Massachusetts bureaucracy were so strong that the judge in Maryland categorically REFUSED to allow Horton to be returned to Massachusetts to face charges. He is still behind bars in Maryland today, rotting away in a prison cell for two consecutive life terms plus 85-years.
This was the damnable information that Atwater gave to Vice-President Bush to go after Dukakis.
It didn’t help matters much that Horton was a black man and that his victims were white. In fact, the racial facts of the circumstances helped to further contaminate the issue so badly in the minds of voters that even help from Presidential wannabe Jesse Jackson couldn’t dilute it.
Atwater continued to press the issue. Working with then-consultant Roger Ailes, Atwater came up with a devastating commercial spot which showed prisoners going in and out of prison through a revolving door. The voiceover then linked that to Dukakis’ policies as governor and said that Dukakis “wants to do for America what he's done for Massachusetts. America can't afford that risk!”
And it didn’t. The voters overwhelmingly supported Vice-President Bush, and he went on to become our forty-first President of the United States. Atwater became the chairman of the Republican National Committee before his death in 1991. Ailes would go on to become the Chairman of Fox News. Dukakis, meanwhile, left Massachusetts in a mess and went off to Hawaii to become a college professor. And, of course, Willie Horton is still behind bars.
But the ad campaign itself… the damnable smearing racially-charged campaign ad… remains as a prime example of dirty politics. Every dirty-trick campaign since then, especially the ones launched during October, is compared to “Willie Horton” in terms of its devastation and response. Democrats learned a particularly hard lesson because of that campaign.
Well now the “Willie Horton” campaign is back, but in a slightly different variation.
Almost from the moment his campaign started, Senator Barack Obama has been plagued with accusations about his past. He has been accused of being either a Muslim or a “closet Muslim”. He was accused of being schooled in a private Muslim school. They even accused him of not even being eligible to become President.
But there was one ad that kept on creeping through here and there. Ailes’ own Fox News even “accidentally” gave it air time when their commentators were hashing out another dirty campaign ad, even though they had earlier claimed to “reject” the ad. It was an ad that linked Obama to William Ayers, the founder of the 1960’s domestic terrorist group Weather Underground. Ailes’ Fox News rejected that ad in favor of one that linked Obama to real estate developer Tony Resco, who was recently convicted for tax fraud and extortion.
But even though the ad didn’t get too much airtime in the media, the accusation of Obama being “good friends” with Ayers, who admitted bombing the US Capital Building in 1971, continued to be spread through conservative and neo-conservative websites and mailing lists. Conservative authors Jerome Corsi – from the 2004 “Swift Boat” campaign – and David Freddoso churned out books continuing the link between Obama and Ayers.
Now Vice-Presidential wannabe Sarah “Lipstick Pit Bull” Palin has picked up where Fox News and Corsi and Freddosco left off, accusing Obama of “palling around” with Ayers. She has repeated this message not just once but in several of her post-debate speaking engagements to accuse Obama of supposedly siding with “terrorists”.
It should be pointed out, of course, that Obama is black… and Ayers is white. There is also a significant difference from the Dukakis-Horton link in that Ayers was never convicted for the crimes that he later admitted to doing. All charges against Ayers and his wife were dismissed in 1980 because of systemic screw-ups in the FBI.
This also wasn’t a “last-minute surprise” like the Horton attack ads were. The first group that actually made the link and ran with it was the failed presidential campaign of Senator Hillary Rodham-Clinton, the same former First Lady that is now campaigning heavily for Obama.
So what IS the connection? Everyone likes to talk about it. The cons and neo-cons want to bring it up all of the time. So WHAT IS IT?
According to all of the media sources that investigated this over and over again – and, depending on your political affiliation, you may discount them at your leisure – Obama and Ayers lived in the same neighborhood in Chicago and were members of the same community organizations from 1995 to 2001, and Ayers had hosted one campaign event for Obama in 2001 when he first ran for the Senate.
THAT IS IT, folks! That is the connection!
Deep, isn’t it? I haven’t seen a connection as clear-cut since “Twin Peaks” aired on ABC!
Now you can see why Fox News refused to accept the Ayers ad… even though they turned around and “accidentally” aired it anyway. At least linking Obama to Resco would be a little more clear-cut. Resco actually donated money to Obama’s campaign, and he was RECENTLY convicted for his crimes. Ayers has NEVER been convicted of any of the crimes he admitted to over three decades ago… back when Obama was but a single-parent child. And there has been no proof of any kind of contact since that one-time event in 2001.
By the way, it should be noted that when Governor Palin was talking about the painfully anorexic link, she was referring to a New York Times article which actually REFUTED it! It’s like the Times printing an article saying that the moon is not made of green cheese and then you running around saying “Did ya hear? The Times says the moon is made of cheese!”
Let’s get brutally honest here… this kind of political slime is not only reprehensible, it’s downright dishonorable. This guilt-by-distant-association crap is nothing more than the “Willie Horton” campaign coming up all over again, only with the races reversed and the association so badly linked it seriously questions one’s credibility, if not their sanity.
If a congressman lived in the same neighborhood as a registered sex offender, would that congressman then be accused of aiding that sex offender? Absolutely not! Even if they went to the same restaurants or shopped in the same warehouse discount store.
And yet that is EXACTLY the kind of perverse logic being employed by conservatives and neo-conservatives when they link Obama to Ayers simply because they lived in the same neighborhood and took part in the same community groups. The kind of rationality that says that you are guilty for simply KNOWING or being anywhere NEAR someone dubious.
And given the basic fact that you’re dealing with people in Washington DC, such a rationality can come back to haunt you. Anyone remember the Keating Five? If you’re going to judge people by the neighbors that they keep, you’d better first check with your own neighborhood. And that goes double for Governor Palin. Or has she already forgotten about her “good friend”, indicted Senator Ted Stevens?
Look, one of the reasons why the “Willie Horton” campaign succeeded was that somewhere beyond the racism and the fearmongering was the simple fact that the Massachusetts justice system failed, and it failed in part because Governor Dukakis failed to fix a problem that he would later have to answer for. Here in this new inverted perverted version of that campaign, you have characters whose only common connection is beyond credibility. Governor Palin and the rest of the GOP would do best to stick to the rhetoric that they can answer for later on, especially since they also claim to be the candidates for “ethics” and going beyond “politics as usual”.