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How the Willie Horton Ad Played on Racism and Fear

How the Willie Horton Ad Played on Racism and Fear


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A striking portrait hung on the wall of the campaign headquarters for George H.W. Bush’s 1988 presidential run. It wasn’t a slick painting of the vice-president, who hoped to become the next Republican in the White House. Rather, it was a mug shot, a grainy photo of a black man with an Afro and a beard.

The man was William Horton, an escaped convict from Massachusetts who had been serving time for murder when he skipped out on a temporary furlough from prison and committed robbery, rape, and assault. Horton had never met Bush, but he was about to become the vice-president’s most powerful political weapon.

During the 1988 presidential election, Horton became a central figure in Bush’s campaign and a way for the candidate to imply that his opponent, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, was soft on crime. His case stoked a debate on whether criminals should be allowed temporary furloughs from prison. When a political action committee used Horton’s mug shot in an attack ad, he became part of an infamous election-season strategy to stoke fear and racial anxiety among white voters.

William Horton received a life sentence for first-degree murder at a time when prison furloughs were common

In 1974, Horton was involved in the robbery and brutal stabbing murder of a 17-year-old gas station attendant, Joseph Fournier, in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Though Horton denies murdering the teenager, he was at the scene of the crime and was convicted of first-degree murder along with the other two men involved.

Horton, who was 23 at the time, was incarcerated at a Massachusetts prison and given a life sentence. He began to serve out his time in prison, until he was approved for the prison’s furlough program. In exchange for good citizenship, Horton took occasional furloughs to shop, attend church, or spend time with his daughter.

At the time, it was common for federal and state prisons to grant eligible inmates brief furloughs—usually for good behavior and depending on other factors like the amount of time they had served. Criminologists and corrections officers alike approved of the furlough system, which was believed to ease tension in the prisons.

In 1974, the New York Times reported on “the growing confidence that officials have in the furlough program, which they say has a high rate of success.” By 1988, UPI reported, one in ten state and federal prisoners had taken a leave from prison within the last year, and the majority of states and the federal government allowed prisoners who were serving life terms to leave prison temporarily.

Horton’s 1987 furlough went awry when he escaped, then committed more crimes

The vast majority of inmates did not violate the terms of their furlough and returned to prison to serve more time. But when Horton was given a furlough in June 1986, he didn’t go back.

“I did something stupid,” Horton told The Marshall Project in 2015. He had been driving his nephew’s car without a license when he was pulled over. Instead of surrendering to police, he crashed the car and escaped, fleeing to Florida, then Baltimore.

In April 1987, he was arrested and convicted for entering a suburban Maryland home, attacking and tying up the male homeowner, raping the homeowner’s fiancée multiple times, and driving away with stolen goods.

To many who heard about Horton’s case on the news, his story was an example of how Massachusetts hadn’t been tough enough on its prison population. Why was a convicted murderer on the streets to begin with?

Horton’s prison furloughs became political bugaboos in the 1988 presidential election

Al Gore, who vied for a spot on the Democratic ticket in 1988, had the same question. In a televised debate, he asked Michael Dukakis, then serving as governor of Massachusetts, a pointed question about Horton. The question, seen as a last-minute gambit for some political leverage, didn’t prevent Dukakis from securing the nomination.

But it did perk up the ears of Republican strategists. They, like Gore, knew that Dukakis had vetoed a bill that would have kept prisoners with first-degree murder convictions from getting furloughs. And they seized on the issue as a way to discredit their Democratic opponent.

“By the time we’re finished,” said Lee Atwater, who managed Bush’s campaign, “they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’ running mate.”

Horton gained notoriety in a pointed political ad that played on racist fears

Soon, “Willie” Horton—renamed by Atwater—was frequently referenced by the Republican candidate on the campaign trail. Then, in September 1988, his photo was used in a brief attack ad that associated Dukakis with Horton’s actions. The advertisement alternated photos of Horton with photos of Dukakis and touted Bush’s support of the death penalty. “Weekend prison passes: Dukakis on crime,” declared the concerned-sounding narrator.

The 30-second ad was financed by the National Security PAC, not Bush’s campaign. It was designed to expose Dukakis’ policies on crime as weak, taking advantage of an issue that historically drove Republican votes. But it also used photos of Horton, including his mug shot, to panic prospective voters about black men and crime.

In one photo, Horton towered over a police officer; in another, his black-and-white mug shot was seen in contrast to color photographs of both white candidates. By the 1980s, the number of black prisoners in federal and state prisons was nearly 9 times larger than in the 1920s, and eventually black Americans would end up being incarcerated five times more than their white counterparts. If black prisoners were allowed out of prison, the ad implied, they would commit crimes as heinous as Horton’s in white communities.

Though the Bush campaign denied it was involved in the ad, it ran a similar ad, without photographs of Horton, shortly after. “More than likely,” writes historian Tali Mendelberg in The Race Card: Campaign Strategy, Implicit Messages, and the Norm of Equality, “the Bush campaign used the racial facts of the case intentionally—though subtly—as part of the overall strategy to recruit white voters without drawing the ‘racist’ label.”

Atwater, a Southerner, knew that masked appeals to race won elections. He recast William as "Willie," she writes. “Atwater was a white man raised in the Deep South…who was accustomed to referring to black men with overstated familiarity.”

"The fact is, my name is not 'Willie,' Horton later told the Nation. 'It's part of the myth of the case. The name irks me. It was created to play on racial stereotypes: big, ugly, dumb, violent, black — 'Willie'. I resent that. They created a fictional character — who seemed believable, but who did not exist."

Though the ad was condemned as racist, it may have had little impact on the election

By October 1988, the ad was replaced with another attack ad, then another that featured Horton’s victims but not his mugshot. By then, the “weekend passes” ad had already caught the attention of Jesse Jackson and Democratic vice-presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen, both of whom decried it as racist. The Bush campaign denied the claims. “My advice to them is ‘grow up,’” Mark Goodin, Bush’s spokesperson, told the New York Times.

Nevertheless, the ad became infamous. Though the Bush campaign continued to deny any involvement in the TV spot, and Dukakis squarely lost the election, journalists and media scholars continued to dissect the advertisement, its origins, and its effect. In 1990, The New Republic reported that the PAC that aired the ad had submitted it without Horton’s mugshot, then secretively added it after the ad had been on the air for a few days. “This guy looked like an animal,” recalled Larry McCarthy, who developed the ad. Meanwhile, many correctional facilities stopped offering furloughs.

