Yes, we built it; can we repair it? Pt. 17

Perhaps the most ambitious of Reagan’s moves as Governor was his role in trying to pass the tax reform via a constitutional amendment known as Proposition 1.  Perlstein in The Invisible Bridge summarizes the measure.

[It] included a rollback of the personal income tax rate from 8.3 to 7 percent and a provision that if the state collected more than an allotted amount in any year the surplus would be refunded to taxpayers. It established an emergency fund of not more than 0.2 percent of taxpayer income to maintain government functions—but only the governor could declare the emergency. It also set tax limits for cities, counties, and special districts. Finally, it exempted the wealthy from California tax law’s $10,000 mandatory minimum assessment, and included a rebate for lower-income taxpayers.

Reagan campaigned for the Proposition hard

California’s official nonpartisan legislative analyst A. Alan Post wrote his assessment that there would need to be a $620 million reduction in the next year’s state budget.  Reagan accused him of serving the Democratic Assembly Leader’s agenda.  After Reagan accused him of this, Post had a number of supporters.  Perlstein writes

Post had just been profiled as a model of objectivity and rectitude on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. He had once been, in fact, a registered Republican—then changed his status to “declined to state,” to foreground his nonpartisan scrupulousness. The chairman of the California senate Republican caucus rose to defend him: “Alan Post doesn’t slant figures.” So did the Republican floor leader in the California assembly: “I have never personally been of the opinion he is partisan.” Post appeared before the assembly Ways and Means Committee to patiently explain his statistics-laden seventy-five-page conclusions that over a four-year period Prop 1 would require budget cuts totaling $3.5 billion, and would merely shift the tax burden to localities and property taxes. The governor’s chief deputy director of finance called that “misleading, distorted, and biased.” A shouting match nearly broke out.

Democratic Assembly Speaker Robert Moretti challenged Reagan to debates to question what would Reagan cut to be able to afford the tax cuts.  Reagan avoided the debates deftly.  Reagan infuriated his opponents.  On the one hand, he would get upset about the attack that the tax plan would create deficits saying that it would produce $41.5 billion in 15 years in new money.  Then he would claim that the plan was to give the state less money to spend. When Moretti and others would claim that Reagan’s plan would cut bureaucracies or government services, Reagan would say that the emergency funds would protect them but also he didn’t want to protect them, anyway.  Reagan tried to pass Proposition 1 as a statute but the state senate held it up.  Reagan claimed it was sabotage but as Perlstein writes “it lost a vote in plain daylight, by a margin of 80%, including a majority of his fellow Republicans.”

Perlstein writes

If Reagan wanted to cut taxes and spending, Jerry Brown pointed out, why had he raised both in his previous seven years as governor, despite having a line-item veto? (He had even authorized a surprise tax increase for the Los Angeles school district two weeks after his initiative made the ballot.) “How can a magic formula, written by invisible lawyers, do what Ronald Reagan has been unwilling or unable to do?”

Ultimately, the measure failed 54-46.  Reagan would later reflect that it was a campaign of disinformation that was the reason for its ultimate demise.  Based on the track record and the slippery relationship that Reagan had with the truth especially with regards to this issue, it’s hard to believe him.  The conservative Heritage foundation also cited a campaign by public employee unions that argued that a state tax and spending limit would lead to local tax increases.  So voters were confused and ended up voting against the proposition with the idea that they were going to cut taxes.

Yes, we built it; can we repair it? Pt. 15

Reagan’s 1966 campaign focused on lowering the cost of higher education, welfare, restore order on the college campuses in California, and tax reform.  Reagan focused some of his campaign on the University of California at Berkeley.  He warned his supporters of “sexual orgies so vile that I cannot describe them to you.”  Perlstein notes that the orgy line got wild applause.  No proof was ever offered.

During Ronald Reagan’s first term as Governor, Reagan went hard after abuses in social welfare programs.  One of the more famous ones was his crusade against the abuses in Aid to Dependent Children.  The Los Angeles Times conducted their own investigation finding as Perlstein writes, “abuses in four-tenths of 1 percent of relief cases and editorialized that for the sins of these 180 families and $31,960 lost from the state treasury, innocent children whose birthright was poverty were being put at risk of starvation.”  Reagan was merely capitalizing on an issue that he brought up consistently and a thought that was fairly widespread.  A White House study conducted by the Lyndon Johnson administration found that nearly 75% of white Bostonians thought most welfare cases were fraudulent.

