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An Ersatz Christian Smears Obama with a Willie Horton-type Ad

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If you want to catch a glimpse of what's morally wrong with a small segment of America's conservative Christians, simply look at the antics of Floyd Brown. Mr. Brown, you might recall, was an author of the scurrilous Willie Horton ad broadcast across America in 1988, in order to smear the Democratic presidential candidate, Michael Dukakis. It was an ad designed to appeal to the worst in many Americans; fear based on ignorance, a lack of decency and racial bigotry. Now he's launched another Willie Horton-type ad in North Carolina to smear Barack Obama.

Lee Atwater, who fostered the Willie Horton ad, put it this way: "You start out in 1954 by saying 'n-word, n-word, n-word.' By 1968 you can't say 'n-word' - that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff." And by 1988, if you're Lee Atwater, Floyd Brown, Roger Ailes or George W. Bush, you run an ad featuring a menacing black criminal, in order to smear Dukakis as soft on crime.

Mr. Atwater, who died and went to hell at an early age, predicted, "by the time this election is over, Willie Horton will be a household name." And media consultant Roger Ailes (that poor excuse for a human being who gave America the plague called FOX News) remarked, "the only question is whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife his hand or without it."

Floyd Brown, has the gall to call himself a Christian, but carries on the devil's work in the tradition of Atwater and Ailes. After all, what decent human being - let alone God-fearing Christian -- readily admits that the only purpose of his new smear ad is to raise Obama's negatives with Republican voters?

Fortunately, Brown's infantile 60-second advertisement titled "Victims" only demonstrates that God has a sense of humor. It's an ad that will appeal only to morons or thoughtless right-wing zealots.

"Victims" is an ad that juxtaposes rising gang violence in Chicago in 2001 and Barack Obama's refusal to add gang-related murders to Illinois' death penalty statute. Noting that the Chicago Sun Times labeled such gang violence "urban terrorism," Brown's ad concludes: "When the time came to get tough, Obama chose to be weak. Can a man so weak in the war on gangs be trusted on the war on terror?"

Like all dishonest smears, Brown's dirty smear lacks the context necessary for judging Obama's decision. In fact, in January 2000, Illinois' Governor George Ryan placed a moratorium on state executions, because 13 men placed on Death Row were eventually exonerated. Rather than seeking new reasons to execute people - How Christian! - the focus in Illinois had shifted to guaranteeing that the state not execute innocent men.

Not mentioned in Brown's dirty smear was Governor Ryan's conclusion that the existing statute already covered most gang activity that results in murder. Moreover, like Senator Obama, Governor Ryan also worried that the broad language pertaining to gang activities "could discriminate against racial and ethnic minorities."

Also not mentioned in Brown's dirty smear was the fact that the sentencing factor covering gang-related murders would have been the 21st such factor included in Illinois' death penalty statute. Thus, Brown's ad fails to capture Governor Ryan's concern that "as we continue to almost annually add eligibility factors to our death penalty statute, we introduce more arbitrariness and discretion and edge ever closer to our previous capital punishment that was effectively held unconstitutional by the United State Supreme Court in 1972."

In fact, many prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges came forward to claim that Illinois already had too many death penalty factors. Even more significant, in actual practice, prosecutors relied on just two of the factors - (1) committing a murder in the course of a felony and (2) committing two or more murders - 80 percent of the time. Yet, you will find none of this information in Floyd Brown's despicable ad.

Finally, as Aaron Chambers has observed in "Political Aggravation" [Illinois Issues Online, Oct. 2001, which is the source for much of what I've written above], "It's no secret that by voting for aggravating factors, lawmakers help build their tough on crime images." He quotes Rep. Jack Davis, who admitted: "A lot of that was press and showmanship…It was for the folks back home at election time."

Thus, rather than displaying weakness, as Floyd Brown's dishonest ad suggests, Senator Obama actually eschewed easy showmanship to exercise sound judgment. As his prescient opposition against the invasion of Iraq subsequently demonstrated, it would not be the last time Senator Obama exercised such sound judgment. Moreover, such judgment was profoundly superior to that exercised by President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain, Senator Hillary Clinton and the many conservative Christians who initially supported Bush's illegal, immoral invasion of Iraq.

Finally, any serious discussion by decent people about inner-city crime and the death penalty must include a consideration of the root causes of such crime. A good vehicle for facilitating such a discussion is Elijah Anderson's book: Code of the Street: Decency, Violence and the Moral Life of the Inner City.

As Professor Anderson concludes: "When jobs disappear and people are left poor, highly concentrated, and hopeless, the way is paved for the underground economy [including drugs] to become a way of life, an unforgiving way of life organized around a code of violence and predatory activity. Only by reestablishing a viable mainstream economy in the inner-city, particularly one that provides access to jobs for young inner-city men and women, can we encourage a positive sense of the future." [p. 325]

Notice that Professor Anderson's suggested solution to crime and violence does not even mention the death penalty. But, then, a "serious discussion by decent people" must, by definition, exclude the likes of Floyd Brown -- an ersatz Christian who brings nothing but lies, hate and divisiveness to the table.


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Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San (more...)
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