Still, argues political scientist John Sides, the ad may have had little impact on the election itself. Since the ad was only on TV for a short time in a limited market, writes Sides, it likely didn’t convince viewers to vote for Bush. “Could Dukakis have come from behind in October and won the election if not for the attacks on his record on crime? Sides asks. “We do not and cannot know.”

But 30 years after the ad aired, it is still seen as an example of how political ads can play on racism and fear. Even if the ad itself didn’t change the course of history, the questions it inspired have become part of it.


Debunking the Willie Horton Ad Controversy

Amid the coverage and commentary commemorating the passing of George H.W. Bush, it was nice of the media to debunk the 1992 New York Times front page story characterizing the 41 st president as being flummoxed by a supermarket scanner. Written by a reporter who wasn&rsquot present at the event, it was &ndash in today&rsquos parlance -- fake news.

It was even classier for former Newsweek editor Evan Thomas to reiterate his mea culpa for his magazine&rsquos bizarre 1987 cover story calling an acclaimed war hero a &ldquowimp.&rdquo

It would have been far better, however, had the record finally been corrected about the Bush campaign&rsquos much-maligned &ldquoWillie Horton ad.&rdquo Instead, the nation&rsquos most prominent news outlets doubled-down on a slander that is now 30 years old: namely, that under the spell of Rasputin-like political operative Lee Atwater, Bush ran a dirty campaign with racist overtones to get elected president.

Typical was this passage in a New York article:

&ldquoIn the 1988 Presidential race, when he defeated Michael Dukakis, his campaign, under the direction of Lee Atwater, pioneered many of the slash-and-burn tactics that disfigure modern elections. (The racist Willie Horton ad was but one of many misleading attacks that the Bush campaign launched.)&rdquo

This paragraph is wrong in most of its particulars, and its conclusion. Although he relished political combat, Atwater didn&rsquot pioneer anything in politics. The Bush campaign was careful not to racialize Horton&rsquos heinous crimes. Nor were the accusations misleading. Hardball politics, yes, but factual. Any campaign would have used the issue.

For those too young to recall, the fateful flaws in the Massachusetts prison furlough system arose in 1988 as a contentious campaign issue because that state&rsquos chief executive was running for president. Gov. Michael Dukakis positioned himself as a competent manager of a successful state. What was Dukakis so proud of? The Bay State&rsquos economy, mainly, which he called the &ldquoMassachusetts Miracle.&rdquo

In truth, the economy was strong nearly everywhere in 1988, though voters tended to give more credit to President Reagan than to any governor. But violent crime was soaring in the late &rsquo80s -- the FBI reported that 1988 was the most violent in the nation&rsquos history -- and the topic was on voters&rsquo minds. Candidates&rsquo, too. During a contentious April 12 Democratic primary debate, Al Gore took a jab at Dukakis over failures in his state&rsquos prison furlough program. Gore mentioned no names. But the names were in the public record. One in particular: William Robert Horton Jr.

On Oct. 26, 1974, Horton and two accomplices robbed a gas station in Lawrence, Mass. Joey Fournier, the 17-year-old attendant, gave them all the money in the till and then pleaded for his life. They stabbed him anyway, stuffing him into a trash can where he bled to death. Apprehended by police, all three of the men arrested admitted the robbery, but fingered each other for the killing. It didn&rsquot matter under the law &ndash all three were culpable of homicide -- but prosecutors thought Horton, who&rsquod previously been convicted in South Carolina of assault with intent to kill, had wielded the murder weapon.

Horton was given a sentence of life without possibility of parole, but that wasn&rsquot the end of it in Massachusetts. Gov. Dukakis, who vetoed a capital punishment bill that same year, frequently commuted the sentences of convicted murderers. He also administered a prison furlough program designed to ease the re-entry of felons into civilian life.

It&rsquos true, as his defenders would say, that Dukakis inherited the program from his predecessor, and that it was the Massachusetts Supreme Court that ruled, under the enabling statute, that convicted killers couldn&rsquot be excluded. But it&rsquos also true that Dukakis vetoed proposals to tighten the system. So it came to be that William Horton began getting unsupervised 48-hour weekend passes. While on his 10 th one, in 1986, he just took off.

On the night of April 3, 1987, Horton broke into the Oxon Hill, Md., home of Cliff Barnes and his fiancée, Angela Miller. In an ordeal that lasted until dawn, he tortured and abused them both, pistol-whipping Barnes and stabbing him, and raping and beating Miller. Horton was later apprehended in a car chase that ended in a shootout.

When Maryland authorities learned that Horton was a murderer supposedly in prison, they were appalled at Massachusetts. &ldquoI'm not prepared to take the chance that Mr. Horton might again be furloughed or otherwise released,&rdquo Judge Vincent J. Femia said while sentencing Horton to two consecutive life terms. &ldquoThis man should never draw a breath of free air again.&rdquo

Michael Dukakis did not necessarily agree. He continued to resist attempts to tighten the state&rsquos furlough program, refused to apologize to the Maryland couple &ndash or even meet with them &ndash and stonewalled a crusading Massachusetts newspaper exploring the details of the program. The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune won a Pulitzer Prize for its efforts, an award announced a few days before Gore raised the furlough program with Dukakis, who responded dismissively. &ldquoAl, the difference between you and me,&rdquo Dukakis said, &ldquois that I have to run a criminal system. You never have.&rdquo

That answer begged the question of why Dukakis ran it in a way that resulted in horrific home invasions. &ldquoAsk Dukakis if he wants Willie Horton in his basement&rdquo was how Clifford Barnes put it.

The Bush campaign entered the fray in June after an authoritative piece on Dukakis&rsquo furlough program, &ldquoGetting Away With Murder,&rdquo ran in Reader&rsquos Digest. Atwater and Roger Ailes, who ran the media operation for Bush, knew it was an explosive issue. They also knew it was delicate: Horton is African-American and his victims were white.

Ailes forbade the campaign from releasing Horton&rsquos photograph. When the campaign produced its now-famous Massachusetts prison &ldquorevolving door&rdquo ad, it was filmed in Utah, in sepia tones, and the inmates appeared to be white, black, and Hispanic. Earlier, two conservative provocateurs, Larry McCarthy and Floyd Brown, produced a low-budget ad showing Horton&rsquos picture and mentioning his name. Democrats pounced. This is racist, they said. Some of the media followed suit and some didn&rsquot, although with each passing year, the &ldquovile&rdquo Willie Horton ad narrative entrenched itself more deeply in the collective memories of Democrats and the media.