The 1960 Donahoe Act, also known as the Master Plan for Higher Education, helped establish tuition free college for all California students who wanted a higher education.  The plan was drawn up by UC president Clark Kerr.  The University of California would provide education tuition free to the top 12.5% of high school graduates.  The top 33.3% of high school students could go to one of the California State Universities, tuition-free.  Everyone else could go to one of the community colleges throughout California.  Community college graduates could then transfer to the University of California system or California State University’s system and finish their bachelor’s degree, tuition free.

Reagan upon his inauguration was able to get control of the Board of Regents for the University of California system.  He was able to fire Kerr.  He also proposed cutting the University of California system by 10% across the board.  He also proposed that the University of California system charge tuition and wanted the Berkeley to sell off collections of rare books.

The cost of higher education, therefore, was not the cost on the individual but rather the cost of higher education on the government. He later said, as Perlstein notes, that “it was not the business of the state to subsidize intellectual curiosity.”  Reagan offered no sympathy to student protesters. After a student was shot observing a protest, Reagan said,”the police didn’t kill the young man.  He was killed by the first college administrator who said some time ago it was all right to break the laws in the name of dissent.”

Yes, we built it; can we repair it? Pt. 14

Perlstein wrote about Nixon’s book Six Crises, as well.  Nixon wrote about his role in the Alger Hiss case and the aftermath.

For the next twelve years of my public service in Washington, I was to be subjected to an utterly unprincipled and vicious smear campaign. Bigamy, forgery, drunkenness, thievery, anti-Semitism, perjury, the whole gamut of misconduct in public office, ranging from unethical to downright criminal activities—all these were among the charges that were hurled against me, some publicly and others through whispering campaigns that were even more difficult to counteract.


Bigamy, if you’re like me and didn’t know what that was, is when you marry someone else while you’re legally married to someone else.  Of course, Nixon didn’t offer any proof of these claims.  He threw them out there because to be the Nixonian victim was the ultimate victory.  If called on it, he may have merely claimed that he was speaking metaphorically.

The Nixonian victim is easy to frame.  The Nixonian victim is often replicated by Republican politicians.  The idea is to go on the attack against someone for a minor issue and maybe even say something that is slightly incorrect.  When called out upon this attack, pivot and make either a moralistic claim about the attack or defend yourself with either something that may be construed as something that is almost correct (at least to the point where you can point out that it’s technically correct), claim that you were misquoted, or a victim of the media attacking you.

The best example of being a Nixonian victim is Ted Cruz in a recent presidential debate:

Mitt Romney tried to set up the Nixonian victim attack against Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential debate

Yes, we built it; can we repair it? Pt. 13

Nixon ran for Senate in California in 1950.  Nixon won his primary and would face Helen Gahagan Douglas in the general election.  Nixon taking the lead from the Democratic primary where Manchester Boddy compared Douglas to Vito Marcantonio who was accused of being a communist.  Nixon accused Douglas of being a communist.  He described her as “pink right down to her underwear.”

Nixon sent out five hundered thousand flyers comparing Douglas to Marcantonio.  The flyers, as Perlstein wrote, called him “the notorious Communist party-line Congressman from New York” and that Douglas “voted the same as Marcantonio 354 times.”  But as Perlstein points out, Nixon had voted the same as Marcantonio in triple digits and Douglas tried to point this out.  This didn’t help her.  Nixon was able to win the Senate election 59-40.

Prior to the 1954 Congressional elections, Nixon made a number of dubious claims about the efficacy of Joe McCarthy’s communist witch hunts and how the Eisenhower administration had done better.  McCarthy claimed that there were dozens of Communist subversives within the Truman administration.  How many? Well, it depended on the day you asked him.  He accused Truman had over 200 subversives one day.  Another he claimed there were 81.  Another he claimed there were only 50 or so.

