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We’re Going To ‘Willie Horton’ Obama


John McCain and Karl Rove

I couldn’t believe my ears.

First, on Sunday, a McCain campaign spokesman told reporters that if they didn’t “turn the page on the economy, we lose.” Now, my source at McCain headquarters is laying out Straight Talkin’ John’s hideous strategy for the last 28 days of the campaign.

“We’re going to ‘Willie Horton’ Obama,” he told me early this morning by phone. “It could work.”

For those too young or too old to remember the Michael Dukakis-George H. W. Bush campaign in 1988, the Democrat emerged from his convention with a 17% Gallup Poll lead. Perhaps the main reason his lead dissipated was an outrageous TV ad linking Governor Dukakis to a prisoner who committed rape during a weekend furlough. The commercial included an threatening photo of an ominous looking Willie Horton, an African-American convict.

“Wait,” I reply. “What happened to all of those statements by McCain preserved on YouTube of McCain insisting he would only run a clean campaign? No negative ads. No ‘Willie Horton’ smears?” Even McCain’s wife Cindy is captured telling a TV interviewer that their side won’t use negative ads or attacks.

There is a long pause on the line.“John said that before (Steve) Schmidt grabbed running the campaign away from Rick Davis,” comes what I realize is a self-evident answer. Schmidt, a Karl Rove protégé and veteran of Bush 43’s 2004 campaign, took over as McCain’s campaign director in July at the insistence of GOP heavyweights.

“Schmidt had Palin test drive the line this weekend and overnight internals showed it went over big with the base,” is the explanation. “The question is will it have the same impact on independents and undecideds?”

Palin’s attack line tries linking Obama to William Ayers, a 1960s-era member of the radical group Weather Underground. Ayers, now a respected education teacher, denounced his own involvement in the organization decades ago and, in the 1990s, served briefly on a charity board with Obama.

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She used the “Obama’s palin’ around with terrorists” line again on Monday, nearly causing Keith Olbermann’s head to explode as he tore her a new one in a Special Comment segment Monday night.

That the hate-and-smear campaign might work seems to be the only criteria used by the McCain campaign.

“No one knew that Dukakis had nothing to do with Willie Horton,” my contact inside the McCain campaign tells me, “or that the state’s policy of granting weekend passes to prisoners nearing the end of their term was established by the parole board, not the governor’s office,” my source tells me. “But it cost him the election.”

In an article this morning at, political columnist Norman Solomon agrees it might just work.


Young trial lawyers are taught if the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the facts and the law are against you, pound the table.

“All we’ve got left is pounding the table,” the McCain staffer, a lawyer by training, confesses.

Charley James
The Progressive Curmudgeon

If you're born in Milwaukee, you are born a Democrat. And so I gravitated naturally to liberal politics, first as journalist and then an activist. I've been writing since I was eight years old and, after working in newsrooms for far too long, I have devoted much of the past decade as an independent investigtative jouralist. When not writing about politics or George Bush, I scribble out essays on the peculiarites of modern times.

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