Those closest to the case were the most nonplussed by this characterization. Dane Strother, a former Eagle-Tribune reporter who became a Democratic political consultant, told me race was never an issue when Dukakis&rsquo furlough program came under scrutiny. &ldquoIt wasn&rsquot about racism,&rdquo he said. &ldquoThat didn&rsquot come up. Not ever.&rdquo

One reason was that as the paper dug deeper into the story, they found other victims of crimes, not all of them white, and other furloughed prisoners who&rsquod committed violent crimes, not all of them black.

Among the details unearthed by the Eagle-Tribune was that of the 80 prisoners listed as &ldquoescaped&rdquo by the state, all but four were on furlough when they disappeared.

When pressed as to why they deem the Bush campaign&rsquos 1988 treatment of this topic racist, critics cite a litany of factoids and arguments: Ronald Reagan oversaw a prison furlough program in California (true, but irrelevant) Atwater later apologized for his rough campaigning (true, with extenuating circumstances) and the name of the man in the ads was &ldquoWilliam,&rdquo not &ldquoWillie.&rdquo A dog whistle, they say, or as liberal activist and opinion journalist Paul Waldman put it last week, &ldquothe cherry on top.&rdquo

&ldquoNo one ever referred to William Horton as &lsquoWillie&rsquo before Republicans started doing it in 1988,&rdquo Waldman wrote. That claim doesn&rsquot seem to be true. Clifford Barnes was quoted as calling his attacker &ldquoWillie Horton&rdquo in October 1987. Where he got it is anybody&rsquos guess, but after his ordeal, no one pressed him on it.

The evidence that Horton was never &ldquoWillie&rdquo is sketchy anyway. Although it comes from the inmate himself, in interviews with sympathetic visitors, he&rsquos an unreliable source. For one thing, Horton still denies stabbing Joey Fournier and committing the Maryland home invasion. Still, it&rsquos a mystery how that first name took root. The Eagle-Tribune always referred to him, as court documents did, as William R. Horton Jr., as did Robert James Bidinotto in his Reader&rsquos Digest piece. But the newspapers that now play up the race angle routinely referred to him as &ldquoWillie Horton&rdquo during the 1988 campaign.

I covered the 1988 campaign, and I pressed Lee Atwater about this myself. Not just the name, but the whole issue. He looked at me as if I were being deliberately obtuse. He said that when he first heard about the case, he hoped the furloughed inmate was white. &ldquoI wish his name was Jimmy Don Horton or Joe Bob Horton,&rdquo he told me. &ldquoWe&rsquod have made him even more famous, plastered his picture everywhere. This is about crime.&rdquo

Many people are skeptical, but that assertion&rsquos truth seems self-evident to me: It would have been a better issue for Bush that way. And although this isn&rsquot proof of anything, I was also in a nightclub one night with Atwater when he played guitar alongside B.B. King. He was the kind of white Southerner who exuded an easy comfort about race on a personal level. Lee died young, of a brain tumor, and it was not an easy death. Before he succumbed, he tried to atone for some of his sins, even apologizing for his tough campaign tactics. In the Horton case, I don&rsquot think he had anything to be remorseful about. If campaign operatives hadn&rsquot used Michael Dukakis&rsquo flawed furlough system -- and his arrogant response to its victims &ndash against him, they would have been guilty of election malfeasance.

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.


Contents

On October 26, 1974, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Horton and two accomplices robbed Joseph Fournier, a white 17-year-old gas station attendant, and then fatally stabbed Fournier 19 times after he had cooperated by handing over all of the money in the cash register. His body was stuffed in a trash can so his feet were jammed up against his chin. Fournier died from blood loss. [7] Horton was convicted of murder, sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and incarcerated at the Northeastern Correctional Center in Massachusetts. [ citation needed ]

On June 6, 1986, Horton was released as part of a weekend furlough program, but did not return. On April 3, 1987, in Oxon Hill, Maryland, Horton twice raped a woman after pistol-whipping, knifing, binding, and gagging her fiancé. He then stole the car belonging to the man he had assaulted. He was later shot by Corporal Paul J. Lopez of the Prince George's County Police Department and captured by Corporal Yusuf A. Muhammad of the same department after a pursuit. On October 20, Horton was sentenced in Maryland to two consecutive life terms plus 85 years. The sentencing judge, Vincent J. Femia, refused to return Horton to Massachusetts, saying, "I'm not prepared to take the chance that Mr. Horton might again be furloughed or otherwise released. This man should never draw a breath of free air again." [8]

On April 18, 1996, Horton was transferred to the Jessup Correctional Institution (then called the Maryland House of Correction Annex), a maximum security prison in Jessup, Maryland, where he remains. [9]

Democratic Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis was the governor of Massachusetts at the time of Horton's release, and while he did not start the furlough program, he had supported it as a method of criminal rehabilitation. The state inmate furlough program, originally signed into law by Republican Governor Francis Sargent in 1972, excluded convicted first-degree murderers. However, in 1973, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that this right extended to first-degree murderers, because the law specifically did not exclude them. [10] [11] The Massachusetts legislature quickly passed a bill prohibiting furloughs for such inmates. However, in 1976, Dukakis vetoed this bill arguing it would "cut the heart out of efforts at inmate rehabilitation." [12]

The program remained in effect through the intervening term of Governor Edward J. King, and was abolished during Dukakis' final term of office on April 28, 1988, after Dukakis had decided to run for President. This abolition occurred only after the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune had run 175 stories about the furlough program and won a Pulitzer Prize. [13]

Horton was later interviewed in the periodical, The Nation:

The fact is, my name is not 'Willie.' It's part of the myth of the case. The name irks me. It was created to play on racial stereotypes: big, ugly, dumb, violent, black — 'Willie'. I resent that. They created a fictional character — who seemed believable, but who did not exist. They stripped me of my identity, distorted the facts, and robbed me of my constitutional rights. [14]

The first person to mention the Massachusetts furlough program in the 1988 presidential campaign was Democratic Senator Al Gore. During a debate before the New York primary, Gore took issue with the furlough program. However, he did not specifically mention the Horton incident or even his name, instead asking a general question about the Massachusetts furlough program. [15]

