No matter how much Leftists whine about the Willie Horton attack ad from the 1988 campaign for President, it was a completely fair and truthful ad. It is not racist whatsoever.
Susan Estrich is still bitter about the ad, 26 years later, and she brought it up in a recent column. After almost three decades, the Left is still trying to rewrite history, claiming that the ad was somehow “racist,” or “unfair” to Michael Dukakis. It was neither racist nor unfair.
Let’s review. Horton actually was a convicted murderer. That is true. Horton actually did get a furlough from prison as part of a program supported and defended by Dukakis. That is true. Horton actually did brutally attack and terrorize a young couple while on furlough, repeatedly raping the woman. That is true. All of those facts have been well-documented over the years.
So how is the ad “racist,” as Democrats allege? Is it because Horton is black? That has nothing to do with it. If anything, attacking the ad on racial grounds is in itself racist. Horton’s skin pigmentation had nothing to do with his crime, or the foolishness of letting a convicted murderer have a furlough from prison.
Horton’s skin pigmentation does not change the fact that if not for Dukakis’ irresponsible and foolish policy, a young couple would never have been terrorized, stabbed, raped and traumatized. Keeping the public safe from dangerous criminals has nothing whatsoever to do with skin pigmentation.
The cries of “racism” are meant to silence legitimate debate about public policy. Democrats knew they had been caught, and they knew the consequences of their policies were out in the open and being debated. The cries of “racism” were meant to distract from the debate over Dukakis’ record, and smear the people who were truthfully pointing out what Dukakis had done as governor.
It is true that the Horton ad fed the national paranoia about crime, and our paranoia about crime has led to the erosion of our civil liberties as well as the frightening escalation in the use of force by law enforcement. We have decades of bad policy, at the national and state level, that we need to roll back in order to reclaim our liberty.
However, rational people are capable of doing the intellectual equivalent of walking and chewing gum at the same time. It is possible to recognize and seek to roll back the abuses of the War on Crime and the War on Drugs and recognize that Dukakis’ policy was dangerously stupid and foolish. One can see the need for the criminal justice system to protect us from criminals and carefully guard our civil liberties from abuses by that same system. This is not an either-or question – that is a false choice. The answer to whether we should protect society from evil monsters like Horton or from abuse of power by government is “both.”