Remember the Willie Horton ad from the 1988 presidential election? The ad became emblematic of a kind of campaign that appeals to the fears of a certain kind of white American, by throwing a certain kind of non-white American at them in the most cynical possible way. The Horton ad was done on behalf of George H.W. Bush, to try and smear Michael Dukakis, who for good measure was also skillfully carved up as a vaguely foreign, effete, northeastern liberal who would destroy America. Welcome to Willie Horton 2010.
The Republican Party, having failed to find an answer to Barack Obama in 2008, is now waging an all-out assault to keep white, working class voters on edge and in line — and to keep them focused on the evil “government,” rather than the corporations, Wall Street and other economic mercenaries who tanked the economy, outsourced their jobs, and who are poised to try and rip the social safety net right out from under them, with their consent. Think “What’s the Matter with Kansas” on steroids…
Which brings us back to Willie Horton. Here’s the ad. It’s deceptively simple, and even with the sound off (I’m writing from the bowels of my hotel in NYC, where they’ve seen fit to cut the audio capability of the PCs … don’t ask …) it hits you square in the face with Horton’s grainy photo, and the stark words across the screen … “kidnapping … stabbing … raping …” the ultimate image of the wild, scary black man. Message: Dukakis is with “them,” Bush is one of “you…” Watch:
And now watch its 2010 doppelganger, with the “scary” grafted on to Hispanics this time, courtesy of Sharron Angle in Nevada:
Politics is a nasty business. But this year, the conservative movement, which has disappeared the Republican Party and replaced it with a carnival full of former Palin rally attendees, birthers, John Birch Society leftovers, xenophobes, religious fanatics, angry talk radio callers and a small but powerful layer of moneyed, corporate interests who pull the strings, pay for the buses, and stay behind the scenes, have ripped the Band-Aid off.
Their “tea party movement,” which I can’t stress enough was literally born on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and among email chains shared by Wall Street traders (read this for a succinct history) and which was quickly coopted, and funded, lock, stock and barrel by some of this country’s wealthiest corporate barrons (including some of its most egregious polluters) is re-racking the Willie Horton strategy on a massive scale. The pillars of the strategy by the top 2 percenters to wrest control of Congress, and put a stop to regulation of their businesses and to reversals of their tax cuts, are pretty simple:
1. Demonize and “ghettoize” the president of the United States, in a way even John McCain couldn’t bring himself to allow in 2008;
2. Redirect middle class and working class anger away from corporate America and Wall Street, and toward the “enemy” federal government; and decouple people’s desire for economic security from the government-based social safety net (including convincing people that Social Security and Medicare are evil, Socialist, Marxist plots to “steal” their money) to make ordinary people more open to privatization;
3. Do 1) and 2) by any means necessary, including by flooding white voters with negative, distracting information, with an emphasis on foreigners, “illegals,” Muslims, black people, gays scheming to shower with their sons, and even single women teachers (that last one courtesy of Jim DeMint) … in short, throw anything and everything you can at low information voters, to get them angry, scared, and fearful that their losing “their” country to the enemy aliens within.
It’s a wicked smart strategy, and you’ve got to give it to the right, that to some extent, it has worked. And particularly in a midterm, where voters tend to be “older and whiter” anyway, creating an extra pocket of energized voters in that demographic, over and above the more affluent party base, is key to victory. these angry voters aren’t a majority — far from it – but in a midterm, when turnout is significantly lower than a general election overall, they don’t have to be.
As evidence: working class white voters, who have favored the GOP for like 40 years, are widening that GOP preference this cycle. The gap is now 22 points, whereas Democrats had narrowed their disadvantage to about 11 points in 2006, thanks to George W. Bush.
The perpetrators: Newt Gingrich, who has pulled the pin out of the crazy grenade, and now has made it clear he will literally say anything, no matter how unhinged, in order to convince the tea party base that he should be their leader and president of the United States (instead of Sarah Palin.) Newt’s advice to Republicans: label Democrats the “party of food stamps.” How’s that for subtle? (Reagan used “welfare queens” to similar effect in the 1980s.)
“Most Americans would like to get a paycheck,” Gingrich said. “Most Americans would not like to be forced to have food stamps handed out by liberal Democrats.”
Gingrich is considering a run for president in 2012 and is about to head off on a 12-city “Jobs Here, Jobs Now” tour with stops in South Carolina, Georgia, Iowa and Wisconsin, among other places.
Gingrich this week distributed a memo to Republican hopefuls saying they should use the final month to stress tax and spending cuts as a way to spur job growth while attacking Democratic policies as detrimental that effort.
He blamed policies by a Democratic Congress and President Barack Obama’s administration for pushing the number of people receiving food stamps to historic highs. U.S. Department of Agriculture Data show 41.8 million people were on government nutrition assistance programs in July, up from about 32 million when Obama took office.
“It’s perfectly fair to say they are earning the title of the party of food stamps,” he said. “By contrast, we have historically since Ronald Reagan of 1980 been the party of job creation.”