Republicans eagerly picked up the Horton issue after Dukakis won the Democratic nomination. In June 1988, Republican candidate George H.W. Bush seized on the Horton case, bringing it up repeatedly in campaign speeches. Bush's campaign manager Lee Atwater said: "By the time we're finished, they're going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis' running mate." [16]

Campaign staffer James Pinkerton returned with reams of material that Atwater told him to reduce to a 3-by-5-inch (8 cm × 13 cm) index card, telling him "I'm giving you one thing: You can use both sides of the 3×5 card." Pinkerton discovered the furlough issue by watching the Felt Forum debate. On May 25, 1988, Republican consultants met in Paramus, New Jersey, holding a focus group of "Reagan Democrats" who had voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984. [17] These focus groups convinced Atwater and the other Republican consultants that they should 'go negative' against Dukakis. Further information regarding the furlough came from aide Andrew Card, a Massachusetts native whom President George W. Bush later named as his Chief of Staff. [18]

Over the Fourth of July weekend in 1988, Atwater attended a motorcyclists' convention in Luray, Virginia. Two couples were talking about the Horton story as featured in the July issue of Reader's Digest. Atwater joined them without mentioning who he was. Later that night, a focus group in Alabama had turned completely against Dukakis when presented the information about Horton's furlough. Atwater used this occurrence to argue the necessity of pounding Dukakis about the furlough issue. [18]

Fall campaign Edit

Beginning on September 21, 1988, the Americans for Bush arm of the National Security Political Action Committee (NSPAC), under the auspices of Floyd Brown, began running a campaign ad entitled "Weekend Passes", using the Horton case to attack Dukakis. The ad was produced by media consultant Larry McCarthy, who had previously worked for Roger Ailes. After clearing the ad with television stations, McCarthy added a mug shot of Horton. [19] The ad was run as an independent expenditure, separate from the Bush campaign, which claimed not to have had any role in its production. [20] The ad referred to Horton as "Willie", although he later said he had always gone by William. [21]

On October 5, 1988, a day after the "Weekend Passes" ad was taken off the airwaves and the day of the Bentsen–Quayle debate, the Bush campaign ran its own ad, "Revolving Door", which also attacked Dukakis over the weekend furlough program. While the advertisement did not mention Horton or feature his photograph, it depicted a variety of men walking in and out of prison through a revolving door. [22]

The controversy escalated when Vice Presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen and former Democratic presidential candidate and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson called the "Revolving Door" ad racist, [23] a charge which was denied by Bush and campaign staff. [24] [25]

Through most of the campaign, the Horton ad was seen as focusing on issues of criminal justice, with neither the candidates nor journalists mentioning a racial component. [26] However, near the end of the presidential campaign—on October 21, 1988—Democratic primary runner-up Jesse Jackson accused the ad's creators of playing upon presumed fears of some voters, in particular those harboring stereotyped fears of blacks as criminals. From that point on, race was a substantial part of the media coverage of the ad itself and the campaign. Some candidates continued to deny it and most commentators at the time felt it was not. [26] Academics have noted that the alleged racial overtone of the ad was a key aspect of the way the ad was remembered and later studied. [26]

On October 22, in an attempt to counter-attack, Dukakis' campaign ran an ad about a convicted heroin dealer named Angel Medrano who raped and killed a pregnant mother of two after escaping from a federal correctional halfway house. [24] [27]

In 1990, the Ohio Democratic Party and a group called "Black Elected Democrats of Ohio" filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that NSPAC had coordinated or cooperated with the Bush campaign in airing the ad, which would make it an illegal in kind campaign contribution. Investigation by the FEC, including deposition of officials from both organizations, revealed indirect connections between McCarthy and the Bush campaign (such as his having previously worked for Ailes), but found no direct evidence of wrongdoing, and the investigation reached an impasse and was eventually closed with no finding of any violation of campaign finance laws. [20]

Robin Toner of The New York Times wrote in 1990 that Republicans and Democrats, while disagreeing on the merits of the ad itself, agreed it was "devastating to Dukakis." [28] Dukakis said in 2012 that while he initially tried to ignore the ad during the 1988 campaign, two months later he "realized that I was getting killed with this stuff." [29]

In December 2018, after Bush's death, the ad was again highlighted by political commentators. Ann Coulter described his Willie Horton ad as "the greatest campaign commercial in political history", claiming that it "clearly and forcefully highlighted the two presidential candidates' diametrically opposed views" on crime. [30] Many other commentators remarked that the Bush presidency, and back to the Horton ad of the campaign, stoked racial animosity. Many commentators have pointed to race-bating or similar dog whistle in the ad, and the fact that he was black is still a key part of how the ad is still discussed. [31] [32] [33] [34]


October 1988: Bush and Quayle Deny Accusations of Racism in Ad Campaigns, Accuse Democrats of ‘Fanning the Flames of Racism’

The “Willie Horton” (a.k.a. “Weekend Pass”) campaign ad, produced by an “independent” political organization on behalf of the Bush re-election campaign (see June-September 1988 and September 21 - October 4, 1988), and the Bush campaign’s accompanying ad, “Revolving Door,” draw accusations from the Democratic challenger, Michael Dukakis, that they are racist in their appeals. President Bush denies the accusations that race has anything to do with the ads, or even that racism exists. He calls the Dukakis accusations “some desperation kind of move,” and says: “There isn’t any racism. It’s absolutely ridiculous.” Dukakis is leveling these accusations, Bush says, because he “is weak on crime and defense and that’s the inescapable truth.” Bush accuses Dukakis of lying about his record, and accuses the Democrat of both racist and sexist behavior, though he gives no details or evidence. Bush’s vice-presidential candidate, Dan Quayle, agrees, and accuses the Dukakis campaign of behaving in a racist manner, saying: “It’s totally absurd and ridiculous. I think it shows just how desperate they really are, to start fanning the flames of racism in this country.” Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson has accused the Bush campaign of trying to incite racial fears through the Horton ad, and Dukakis’s vice-presidential candidate, Lloyd Bentsen, says there seems to be “a racial element” in the Bush campaign’s strategy. In contrast to Bush’s denials, Bush media adviser Roger Ailes jokes with reporters about the ads, saying that the campaign’s only question about the Horton ad was whether to portray Horton “with a knife in his hand or without it,” and accuses Dukakis’s campaign of spreading racism about Hispanics in its own ads. Bush states that he is “fully behind” both the “Weekend Pass” and “Revolving Door” ads. [New York Times, 10/25/1988]


The Willie Horton ad revisited 25 years later

Twenty-five years later, the infamous Willie Horton ad continues to make its impact on American politics.

