BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The year may be 2012, but recent television advertisements put up by the Mitt Romney campaign is attempting to turn the clock back to another racially charged era, capitalizing on race and class, resentment and anger. And Team Romney has the perfect man in place to take racial resentment to hither-to-unknown twenty-first century heights; Larry McCarthy, the creator of the racially charged Willie Horton television advertisement that helped sink the presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis.
Like the campaigns of Richard Nixon, which was steeped in the “Southern strategy” – a direct appeal to white voters, Ronald Reagan, who not-so-charmingly told stories about “welfare queens” – a ginned up attempt to milk white voter resentment, and Team George H.W. Bush, who benefitted from the “Willie Horton” ad, Team Romney is once again going for the racial jugular. However coded their advertising appeals may seem, they are still racially charged.
As The New York Times’ Thomas B. Edsall recently pointed out, “The Republican ticket is flooding the airwaves with commercials that develop two themes designed to turn the presidential contest into a racially freighted resource competition pitting middle class white voters against the minority poor.”
According to Edsall, the two themes aim to convince white middle class voters that minorities are taking money and benefits away from them. No matter how false these ads are, there is no sign the Romney campaign will be withdrawing them anytime soon.
“Ads that accuse President Obama of gutting the work requirements enacted in the 1996 welfare reform legislation present the first theme,” Edsall pointed out. “Ads alleging that Obama has taken $716 billion from Medicare — a program serving an overwhelmingly white constituency — in order to provide health coverage to the heavily black and Hispanic poor deliver the second. The ads are meant to work together, to mutually reinforce each other’s claims.”
In Romney’s welfare ad, the announcer accuses President Barack Obama of trying to gut the work requirement in the 1996 welfare reform legislation signed by President Bill Clinton. “Under Obama’s plan,” the announcer says, “you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you a welfare check. And welfare-to-work goes back to being plain old welfare. Mitt Romney will restore the work requirement because it works.”
The ad, which includes a photograph of Obama with a headline “Obama Guts Welfare Reform,” cites the right wing, and often factually challenged Heritage Foundation as the source of the headline’s veracity.
According to Edsall, most reliable fact-checkers have declared the ad downright Pinocchio-like. In fact, The Washington Post’s fact checker, Glenn Kessler, gave it “his lowest rating ‘four Pinocchios’.” The Tampa Bay Tribune’s Politifact “was equally harsh, describing the ads as ‘a drastic distortion’ warranting a ‘pants on fire’ rating. The welfare commercial, according to Politifact, ‘inflames old resentments about able-bodied adults sitting around collecting public assistance.’”
Although Edsall calls the “racial overtones” of Team Romney’s Medicare ads “a bit more subtle,” they nevertheless hit the same mark as the welfare ads; minorities and poor people are getting something from the government that they haven’t earned.
“You paid into Medicare for years — every paycheck. Now when you need it, Obama has cut $716 billion from Medicare,” the ad begins. “Why?,” the ad asks. “To pay for Obamacare. The money you paid for your guaranteed health care is going to a massive new government program that is not for you.”
The thrust of the Medicare ad is to divert attention from the Romney-Ryan plan aimed at gutting Medicare as we know it; essentially voucherizing it. Edsall pointed out that Romney’s Medicare ad “is artfully constructed to turn the issue of health care into a battle over limited tax dollars between a largely white population of seniors on Medicare and a disproportionately minority population of the currently uninsured who would get health coverage under Obamacare.”
A recent Pew Research survey on party identification found that “the gains that the Republican Party has made among older and non-college whites since 2004 are remarkable,” Edsall reported.
According to Edsall, “The principle media consultant for the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future, which will be running many of the anti-Obama ads over the next ten weeks, is Larry McCarthy, who produced the original Willie Horton ad.”
As I reported earlier this year, the publicity shy McCarthy is a well-known practitioner of the attack ad. In October 2010, Politico’s Ken Vogel wrote that, "McCarthy's trademark is his ability to effectively weave in appeals to fear or anger - sometimes with a humorous wink, other times with the sledgehammer he deployed in the Horton ads."
When Romney appointed congressman Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, he said that the campaign would now be about big ideas. It seems that the idea Larry McCarthy has sold to the Romney-Ryan ticket is that racial resentment has worked before and it can work again.