Saturday, April 09, 2005

No More Reaching Across The Damn Aisle: Reason Number 142

Two words that I know you'll all remember: Willie Horton.

I've never celebrated on hearing of anyone's death. That's always seemed like the ultimate time of forgiveness and for refusing to dwell on how one chose to live their life -- no matter how objectionable it may have been.

So when Lee Atwater, the Patron Saint of Republican, gutter-level campaigning died of an inoperable brain tumor in 1991, I didn't exactly dance a jig. But that may only be because of how silly a man my size would look actually dancing a jig.

I'm sure most Democrats did not overtly celebrate Atwater's death. But the damage he did
to the 1988 Dukakis presidential candidacy, as the Republican's chief slime merchant, and the filth he used to smear both Dukakis and his wife Kitty, made us all feel a little guilty for whatever it was that we did feel.

Atwater was the architect of a number of lovely campaign ploys in 1988 including lying about the number of tax increases Dukakis pushed through as Governor of Massachusetts and publicly holding to ridicule Kitty Dukakis's painful travails with prescription drugs (which she admitted occurred until she sought help in 1982).

But the thing that made him a conservative legend was his successful use of race baiting in the form of one Willie Horton. Horton was a convicted murderer who had raped another woman while on a furlough from the Massachusetts prison system.

More important than any other thing that Horton brought to Atwater's table was that he happened to be African-American. And the photograph Republicans chose to televise over and over again did indeed have him looking like quite the frightening fellow.

But where do you think the Republicans used Horton's visage to the greatest effect? (Remember, think like a scummy, Republican political operative.) Boston? San Francisco? Chicago? Shame on you! They played the primary television ad featuring Horton over and over again in... the South!

As if a Northeasterner wasn't fighting an uphill battle in that neck of the woods anyway, Atwater sent the odds of any Democratic victory to prohibitive levels by scaring the hell out of ignorant white people and setting race relations back another step in our nation.

That was the kind of people we were dealing with in 1988 and it's the same kind of low-rent Republican "strategies" we have dealt with in every election since. The Swift Boat Liars in 2004 were nothing but Willie Horton modified for a new Democratic candidate.

I'm not reaching across the aisle to these people – are you?