When I hear the term "sleazy politics" two organizations immediately leap to mind: Rupert Murdoch's barely-based-in-reality Fox News (sic) and the Republican Party, an almost wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries. Those two dark forces crank out enough manure in a good week to fertilize the entire land mass of the Louisiana Purchase.
Perhaps the single sleaziest political incident of the past half century was a television ad by presidential hopeful George H.W. Bush in 1988 in which he successful linked his opponent, Michael Dukakis, to a very scary looking black murderer named Willie Horton. The Bush team, headed by the late Lee Atwater, a man who was burdened with no scruples whatsoever, was able to use Horton to paint Dukakis as soft on crime. The fact that Horton was black also did not hurt candidate Bush with the racist wing of his party. The incident was shameful beyond measure and showed just how low an American politician would stoop in order to be elevated to leader of the free world.
The fact that Daddy had been President eventually got his dullard son, George W. Bush, elected governor of Texas - and ultimately President himself where he spent eight years taking orders from Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld as his administration squandered the budget surpluses of the Clinton years (and the lives and well-being of thousands of innocent Americans) on a quagmire of endless and pointless wars in the Middle East.
All of that goes back to Willie Horton - or more specifically - Lee Atwater and Willie Horton. One stupendous glob of sleaze that altered the course of human events, destroyed lives around the globe, and brought about a recession that had the potential to bring down our country.
So what did the political class learn from all of that madness? One thing: sleaze works.
The National Republican Campaign Committee has been involved in many congressional races, including the second district in Nebraska. Lee Terry, the Republican incumbent in that district who was first elected in 1999, is facing a stiff challenge from Democrat Brad Ashford. The NRCC thought they might be helpful to their boy, Terry, by cutting an ad that connected Brad Ashford with Nikko Jenkins - a convicted murder from Nebraska who is also a scary looking black man with tattoos on his face.
Willie Horton rides again!
This time, however, there was a minor glitch in the slathering of the sleaze. At a court hearing this past week to determine his mental status, Mr. Jenkins, the involuntary subject of the Republican political ads, suddenly (and loudly) endorsed Lee Terry for Congress. "Hey you guys," the convicted killer shouted to reporters, "Vote for Lee Terry! Best Republican ever!"
Not surprisingly, Congressman Terry's campaign is trying to distance itself from the mess made by the National Republican Campaign Committee. The Terry campaign said:
"We're not going to comment on the ranting of a serial killer who never should have gotten out of prison in the first place. This man does not deserve one more second of publicity, which is why we refused to use his name or face in any of the ads our campaign produced."
Yes, but the Terry campaign didn't have a problem with the NRCC producing an ad that did. It was all good - until the ad backfired and covered them in sleaze!
Live by the sleaze, die by the sleaze!
(One has to wonder how much better the world would be today if Willie Horton had had to presence of mind to endorse George H.W. Bush.)