Courting The Bigot Vote
November 01, 2006
Paul Waldman is a senior fellow at Media Matters for America and the author of the new book, Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Can Learn From Conservative Success, just released by John Wiley & Sons. The views expressed here are his own.
Ah, autumn—a brisk snap in the air, the deep hues of trees changing colors …and Republicans telling you that black men are coming to have sex with your daughters.
All right, that isn’t completely accurate. Black men are coming to have sex with your daughters, Republicans warn, but gays are also going to turn you into one of them, and if we don’t act soon the halls of power will be crawling with sex perverts.
We’ve all heard about the ad directed against Senate candidate Harold Ford in Tennessee, in which a ditzy young woman squeals, “I met Harold Ford at the Playboy party!” and closes the ad with, “Harold, call me!”—and you know what they’ll be doing if he does. But that isn’t even the most racist ad that has been aired in that state, nor is the one that features thumping jungle drums every time Ford’s name is mentioned. The most racist ad would have to be this radio spot, aired by a group called “Tennesseans for Truth” :
Ford’s opponent, Bob Corker, condemned that ad, as he did the “Call me!” ad (which was produced by the national Republican Party). But there are lots of Republicans in Tennessee who want to make extra sure that voters know that Harold Ford is black, black, black. Faced with a dynamic, skilled candidate in Ford and a mediocre one of their own in Corker, combined with a national mood decidedly unfavorable to Republicans, the GOP decided to hitch its wagon one more time to the bigot vote.
We can look on the bright side and say that what’s bad for Ford may in general be good for Democrats. Ford, currently locked in a dead heat, is depending on the willingness of the good people of Tennessee to rise above their past and elect the first African-American senator from the South since Reconstruction. Elsewhere, black Republicans are finding that they have a lot of trouble convincing African Americans that the GOP has mended its ways, and the attention the Ford race has gotten isn’t helping. Kenneth Blackwell in Ohio, Lynn Swann in Pennsylvania and Michael Steele in Maryland have all been unable to bring significant numbers of African Americans to their side, and look headed for defeat.
For years, Republicans have been saying they’ve put their past sins behind them and are reaching out to African-Americans. No one has done this with more enthusiasm and less substance than George W. Bush, whose 2004 campaign website featured a “compassion photo album” consisting of dozens of photos of the president with black and brown people. It was always a strategy aimed not at minorities themselves but at moderate whites who needed to be assured that Bush was different than his Republican forebears.
But the Republican Party doesn’t “try to benefit politically from racial polarization,” they stoke and exploit racism and hatred. The “southern strategy ,” Willie Horton and the biennial efforts to prevent black people from voting are something more than “looking the other way.” When election time approaches, they just can’t help themselves. The GOP is addicted to the bigot vote, addicted to suppressing the votes of people whose skin is not white. Like every addict, they tell themselves they can stop whenever they want—I’ll kick next year, I just need it one more time to get me through this election.
And it isn’t just racial fears that Republicans are working to stir up. Elsewhere, they’re taking on the other subject of the ad against Ford—sex. In addition to the blond bimbette who likes her men the way she likes her coffee, the ad features a smarmy guy saying, “So he took money from porn movie producers, I mean, who hasn’t?” (For the record, a porn producer gave Ford a donation, which he returned.) Virginia Sen. George Allen has managed to convince the news media to make hay out of the fact that the widely praised novels his opponent Jim Webb wrote years ago contained some sexually explicit material.
In what has to be one of the most deceptive ads of the campaign, Republicans charge that New York Democratic House candidate and country district attorney Michael Arcuri used government funds for phone sex. “Hi sexy,” says a voice in the ad as a woman’s silhouette writhes in the background, “You’ve reached the live, one-on-one fantasy line.” In fact, the call in question was obviously a misdialed number—it lasted one minute, and was followed immediately by a call made to the state’s Department of Criminal Services, and the two numbers have the same last seven digits. But who cares? It’s another opportunity to say that Democrats are a bunch of perverts.
And it isn’t just the television ads. Vice President Dick Cheney have been warning of the terrifying Democrats who would assume committee chairmanships if the Democrats win the House—most particularly Charles Rangel, John Conyers, Henry Waxman and Barney Frank. Blacks, Jews, and gays, oh my! “And I don't need to tell you what kind of legislation would come,” Cheney says in his trademark ominous way. Indeed, who knows what kind of immoral bills, just dripping with man-lust, that Barney Frank could move through the Financial Services Committee that he will likely be chairman of come January? Will Wall Street turn gay? Republicans don’t want to find out.
We’ve seen this before, of course: Ken Starr’s obsession with Bill Clinton’s penis; Rick Santorum’s going on about “man-on-dog,” among other things (sample Santorum quote: “Will heterosexuals continue to, you know, copulate, to have sex [if gays are allowed to marry]? Sure, but will they build families?”); James Dobson’s every waking moment being consumed with the thought of two men having sex; Jerry Falwell watching “Teletubbies” over and over to figure out if Tinky Winky is trying to turn him gay. Conservatives are on a perpetual sexual hair-trigger, their heterosexuality hanging by a thread as all manner of dirty thoughts whirr furiously through their heads. The slightest provocation might drive them insane with desire, a too-friendly gaze from a man with washboard abs liable to give them feelings they’re ashamed to admit they have. This fevered sexual obsession is then projected onto their opponents—They’re the sex fiends, they’re the perverts, not us!
While we don’t know exactly what will happen next Tuesday, in a perfect world a Republican meltdown might help convince them that these kinds of attacks aren’t just morally repugnant—let’s be honest, that argument is never going to stop them—but that they don’t work. We can only hope.