The 1988 campaign ad was waged by then-Vice President George H.W. Bush in his presidential run against Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. As depicted in the TV commercial, Horton— a black man serving a life sentence without parole for murder— was released as a part of a Massachusetts weekend furlough program. While on furlough, Horton committed armed robbery and rape.

The specter of Horton played a decisive role in the 1988 race, arguably dooming Dukakis’ bid for the White House. The governor’s decision to ride in a tank—and his principled yet lackluster response to a question on his death penalty stance if his wife were raped and murdered— did not help his cause. But Willie Horton upended the race and represented a new low in race-card politics, and the manipulation of white fear of black criminality—and an irrational and visceral hatred of black people in general— to win elections.

As recently as the other day, the spirit of the Horton ad visited the New York City mayoral race. Republican candidate Joe Lhota released an attack ad warning that if Democrat Bill de Blasio is elected, “recklessly dangerous agenda on crime will take us back to this.” The ad, called “Can’t Go Back,” featured ominous black and white photos from the 1970s through the 1990s, including the image of a frightened white woman on a graffiti-filled subway car.

Although the campaign ad never explicitly mentioned Willie Horton, the message was clear. De Blasio fought back, calling Lhota’s ad “disgusting, inappropriate and divisive,” and comparing it to Willie Horton.

“I’m looking around at my colleagues, a lot of us went through the 1980s, the 1990s. We saw the way politics developed, sadly for the worst. This is just like the Willie Horton ad. It is divisive and negative,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Willie Horton commercial was the brainchild of the late Republican strategist Lee Atwater, who was the subject of a PBS documentary, Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story. Atwater was a Machiavellian trailblazer of sorts, setting new standards of lowliness in a political arena already marred by sleaze, and destroyed lives in the process. He started his career as a protégé of the racist Sen. Strom Thurmond, someone who thrived on white supremacy and the manipulation of the race card, yet had a black daughter and concealed his hypocrisy until his death.

Apparently, Atwater learned well from his racist mentor. The father of the modern dirty tricks school of political campaigning and architect of the Southern Strategy, Atwater claimed victory for Congressman (later Governor) Carroll Campbell by characterizing his Jewish opponent, Max Heller, as someone who should not be elected because he was not a Christian and did not ‘’believe Jesus Christ has come yet.’”

Atwater’s Horton ad played on the narrative of the menacing black man who rapes white women, of which rumors often led to race riots and the lynching of black men under the Jim Crow era. This ad represented the ultimate in the Southern Strategy, that is, the Republican Party’s raw, unabashed appeals to white Southerners through the invocation of white-skin solidarity and fear of people of color. Further, it had built upon the successes of Reagan-era racial scapegoating in the form of the “welfare queen.”

Appointed to Howard University’s board of trustees in 1989, then-Republican party chair Atwater was shown the door by Howard students, in a level of protest not seen on the Washington, D.C. campus since the Vietnam War. Perhaps Atwater thought his love for black music would get him over, but such was not the case.

On his deathbed in 1991, with his Bible still wrapped in its cellophane, Atwater repented and had his coming-to-Jesus moment. Succumbing to a brain tumor, he apologized to all those he had defamed and destroyed for political gain. And yet, the damage had been done.

Over the years in American politics, the Southern Strategy has continued in the form of the black boogeyman, the scapegoat, the “other”—a personification of conservative white resentment over the gains African-Americans made in the civil rights movement.

In 1990, political consultant Alex Castellanos was responsible for the “Hands” commercial, used by North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms in his reelection bid against a black challenger, former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt. The ad, one of the most divisive ever, featured an angry white man crumpling up a job rejection letter. According to the commercial, the worker was the best qualified, but had lost out because “they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota.”

And in the 2000 presidential primary season, the campaign of George W. Bush spread rumors that his then-rival, Senator John McCain, fathered a black baby out of wedlock.

In addition, the Republican National Committee financed a television commercial against the Senate bid of Harold Ford, Jr. in Tennessee in 2006. The racially controversial and sexually suggestive ad featured a bare-shouldered white woman winking at the camera and saying, “Harold, call me.”

Meanwhile, on November 4, 2008, with the election of Barack Obama, the Southern Strategy came full circle in the age of the Tea Party. The Southern Strategy is all the GOP has left. Since the Atwater days, conservative Republicans have been anti-tax and anti-government because blacks are viewed as the beneficiaries of government, with African-Americans standing to lose more than whites with the slashing of government programs.

However, now the president is black, and he represents everything they have fought all these years— the product of an interracial marriage, presumed foreign, with Ivy League diplomas probably unfairly secured through affirmative action programs. The former party of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass turned Obama, their political enemy, into the new boogeyman, Willie Horton 2.0.

Bringing down President Obama meant defunding his crowning achievement, Obamacare. And they were willing to shut down the government in the process.

As politicians continue to stoke the fires of racial anger, anxiety and resentment, the Willie Horton ad lives on.


How the Willie Horton Ad Played on Racism and Fear - HISTORY

oh please. if We go by your rhetoric then Democrats use a lot more fear to get the black and Latino votes on every election by playing the race card and by scaring them that we have a racism crisis in our country and all cops are trying to kill all black men. That our institutions are racists, that We have too much white privilege in this country and play the identity politics?

a large number of black people have resentment over white people and white cops and that is also racism.

Racism is when you generalize a race or group in a negative way and the Democrat party are more guilty on this than the Republicans by far because they always play identity politics.

Just like the blatant examples of scaring senior citizens with crazy ads like throwing grandma off the cliff. No "dog whistles" there, just flat out scaremongering.
Then the hypocrites try to say (when R's are in the WH) that out of control spending must be curbed with entitlement programs as it is a huge reason for the national debt.
Their hypocrisy knows no bounds.

Actually the Democrats have been dealing in racial division since the civil war, and are now perfecting identity politics in an effort to divide people by race, religion, gender, etc.
Then they hope to cobble those various groups together as a voting block to get elected.

YES. Most Certainly. A Whitely Bulger or Mafia ad would not have done the same trick.

Ask yourself an honest and real question.

Does a voter far away from MA. care about a murder (in general) in MA?
(my answer is no).

Would a voter elsewhere care about if Whitey Bulger or a Mob Boss in NYC killed dozens?
(my answer is again no).