Now, of course, the problem with that is that there are actual statistics out there which can be checked, to verify, or knock down Newt’s claim that the GOP is the party of “job creation.” It turns out, quite the opposite is true. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which dates back to 1939, here are the job creation statistics of the modern presidents excluding President Obama, since he doesn’t have a full four-year term to compare to (and before the righties start howling, this is from the Wall Street Journal):
|President||Jobs created||Jobs at end of term||Jobs at start of term||Payroll expansion||Jobs created per year in office||Population growth||Percent change in population|
|George W. Bush||3.0 million||135.5 million||132.5 million||2.3%||375,000||22.0 million||7.7%|
|Bill Clinton||23.1 million||132.5 million||109.4 million||21.1%||2,900,000||25.2 million||8.9%|
|George H.W. Bush||2.5 million||109.4 million||106.9 million||2.3%||625,000||12.5 million||4.8%|
|Ronald Reagan||16.0 million||106.9 million||90.9 million||17.6%||2,000,000||17.3 million||7%|
|Jimmy Carter||10.5 million||90.9 million||80.4 million||13.1%||2,600,000||9.8 million||4.3%|
|Gerald Ford||1.8 million||80.4 million||78.6 million||2.3%||745,000||5.1 million||2.3%|
|Richard Nixon||9.4 million||78.6 million||69.2 million||13.6%||1,700,000||12.3 million||5.7%|
|Lyndon Johnson||11.9 million||69.2 million||57.3 million||20.8%||2,300,000||11.3 million||5.6%|
|John F. Kennedy||3.6 million||57.3 million||53.7 million||6.7%||1,200,000||8.2 million||4.3%|
|Dwight Eisenhower||3.5 million||53.7 million||50.2 million||7%||438,000||23.3 million||12.8%|
|Harry Truman||8.4 million||50.2 million||41.8 million||20.1%||1,100,000||N/A||N/A|
As you can see, George W. Bush and his dad, along with Gerald Ford, turn out to be the worst job creators of the modern presidents. Jimmy Carter looks like a smashing success by comparison. Looked at another way — via a “January to January” comparison, and going back a bit further, you find that FDR was a far more efficient job creator than, say, the Libertarian hero Calvin Coolidge:
|U.S. president||Party||Term years||Start jobs*||End jobs*||created (in millions)||Average annual increase|
|Harding/Coolidge||R||1921-1925||25,000 **||29,500 **||+4.5 **||+4.2% **|
|Calvin Coolidge||R||1925-1929||29,500 **||32,100 **||+2.6 **||+2.2% **|
|Herbert Hoover||R||1929-1933||32,100 **||25,700 **||-6.4||-9.0%|
|Franklin Roosevelt||D||1933-1937||25,700 **||31,200 **||+5.5||+5.3% **|
|Franklin Roosevelt||D||1937-1941||31,200 **||34,480||+3.3||+2.6% **|
|George H. W. Bush||R||1989-1993||107,133||109,725||+2.6||+0.6%|
|George W. Bush||R||2001-2005||132,469||132,453||0.0||0.0%|
|George W. Bush||R||2005-2009||132,453||133,549||+1.1||+0.2%|
|Barack Obama||D||2009-||133,549||130,419 (Jun. 2010)||-3.1 (Jun. 2010)||-1.6% (Jun. 2010)|
*In Thousands **Approximate
But any way you slice it, Democratic presidential terms out-pace Republican ones on job creation. Add to that the fact that the Republicans in the current Congress have opposed more than a dozen separate bills specifically geared toward job creation, including the small business lending bill, and even a bill that would have closed the tax loopholes for companies that ship jobs overseas. Why don’t average voters know that? Blame the Democrats for not pointing it out over the last two years. But the GOP can hardly be called the party of paychecks. The party of massive Wall Street bonuses, stock options and tax gimmes for rich folks? Yes. Party of jobs? Not so much…
The point is, what the GOP is doing this cycle isn’t new. It isn’t even all that novel. But it is made more effective, sadly, because this time, the president is black, with an exotic name and background, which already stokes discomfort in a certain kind of voter, who might be older, and who sees America as changing too fast, moving in the wrong direction culturally, and morphing into a polyglot society many moons away from the homogeneous world they grew up in, and worse, a society that doesn’t respect their religion or their values. Republicans have used this strategy principally in the south, after the civil rights movement (and it’s in the south that it remains most effective.) But they’re also using it to great effect in the industrial heartland, where job losses and economic anxiety make people easy pickings for a message of “us” versus “them.” People are worried about their jobs and lives slipping away — to their minds, why shouldn’t they look out for themselves and their families, and protect what they have from “foreigners,” deadbeats, Muslims and other people who don’t love America? What’s wrong with a little self-interest? Why shouldn’t the government help out the people who are gonna bring some jobs back, if you just give them what they want — give them their tax cuts and deregulation like they’re asking for, so we can get back to work? …
By the time these folks realize they weren’t meant to be a part of the top 2 percent’s prosperity plan, the election will be over, and the GOP will be gearing up to get them all razzed up again for 2012.