Willie Horton

Horton Hears A Race-Baiting

The race for Pennsylvania’s open senate seat between John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz is becoming more intense…and hateful.

Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, the Democrat, advocated for the release of Dennis and Lee Horton, long-incarcerated brothers serving life sentences for second-degree murder in a 1993 armed robbery. The brothers’ sentences were commuted last year by Governor Tom Wolf. The brothers have always maintained their innocence.

The brothers claim they were pulled over by police after giving a friend a ride, not knowing he was fleeing the cops. Some witnesses claim the brothers were assailants while police files document another person as the shooter. Prison administrators supported the brother’s case for clemency.

Dennis and Lee now work for the Fetterman campaign and the crudité-eating Republican candidate who actually lives in New Jersey has called for the Democratic campaign to fire them.

Oz’s campaign has released an ad with a narrator saying, “We all know Fetterman loves free stuff, we can’t let him free murderers.” Other ads have referred to the brothers as “thugs.” Oz’s campaign has created a website called “Inmates for Fetterman.” Guess what color the two brothers are.

When Oz and Republicans aren’t attacking Fetterman’s health, they’re lying about his record on crime…and it’s working. The polls in the state are narrowing which many are crediting to the attack ads from Oz on crime.

The attacks on the release of Dennis and Lee Horton bring another Horton to mind, William.

In 1998, William Horton became the focus of George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign.

William Horton was serving a life sentence for murder without the possibility of parole in Massachusetts. He was allowed to participate in a weekend furlough program, which he did not return from, and eventually committed assault, armed robbery, and rape in Maryland where he remains in prison today. He became the poster boy for the Bush campaign.

Bush’s opponent, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, was hammered for William Horton’s crimes even though it was a Republican governor who had signed the law legalizing the weekend furlough program. Dukakis was a supporter of the program and did veto a bill that would have restricted the furloughs of first-degree murderers, which Horton was.

Bush’s campaign manager Lee Atwater said, “By the time we’re finished, they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’s running mate.” Most people today can’t tell you who was Dukakis’ running mate but they remember Willie Horton.

Groups loosely affiliated with the Bush campaign (so the Bush campaign could say, “hey, that’s not us with the hate ads) began airing ads about the “revolving door” and “weekend passes” featuring Horton’s mug shot and screaming “Willie,” though William Horton had never gone by Willie in his entire life. Why did the Republicans need to see Horton’s face? Why did they need to call him “Willie?”

Today, the ad is used as a textbook example of racism and dog whistles in politics. It was the most racist presidential campaign in history until “Build the wall.”

Republicans learned long before the Willie Horton ads that racism worked to win elections. Look into Southern Strategy where the Republican Party learned how to say the n-word without saying the n-word.

Lee Atwater described the Southern Strategy in an interview saying, “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than Nigger, nigger.'”

Lee Atwater sure seemed to really like saying that word though.

Racism worked in 1954 and it still works today. Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governorship running on a campaign warning of Critical Race Theory being taught in schools, which isn’t actually being taught in any schools. Republicans are crafting laws outlawing Critical Race Theory from schools or any American history courses that will make white kids feel guilty. Seriously.

“Critical Race Theory” is more abstract than the n-word. Atwater would have loved it.

Oz is hoping dog whistles will work in Pennsylvania and is telling voters that Fetterman will release black murderers to kill white Pennsylvania grandmothers.

Oz is saying the n-word without saying the n-word.

Music note: I listened to Kaiser Chiefs while drawing today’s cartoon.

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