Perlstein writes that Nixon, while on the campaign trail, claimed that the Eisenhower administration had been able to roust thousands of Communist subversives from the ranks of the federal government.  “Nixon had also claimed that the new White House occupants had ‘found in the files a blueprint for socializing America.'”  The Eisenhower civil service administration admitted to finding zero. Being that he told this to a group of reporters, they naturally asked for a copy of the document so that they could report.  As Perlstein notes, Nixon then claimed that he was speaking metaphorically.

Yes, we built it; can we repair it? Pt. 12

You might think I was being unfair to Mitt Romney when I classified his attacks on the Tax Policy Center as a constant war on the objective analysis of Republican policies.  But these attacks have been around for a long time.  The objective analysis is typically used to prevent fear-based policy principles that some like to push.  If the analysis shows that the problem isn’t widespread, it’s politically convenient to merely push back on the analysis as partisan or to ignore it entirely.

In Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, Rick Perlstein writes about how Richard Nixon deployed this strategy fairly well and often to its desired effect.  In Nixon’s first Congressional race, he ran against Jerry Voorhis.  Voorhis had proposed a bill outlawing the American Communist Party but had been a member of the Socialist Party.  I may be incorrect but this is one of the earliest purposeful deceits misconstruing communism vs socialism.  Nixon kicked off his campaign, as Perlstein notes, “I want you to know that I am your candidate primarily because there are no special strings attached to me.  I have no support from any special interest or pressure group.  I welcome the opposition of the PAC, with its Communist principles.”

The PAC assumed when Nixon talked about the PAC was the CIO-PAC which was the political branch of the Congress of Industrial Organizations.  They would later merge with the American Federation of Labor.  The CIO-PAC did not actually endorse Voorhis.  As Perlstein writes, Nixon would claim that he meant the National Citizens Political Action Committee, if he was asked.  This was a rare occurrence.

But it did come up during one debate between Nixon and Voorhis.  Perlstein recounts this in his book:

A Voorhis supporter, in the question-and-answer session at a candidate debate, baited the trap.  Why, he trilled condescendingly, had Nixon implied that Voorhis was CIO-PAC’s man even though Voorhis had told CIO-PAC he wouldn’t accept their endorsement even if they offered it?

Jujitsu time.

Nixon pulled out a mimeographed NCPAC bulletin and listed the names of the people who sate on the boards of both groups.  An interlocking directorate.

Nixon claimed that they were the “same thing, virtually, when they have the same directors” according to Roger Morris in Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician.  Voorhis didn’t immediately understand that he was eviscerated in the debate and later claimed that he was the first victim of Nixon’s political attacks.

Nixon ran a newspaper ad was ran showing that Voorhis voted the CIO-PAC’s viewpoint.  As Perlstein notes, three of the times Voorhis voted the opposite.  When challenged on this, Nixon would claim that the candidate was lying.

None of this seemed to matter. Nixon was able to win over Voorhis, 56-42.







Yes, we built it; can we repair it? Pt. 11

The open housing debate had far reaching effects outside of California.  Liberal Senator Paul Douglas was up for re-election in 1966.  He had been an architect of many New Deal policies and a civil rights champion.  Martin Luther King, Jr. had once referred to Douglas as the greatest of all the Senators. His opponent was moderate Republican Charles Percy.  Percy had funded his own war on poverty in the Chicago slums and supported the Civil Rights Act of 1966 in June of 1966 which included equal housing.  However, during the campaign Percy went on CBS’s Face the Nation and said that he still “supported the ‘principle of open housing, he disagreed with Senator Douglas on one thing: housing, including ‘single family dwellings’ would be an ‘unpassable and unenforceable’ attack on property rights.  ‘Right now, we aren’t ready to force people to accept those they don’t want as neighbors.’ Perlstein wrote that in The Invisible Bridge.  Percy was able to win the election in November and focused his first bill on trying to provide home ownership to those in poverty.  The reasoning was that his campaigns had always seen the issue of adequate housing as the most important.

Gerald Ford, the House Minority Leader, blamed the open-housing struggle for law and order’s decline saying as Perlstein wrote in The Invisible Bridge, “respect for law and order is basic to the achievement of common goals within our nation…since [open housing]’s inception it has created confusion and bitterness.  It has divided the country and fostered discord and animosity when calmness and a unified approach to civil rights problems are desperately needed.”  The official Republican Congressional response to housing had changed to match the John Birch society’s response within a year of the Watts riots.

