The Boston Herald reported that a Massachusetts cop-killer could prove to be “Mitt Romney’s Willie Horton.” According to Politics Daily, a sex offender in Minnesota just may end up as “Tim Pawlenty’s Willie Horton.” Last year, Michelle Malkin chronicled a pair of violent criminals vying for the title of “Mike Huckabee’s Willie Horton.”
The stories themselves are sickening, but will likely have little impact on the 2012 primaries. Still, the coverage highlights something interesting in the way Willie Horton’s name is invoked. In each case, a criminal who was pardoned by a governor committed a second offense – mimicking Willie Horton, who incredibly got a weekend off from a Massachusetts prison while Michael Dukakis was governor and used his time off to commit more violent crimes.
For these Republican candidates, referencing Horton alludes to incompetence in governing.
But when Sharron Angle used extremely questionable imagery in an ad attacking Harry Reid, Horton was brought up again. In 2006, a hilarious ad against hard-partying former Congressman Harold Ford incredibly led to the H-word being bandied about by a few racial arsonists.
In these cases, Horton is synonymous with political dirty tricks – and worse yet, dirty tricks which prey upon voters’ racism. This, of course, goes back to the famous 1988 attack add on Dukakis:
This might simply be the observation of someone who didn’t grow up in the South, but pictures of Horton are not very scary. The ad’s shock value lies in the subtitles, which graphically detail Horton’s crimes. Horton’s race is irrelevant if the commercial’s impact relies on the Horton’s crimes, and the breakdown in law enforcement governance that allowed them to happen.
So either Willie Horton symbolizes race baiting, or Willie Horton symbolizes incompetence. It cannot be both.
Now, if you want a really racist commercial… well, there’s always room for Jello.