The ONLY thing a voter elsewhere would really react to - in their lizard brain - would be that horrible black face.

No one is saying it was illegal. But the entire history of this country is one big ginning up of fears against "the other". Heck, lots of people in Boston would give Whitey a medal and keys to the city. after all, he supplied them with dope and ticket fixes and political jobs and other things for decades.

Actually the Democrats have been dealing in racial division since the civil war, and are now perfecting identity politics in an effort to divide people by race, religion, gender, etc.
Then they hope to cobble those various groups together as a voting block to get elected.

In disputing one propaganda, you set out another one!

"Conservatives" and "Southerners" are who dealt in race politics after the Civil War. As anyone who studies a bit of history knows, the Northern liberals and radicals at the time were Republicans- something which changed over time. starting with Ted Roosevelt having to flee the party to be a progressive. and peaking after LBJ signed Civil Rights and Voting Rights.

Fact. History. The shifting of Political ID has nothing to do with changing the facts. The Plantation Owners, Slavers of the South and Segregationists were Democrats then. and the exact same populations are Republican now.

It's not hard to follow if one remembers that Lincoln was a Northern Liberal appealing to the Urban and Industrialized and "liberal" Northeast. If you use the issues as opposed to labels it's really easy. Confederates/Conservatives/White Supremacists/Segregationist were Democrats then and are Republicans today.

The people who were under the whip know this. Ask them,

That’s because the old Democratic race card has been pulled on Republicans forever. Any idiot can see the difference between letting low risk criminals out on furlough versus first degree murderers. I don’t care what color they were, that’s just stupid and deserves to be an issue even if Horton hadn’t ended up committing a crime. But, predictably, a man who brutally stabbed a 17-year old gas station attendant to death had no respect for life and took the first opportunity to do something again while out on a weekend pass.

Color has nothing to do with it. We had a lawsuit in Texas in the ‘80s about prison overcrowding, and it had the effect that anyone up for parole was released no matter the crime. They ended up releasing Kenneth McDuff, who had been on death row for killing three teenagers in 1966, but his death sentence had been commuted to life after the Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty in the ‘70s. That dude was white. He killed at least 9 girls after his release from prison.

His color didn’t matter. His crimes did. You want to know why Texas built more prisons and executed more death row inmates than any other state? It was hard cases like this guy.

I agree with the bold and I am sick of it just like everyone else on the right. We no doubt agree that Dukakus was weak on crime and it blew my mind that Horton was able to get a furlough. That is right out of Idiocrocy and is insane. I am old guy I was a adult at the time and followed politics closely and saw all of the debates that year.

On a side note I thought Gore romped Dukakus in every debate and I was bewildered that Dukakus won the nomination.

Sometimes I think the right says things that gives the other side ammunition to scream racism, even if what they said is not racist it is just perceived that way. The question I wish was asked first is what they say going to be beneficial or harmful? In Horton's case it was more harmful then anything and served no purpose since Bush had the nomination.

I can see during a debate Bush referencing the Horton case if asked but to broad cast that ad nation wide which was not beneficial to him was a bad move IMO.

YES. Most Certainly. A Whitely Bulger or Mafia ad would not have done the same trick.

Ask yourself an honest and real question.

Does a voter far away from MA. care about a murder (in general) in MA?
(my answer is no).

Would a voter elsewhere care about if Whitey Bulger or a Mob Boss in NYC killed dozens?
(my answer is again no).

The ONLY thing a voter elsewhere would really react to - in their lizard brain - would be that horrible black face.

No one is saying it was illegal. But the entire history of this country is one big ginning up of fears against "the other". Heck, lots of people in Boston would give Whitey a medal and keys to the city. after all, he supplied them with dope and ticket fixes and political jobs and other things for decades.

No offense, but your moral compass seems to be way off in regard to murders roaming the streets in America, regardless of where they are.

More importantly your analogy is flawed because while many people might not care about the day to day life of people living in MA, Dukakis was running for potus of the entire country. Him being anti-death penalty governor, even for the most deserving scum meant he would bring his feckless eunuch ideology to the presidency. Ergo, his DOJ and judicial nominations would mirror his belief system.

So regardless of whether the murderer was white, yellow, red, or any other color, rest assured the ad still would have been run and be effective, because it showed how liberal Dukakis was.
If you saw the video I posted in my last post, he sunk himself even further when he said he would oppose the death penalty for someone who raped and murdered his own wife. Even women not crazy about the death penalty didn't want to hear a man not willing to seek justice against someone who had raped and killed them.

As to this whole racial nonsense, persons such as yourself are too invested in the belief everything is related to race, even if race has nothing to do with it.
Rest assured that if Obama governed like Reagan, he would be the hero of the right and moderates across this country.
However he governed more like the liberal he is, and thus many objected to his policies. Their opposition to his ideology was the relevant fact, not his race. But that didn't stop the liberal MSM and people such as yourself saying opposition to XYZ was because of race.

Heck even uber liberal Ed Asner was asked why some Hollywood liberals were silent and not critical of Obama and his war policy, and he replied because none of them wanted to be called a racist. This from people who voted for Obama, but knew the leftist smear machine would label any criticism of a black person as racially motivated.


Trump’s new xenophobic campaign ad recalls Bush’s racist “Willie Horton” ads from 30 years ago

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump managed to condense his anti-immigrant fear-mongering ahead of the Nov. 6 midterms into a single, 51-second advertisement, which even some on the right are immediately decrying as “racist.”

The ad, which Trump posted to his Twitter page Wednesday and has since pinned to the top of his timeline, shows footage of undocumented immigrant Luis Bracamontes laughing as he says he killed police officers and promises to kill more. Bracamontes, a twice deported undocumented immigrant, shot and killed two police officers in 2014. He was sentenced to death in April.

Bracamontes “killed our people!” the text of the ad reads. “Democrats let him into our country,” the text continues. “Democrats let him stay.”

The ad then shows footage of throngs of people knocking down fences, and cuts to Fox News footage of the migrant caravan from Central America that Trump has raged over in recent weeks as he seeks to energize his base before the midterms.

“It is outrageous what the Democrats are doing to our Country,” Trump tweeted with the video. “Vote Republican now!”

Trump and the Republicans have spent weeks appealing to the racist, anti-immigrant fears of his base ahead of the election. But this latest ad, which Trump first promoted late Wednesday afternoon, has been called out by some on the right as racist — and has even drawn comparisons to George H.W. Bush’s infamous “Willie Horton” ads targeting Democrat Michael Dukakis in 1988.