Soon after the passage of Proposition 14, the Superior Court in Orange County, found that Proposition 14 added to the California Constitution would violate the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.  Reagan criticized the ruling.  Perlstein notes in The Invisible Bridge that Reagan was very critical of it.  He said

I have never believed that majority rule has the right to impose on an individual as to what he does with his property.  This has nothing to do with discrimination.  It has to do with our freedom, our basic freedom.

Reagan’s speech was praised by Southern Californians who have always had a streak of libertarian principles in their platforms.  Even today, the richer and whiter portions of Orange County have a strong libertarian streak in them including the county’s newspaper, the Orange County Register.

The Los Angeles Times wrote that California Democrats “now believe Ronald Reagan has an excellent chance to be the next governor of the most populous state in the union.”

The appeal to the California Supreme Court found the same thing finding that Proposition 14 required the state to become an agent of discrimination.  The argument from the supporters of Proposition 14 was that the initiative permitted private discrimination.  The United States Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the California Supreme Court.  The majority’s opinion included:

Here we are dealing with a provision which does not just repeal an existing law forbidding private racial discrimination.  Section 26 was intended to authorize, and authorize, racial discrimination in the housing market.  The right to discriminate is now one of the basic policies of the State.

The Supreme Court’s decision reinstated the Unruh Act and Rumford Act in May of 1967.

Yes, we built it; can we repair it? Pt. 10

Goldwater wrote in The Conscience of a Conservative about civil rights which included the decision in Brown v. Board of Education.  He wrote

A civil right is a right that is asserted and is therefore protected by some valid law.  It may be asserted by the common law, or by local or federal statutes, or by the Constitution; but unless a right is incorporated in the law, it is not a civil right, and is not enforceable the instruments of the civil law.  There may be some rights – natural, human, or otherwise that should also be civil rights.  But if we desire to give such rights the protection of the law, our recourse is to a legislature or to the amendment procedures of the Constitution.

So it would seem that the legislature would have the authority to give the civil rights to those who want equal housing or a law that would prohibit discrimination.  However, he wrote further about the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education which he assures his readers that he supports the decision because he supports racially integrated schools but that the decision was reached by unconstitutional grounds.

For the Federal Constitution does not require the States to maintain racially mixed schools.  Despite the recent holding of the Supreme Court, I am firmly convinced—not only that integrated schools are not required—but that the Constitution does not permit any interference whatsoever by the federal government in the field of education…I have great respect for the Supreme Court as an institution, but I cannot believe that I display that respect by submitting abjectly to abuses of power by the Court, and by condoning its unconstitutional trespass into the legislative sphere of government.

Again, the Rumford Act was passed by legislative means which he maintains is the only way that a civil right can actually be enforced.  He then talks about the Supreme Court trespassing into the legislative sphere of government.  The Rumford Act was the sole sphere of the legislature.

Further, Goldwater argues against the direct democracy of constitutional amendments passed by the people arguing that the Constitution was written against a “a tyranny of the masses.”  He wrote

Was it then a Democracy the framers created?  Hardly.  The system of restraints, on the face of it, was directed not only against individual tyrants, but also against a tyranny of the masses.  The framers were well aware of the danger posed by self-seeking demagogues–that they might persuade a majority of the people to confer on government vast powers in return for deceptive promises of economic gain.

Goldwater when writing about civil rights quotes from the Civil rights Act of 1866 to establish what constitutes a civil right.

that people of all races shall be equally entitled to make and enforce contracts, to sue be parties, and give evidence, to inherit to purchase, lease, sell, hold and convey real and personal property and to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property.

While all races could hold property, landlords could discriminate from those based on race or color which would prevent those from being able to lease real and personal property which would be a violation of their civil rights, if you include what Goldwater states.  Goldwater goes through the semantics of being able to discriminate against those tying to pursue an education because it is not specifically mentioned in that act nor that it was argued that the act would include integrated education.  I am providing a bit of semantic argument for Goldwater that the Rumford Act was merely a legislative process that helped ensure no violations of the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1866. We will talk much more about Goldwater at a later date.

Yes, we built it; can we repair it? Pt. 9

Note: This article draws heavily from the article: California’s Anti-Discrimination Legislation, Proposition 14, and the Constitutional Protection of Minority Rights: The Fiftieth Anniversary of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act by David B. Oppenheimer

In 1958, the Democratic Party made significant gains in the California legislature.  The Democratic Party by the late 1950’s was well on its way to becoming a pro-civil rights parry (if you exclude the South).  The Democratic Party held a two-thirds majority in the California legislature which prevented anti-civil rights legislators from blocking any civil rights legislation.  The Democratic legislators and gubernatorial candidate Pat Brown ran on a campaign of passing a Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA).  FEPA would prohibit businesses and labor unions from discriminating against employees or job applicants based on color, national origin, ancestry, religion, or race. Thanks to the Democratic supermajorities, Democratic legislators passed the law in April of 1959 and the law became effective in September of 1959.  The Unrugh Civil Rights Act was passed at the same time and would prohibit discrimination by all establishments in access to public accommodations.  The Hawkins Act also passed during this time applied to housing, but only publicly assisted housing accommodations.

The U.S. census found in 1960 that 83% of Californians were white and 5% were black.  Black Californians lived in near isolation away from white Californians.  For instance, in the Golden Gate University Law Review, David B. Oppenheimer writes that of the 461,000 black persons living in Los Angeles fewer than 4,000 lived in neighborhoods that were not majority black neighborhoods.  He notes that the city was 99% segregated.  The Berkeley City Council passed a fair-housing ordinance in January of 1963.  In 1960, the census found that the city was 74% white.  The city was about 20% black at the tie of this fair housing ordinance.  Within one month of it being passed, there was a repeal petition to repeal the ordinance. The voters of Berkley repealed the fair-housing ordinance 22,750 to 20,456.

Black Angelenos found themselves confined to East and South Los Angeles which included the Compton and Watts neighborhoods.  After a series of white attacks on black residents including car bombs, makeshift molotov cocktails, and burning crosses white residents of Compton and Watts fled into the suburbs  One way that the racial separation continued was the efforts of blockbusting.  The idea is that real estate speculators would buy a home on an all-white street and then sell or rent it to a black family.  The real estate speculators would then buy the remaining homes on the street from whites who wanted to flee.

The California Fair Housing Act of 1963 (Rumford Act) was passed by the California legislature in 1963.  The Rumford Act protected blacks and other people of color from discrimination for public and private housing.  It made discrimination in public housing and in all residential properties with more than five units.  The act was supported by Pat Brown, the California Attorney General, and the Assembly Speaker.  The Chamber of Commerce, the construction industry, and the real-estate industry all opposed the Rumford Act. With 25 minutes left in the session, the Act was passed by the Assembly and was signed by Pat Brown.  The Act was passed on essentially a straight party vote.  No Democrat voted against it and only three Republicans voted for it.

Thanks to the repeal of the Berkely fair-housing law, the real-estate industry thought that the Rumford Act could be opposed if put to a statewide referendum.  There was an initiative campaign with the slogan, “a man’s home is his castle.”  The campaign was opposed by the Democratic Party and its biggest allies including the AFL-CIO and the State Bar.  The leading supporters for the campaign included the Los Angeles Times, Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan.  In the further right, the John Birch society also supported Proposition 14.  As Oppenheimer notes in his article, George H.W. Bush was running as a Goldwaterite Republican with a platform that would oppose a federal fair-housing law.


Proposition 14 as it was known did go on the 1964 general election ballot.  Lyndon Johnson won the state of California 59-41 over Barry Goldwater but Proposition 14 was able to get 65% of the vote.

On August 11, 1965, a 21 year old black man by the name of Marquette Frye was pulled over for reckless driving.  He was found to be drunk and was placed under arrest.  Marquette’s brother Ronald walked to their house and gogt their mother Rena.  Rena scolded her son, Marquette, for drinking and driving.  Someone shoved Rena, Marquette was struck, and Rena jumped an officer.  Another officer pulled out a shotgun and Marquette was subjected to physical force.  Neighbors began watching the incident and throwing things at the police officers.  This quickly escalated to a riot.