Horton was serving a life sentence for murder in Massachusetts when he escaped custody after being temporarily released in a weekend furlough program. While out of custody, Horton raped a white woman and stabbed her fiancé.

A pair of Bush ads, one of which was the brainchild of Fox News founder Roger Ailes, depicted Dukakis — then the governor of Massachusetts — presiding over a “revolving door” prison system and giving out “weekend passes” to convicted murderers.

As the Dukakis campaign noted at the time, the ad played on white fears of crime perpetrated by black men. “There is no stronger metaphor for racial hatred in our country than the black man raping the white woman,” Susan Estrich, Dukakis’ campaign manager, said at the time.

Despite being slammed as racist, the Horton ads are said to have had a significant impact on Dukakis’s chances and helped Bush to the presidency.

A number of politicians since then have been accused of launching similar campaigns against their opponents. For instance, Mitt Romney — who hired the team behind the Horton ads in his 2012 campaign against Barack Obama — was accused of playing into similar racial fears in advertisements attacking the president’s health care and welfare policies.

The ad Trump is now promoting, though, goes even further in its racial and anti-immigrant fear-mongering, critics say.

The Weekly Standard’s Charlie Sykes said the Bracamontes ad “makes Willie Horton look rather tame by comparison.” White House reporter April Ryan in a tweet Thursday morning again raised questions about Trump’s racism, asking the president “are you racist?” in response to the ad.

On the right, Jamie Weinstein of the conservative National Review tweeted Wednesday that the Bracamontes video was “without question . a racist ad.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who is known to criticize the president’s rhetoric, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the ad represented a “new low in campaigning.”

The Bracamontes video is one of at least two fear-based ad campaigns Trump has promoted on Twitter in recent days. The other plays on Trump’s new “Jobs Not Mobs” slogan. Set to dramatic music, it gives voters two choices: an orderly America with a booming economy that Republicans alone can deliver, or the “left’s America” beset by chaos.


WILLIE HORTON AND ME

I am a black man. I am a young black man, born, let's say, between Brown v. Board of Education and the murders of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman. Or, in the years that followed the murder of Emmett Till, but before the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I am one of the young black Americans Dr. King sang of in his ''I Have A Dream'' speech: ''I have a dream that . . . the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood . . . that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. . . . I have a dream today!''

Though I have a living memory of Dr. King, I don't remember that speech. I do remember my parents, relatives, teachers and professors endlessly recounting it, exhorting me to live up to the dream, to pick up the ball of freedom, as it were, and run with it, because one day, I was assured, we would look up and the dream would be reality.

I like to think I lived up to my part of the bargain. I stayed in school and remained home many nights when I didn't have to in the interest of ''staying out of trouble.'' I endured a lonely Catholic school education because public school wasn't good enough. At Notre Dame and Brown, I endured further isolation, and burned the midnight oil, as Dr. King had urged.

I am sure that I represent one of the best efforts that Americans, black Americans particularly, have made to live up to Dr. King's dream. I have a white education, a white accent, I conform to white middle-class standards in virtually every choice, from preferring Brooks Brothers oxford cloth to religiously clutching my gold cards as the tickets to the good life. I'm not really complaining about any of that. The world, even the white world, has been, if not good, then acceptable to me. But as I get older, I feel the world closing in. I feel that I failed to notice something, or that I've been deceived. I couldn't put my finger on it until I met Willie Horton.

George Bush and his henchmen could not have invented Willie Horton. Horton, with his coal-black skin huge, unkempt Afro, and a glare that would have given Bull Connor or Lester Maddox serious pause, had committed a brutal murder in 1974 and been sentenced to life in prison. Then, granted a weekend furlough from prison, had viciously raped a white woman in front of her fiance, who was also attacked.

Willie Horton was the perfect symbol of what happened to innocent whites when liberals (read Democrats) were on the watch, at least in the gospel according to post-Goldwater Republicans. Horton himself, in just a fuzzy mug shot, gave even the stoutest, most open, liberal heart a shiver. Even me. I thought of all the late nights I had ridden in terror on the F and A trains, while living in New York City. I thought Willie Horton must be what the wolf packs I had often heard about, but never seen, must look like. I said to myself, ''Something has got to be done about these niggers.''

Then, one night, a temporary doorman at my Greenwich Village high-rise refused to let me pass. And it occured to me that it (Continued on Page 77) had taken the regular doormen, black, white and Hispanic, months to adjust to my coming and going. Then a friend's landlord in Brooklyn asked if I was living in his apartment. We had been working on a screenplay under deadline and I was there several days in a row. The landlord said she didn't mind, but the neighbors. . . . Then one day, I was late for the Metroliner, heading for Harvard and a weekend with several yuppie, buppie and guppie friends. I stood, in blazer and khakis, in front of the New York University Law School for 30 minutes, unable to get a cab. As it started to rain, I realized I was not going to get a cab.

Soaking wet, I gave up on the Metroliner and trudged home. As I cleaned up, I looked in the mirror. Wet, my military haircut looked slightly unkempt. My eyes were red from the water and stress. I couldn't help thinking, ''If Willie got a haircut and cooled out. . . .'' If Willie Horton would become just a little middle-class, he would look like me.

F OR YOUNG BLACKS of my sociological cohort, racism was often an abstract thing, ancient history, at worst a stone against which to whet our combat skills as we went winging through the world proving our superiority. We were the children of the dream. Incidents in my childhood and adolescence were steadfastly, often laughingly, overcome by a combination of the fresh euphoria of the civil rights movement and the exhortations and Christian piety of my mother. Now, in retrospect, I can see that racism has always been with me, even when I was shielded by love or money, or when I chose not to see it. But I saw it in the face of Willie Horton, and I can't ignore it, because it is my face.

Willie Horton has taught me the continuing need for a skill W. E. B. DuBois outlined and perfected 100 years ago: living with the veil. I am recognizing my veil of double consciousness, my American self and my black self. I must battle, like all humans, to see myself. I must also battle, because I am black, to see myself as others see me increasingly my life, literally, depends upon it. I might meet Bernhard Goetz on the subway my car might break down in Howard Beach the armed security guard might mistake me for a burglar in the lobby of my building. And they won't see a mild-mannered English major trying to get home. They will see Willie Horton.