The riot escalated further.  About 2300 National guardsmen were mobilized to stop the riots.  16,000 law enforcement personnel were mobilized.  Blockades were established and signs were posted about the authorized use of deadly force.  The riots continued for six days.  Arson and looting of white stores in the area were widesperad.  Over the course of six days, 31-35,000 adults participated in the riots.  There were 34 deaths, 1032 injuries, 3,438 arrests and over $40 million in property damage.  It was the worst riot in Los Angeles until the Rodney King riots.

One of the bigger factors in the riots was the passage of Proposition 14.  Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote an article for Saturday Review that made the argument that Los Angeles could have anticipated rioting “…when the state of California repealed a law that prevented discrimination in housing.”

Pat Brown canvassed the Watts area to help determine the causes of the riots and to see what he could learn to prevent a similar riot from happening in the future.  Rick Perlstein wrote in The Invisible Bridge that Brown would never forget what he learned.

Women told him they were desperate to work but couldn’t find child care; one told him what it was like to scrounge for her food to keep her baby from starving the week before her monthly relief check arrived.  He remembered, too, that the chairman of his commission convened to studt the riot – the conservate former CIA director John McCone – had learned it took a five-hour round-trip by bus from Watts just to file the papers to get on relief- for a stipend that hadn’t been adjusted for a decade.

The McCone Commission also wrote a number of proposals to help the Watts community either move on from the riot or help their standing in poverty to help remove them from poverty.  The prescriptions offered by the commission included “’emergency’ literacy and preschool programs, improved police-community ties, increased low-income housing, more job-training projects, upgraded health-care services, [and] more efficient public transportation.”  The McCone commission also highlighted the leading problems for the Watts riot when presented to Governor Brown which were (emphasis added): “poor education, unemployment, and inferior housing, transportation health services.”








Yes, we built it; can we repair it? Pt. 8

A standard attack line from Republican candidates and conservatives is to attack those who disagree with their ideas as being biased.  The claim is to show that people are getting to conclusions in an unfair manner instead of just letting the facts speak for themselves.  The most common time this happens is when the issue of taxation is to occur.  The worst is when conservatives seem to support a non-partisan source and hail them as independent when it gives them information that they agree with but if it disagrees with them or agree with a liberal, it is all of a sudden, a biased liberal think tank.  The fear seems to be of objective analysis.

During the 2012 Republican Presidential primary, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney released his tax plan in “Mitt Romney’s Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth.”  Romney expanded the plan in February of 2012 which would eliminate the alternative minimum tax and cutting the marginal income tax rates by an additional 20% cut across the board.  The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center did an analysis of Romney’s corporate, individual, and estate tax plan and found that it would cost $480 billion per year or $4.8 trillion over 10 years.  Per their analysis, “our major conclusion is that any revenue-neutral individual tax change that features Governor Romney has proposed would provide large tax cuts to high-income households, and increase the tax burdens on middle-and/or lower-income taxpayers.”

Romney and his campaign immediately dismissed the Tax Policy Center as a biased organization.  He also noted that the plan analyzed by the Tax Policy Center was not the complete one.  William G. Gale, former staff economist in President George H.W. Bush’s White House, fired back in an interview, “We wrote a technical, accurate paper given the available information.  The criticism that you can’t analyze the Romney tax plan because there isn’t one? That hasn’t stopped other economists from analyzing its growth effects. I like to have substantive discussions about tax policy. The uproar about the paper has not been substantive.”

But the main point of criticism from Romney   and his team remained.  Was the Tax Policy Center biased against Romney?  The Romney campaign released a press release when the Tax Policy Center released their study on Rick Perry’s tax plans.  The press release “Objective, Third-Party Analysis Showed Governor Perry’s Plan Would Raise Taxes on Millions of American Families –But He Doesn’t Seem Interested in the Discussion” seems to call into question whether or not the Romney camp thought that they were objective.

Following Romney’s lead, The Wall Street Journal called the Tax Policy Center, a “liberal think tank that has long opposed cutting income tax rates.”  Point of fact is that the Tax Policy Center seems to argue for lowering the income rates and doing more to help out the individual tax payer.   Of course, other authors for The Wall Street Journal called the Tax Policy Center nonpartisan and independent in previous articles and subsequent articles.  Conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin called the Tax Policy Center “left-leaning” and “very partisan” when talking about Romney’s tax plans.  When she had written about Herman Cain’s tax plan, she called it nonpartisan and independent.

Yes, we built it; can we repair it? Pt. 7

In the 1988 Presidential election, one of the most enduring political ads of all time was put on the airwaves

Andrew Card was the one who had informed Bush about the potential vulnerabilities of Michael Dukakis on the issue of the death penalty and potentially Willie Horton.  Lee Atwater has always maintained that the first time he heard of Horton was because of Democrats and Al Gore.  When Roger Ailes first heard the story of Willie Horton, he immediately thought of a campaign ad.  “The only question is whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife in his hand or without it.”  The blame was placed on Gore for having injected the idea of furloughs into the conversation.

This was more or less true.  Gore went after Dukakis about a prison reform program of furloughs in Massachusetts.  Gore asked if there would be a nationwide programs of furloughs.   But little was talked about how the prison reform program was already put into play.  More than 53,000 inmates in federal and state prisons received over 200,000 furloughs in 1987.  The furlough program existed in every state.  Thirty-six state programs allowed murderers and others who were serving life sentences with parole to be able to have furloughs.  Massachusetts and South Carolina were the only two states that allowed furloughs for those who were sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.  Furlough programs were supported by a number of people including Anthony Travisono, executive director of the American Correctional Association, which represents corrections officers. ”The furlough program is a good program,” Mr. Travisono said. ”It’s neither liberal nor conservative. Furloughs boost inmate morale, and we need every morale boost we can get. They are ninety-nine and forty-four one-hundredths percent successful.”

Early in the campaign, Bush had been open to the furlough programs in general.  It was possible this support was because federal prisons also allowed furloughs.  Ronald Reagan also supported furloughs.  Even though, there were two murders that occurred on the furlough program.   After one of the murders, Reagan said,” More than 20,000 already have these passes … and this was the only case of this kind, the only murder.”

Like the Swiftboat ads of 2004, the advertisement lived on because of its incessant views on the news media throughout the election. George H.W. Bush began to talk about Willie Horton in speeches in June of 1988 but there wasn’t a lot of name recognition for Willie Horton or any real news coverage.  The first ad aired on September 7 but only on cable television networks with less than 1 percent of market share.  They focused on a newer ad on October 3 but it did not mention Horton.  Finally, they had a third ad run later in October featuring Horton’s victims but not Horton.

In one study of the election, there were 19 separate evening news broadcasts between October 7 and Election Day that mentioned Horton.  Bush’s campaign team knew what they were doing by constantly bringing up furloughs and Willie Horton.  Baltimore Sun reporter Roger Simon wrote, ”mention furloughs in a speech and that got reported.  Keep mentioning it, give the press a name, and you set the press in motion.”

It seemed to work.  Bush’s popularity was higher for those interviewed between October 3- October 21 among people who had unfavorable views of blacks.  Jesse Jackson was the first one to call it out as a racist ad and made the racism in the ad explicit.  Vice President nominee Lloyd Bentsen joined Jackson in calling it racist.  Bush denied the racism in the ad.  He called the charges “some desperation kind of move.  There isn’t any racism.  It’s absolutely ridiculous.”  During the campaign, Atwater told Roger Simon, “the Horton case is one of those gut issues that are value issues, particularly in the South.  And if we hammer at these over and over, we are going to win.”  Atwater would later deny that there was an racial animus in the ads.  Since Atwater is one of the more vocal proponents of the idea of “the Southern Strategy”, it’s rather hard to believe him.

The Willie Horton ad was probably not needed to be used to be able to defeat Dukakis.  Bush held a lead after the convention and did not relinquish his lead the rest of the campaign.  However, his campaign’s use of the ad and their constant talking of the now infamous ad hammers the point of what fear drives the electorate.  The initial support of the program by both Bush and Reagan is not surprising nor is the abandonment of this support.  Why is it important for them to need to abandon this support? To show that they are the ones who can stop this fear.