My father was born in a tar-paper, tin-roof shack on a cotton plantation near Holly Springs, Miss. His father was a sharecropper. His father had been a slave. My father came north, and by dint of a ferocity I still find frightening, carved an economic space for himself that became a launch pad to the Ivy League, to art school, to professional school, for his children.

As the song by John Cougar Mellencamp says it, 'ɺin't that America. . . .'' But a closer look reveals that each of my father's children is in some way dangerously disgruntled, perhaps irrevocably alienated from the country, their country, that 25 years ago held so much promise. And the friends of my father's children, the children of the dream Dr. King died to preserve, a collection of young people ranging from investment bankers to sidemen for Miles Davis, are, to a man and woman, actively unsatisfied.

DuBois, in ''The Souls of Black Folks,'' posed a question perhaps more painful today than in 1903: ''Training for life teaches living but what training for the profitable living together of black men and white?''

I think we, the children of the dream, often feel as if we are holding 30-year bonds that have matured and are suddenly worthless. There is a feeling, spoken and unspoken, of having been suckered. This distaste is festering into bitterness. I know that I disregarded jeering and opposition from young blacks in adolescence as I led a ''square,'' even dreary life predicated on a coming harvest of keeping-one's-nose-clean. And now I see that I am often treated the same as a thug, that no amount of conformity, willing or unwilling, will make me the fabled American individual. I think it has something to do with Willie Horton.

B LACK YOUTH CUL-ture is increasingly an expression of alienation and disgust with any mainstream (or so-called white) values. Or notions. Cameo haircuts, rap music, outsize jewelry are merely symptoms of attitudes that are probably beyond changing. My black Ivy League friends and myself are manifesting attitudes infinitely more contemptuous and insidious I don't know of one who is doing much more on the subject of Dr. King's dream than cynically biding his or her time, waiting for some as-yet-unidentified apocalypse that will enable us to slay the white dragon, even as we work for it, live next to it and sleep with it.

Our dissatisfaction is leading us to despise the white dragon instead of the dragon of racism, but how can we do otherwise when everywhere we look, we see Willie Horton?

And we must acknowledge progress. Even in our darkest, most paranoid moments we can acknowledge white friends and lovers. I wouldn't have survived the series of white institutions that has been my conscious life without them. But it is hard to acknowledge any progress, because whites like to use the smallest increment of change to deny what we see as the totality. And, even in the most perfect and loving interracial relationships, racism waits like a cancer, ready to wake and consume the relationship at any, even the most innocuous, time. My best friend, white and Jewish, will never understand why I was ready to start World War III over perceived slights at an American Express office. In my darker moments, I suspect he is a bit afraid of me now. In my darkest moments, I wonder if even he sees Willie Horton.

Some of you are by now, sincerely or cynically, asking yourselves, 'ɻut what does he want?'' A friend of mine says that the complaints of today's young blacks are indeed different from those of generations ago because it is very difficult to determine whether this alienation is a clarion call for the next phase of the civil rights movement or merely the whining of spoiled and corrupted minority elites who could be placated by a larger share in the fruits of a corrupt and exploitative system that would continue to enslave the majority of their brothers and sisters.

I don't think there is any answer to that question. I also think that the very fact it can be asked points to the unique character of the American race question, and the unhealable breach that manifests itself as a result in our culture and society. I don't think, for good or bad, that in any other ethnic group the fate of an individual is so inextricably bound to that of the group, and vice-versa. To use the symbol and metaphor of Willie Horton in another way, I do not think that the lives and choices of young white males are impacted by the existence of neo-Nazi skinheads, murdering Klansmen or the ordinary thugs of Howard Beach. I also, to put it plainly, do not recall any young black man, even those who deal drugs in such places, entering a playground and spraying bullets at innocent schoolchildren as happened in Stockton, Calif. It is not my intention to place value considerations on any of these events I want to point out that in this society it seems legitimate, from the loftiest corridors of power to the streets of New York, to imply that one black man is them all.

And I want to be extraordinarily careful not to demonize Willie Horton. He should not be a symbol or scapegoat for our sins he is a tragically troubled man - troubled like thousands of others, black and white - who was unwittingly used by a President to further division and misunderstanding. If anything, Horton is a particularly precise example of the willingness of those in power to pit us against one another. One lately fashionable statement, about to slide from truth to truism, is that blacks have the most to fear from lawless blacks. Any clear-eyed perusal of crime statistics will prove this. But what does it avail if the media, if the President, use this ongoing tragedy merely to antagonize and further separate Americans?

I THINK THAT WHAT I am finally angry about is my realizaton of a certain hollowness at the center of American life. Earlier, I mentioned the sense of having undergone a hoax. That hoax, as I now see it, is that the American community is putatively built upon the fundamentals of liberty and justice for all, that it is to be expected that the freedom to compete will result in winners and losers, and that the goal of society is to insure fairness of opportunity. In light of the events of recent years, I begin to see that we are, competing or not, winners or not, irrevocably chained together, black and white, rich and poor. New York City is a glaring microcosm of this interrelatedness, which can be thought of as either a web of fear ensnaring and enslaving us, or as a net of mutuality that strengthens us all.

As events like the Central Park rape illustrate, the world is becoming ever smaller, and it is increasingly difficult to consign social problems to realms outside our personal arenas of concern. I see the connection between Willie Horton and me, because it affects my own liberty. It was not always an obvious connection.

Another quote from Dr. King brings the issue into focus: ''. . . most of the gains . . . were obtained at bargain rates. The desegregation of public facilities cost nothing neither did the election and appointment of a few black public officials. . . .'' To move to the next level of progress, we must face the fact that there are going to be costs, especially economic costs. To hire two black firefighters means two white firefighters won't be hired, and this is no easy reality. Racism is ultimately based on power and greed, the twin demons of most human frailties. These demons cannot be scapegoated, as the saga of Willie Horton proves. They are more like the Hydra, and will haunt our dreams, waking and other, regardless.


#6: “The Man from Hope” (1992)

Four years later, Bill Clinton’s simple, hopeful message echoed more Morning in America than Willie Horton. Speaking to the camera, Clinton draws a connection between his hometown (Hope, Arkansas) and the hope he has for the country.

Interestingly, both Clinton and his opponent, George H.W. Bush relied on simple ads like Hope. They spoke to the camera. They told stories of optimism. Ads in the early 1990s seemed to forgo the charm of the 1960s and the racism of the 1980s.

Here’s one of Bush’s 1992 ads:


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