Tuesday, October 24, 2006



Just days ago, the Republicans were calling a Democrat a racist because he had used the word "slavish" when speaking of candidate Michael Steele's propensity for following the Bush administration line. One might have thought this an indication that the Republican Party had developed a refreshing new sensitivity to racism as a campaign tactic. After all, didn't GOP Chairman Ken Mehlman recently apologize to black Americans for the way that the party had played on racism in the years since Nixon first deployed his "southern strategy," and hadn't this same Ken Mehlman been heard telling every journalist he could buttonhole of his fervent desire that his party should demonstrate a renewed commitment, not seen since the Reconstruction era, to reaching out for African American voters?

By now you've probably seen the ads that Ken Mehlman's Republican National Committee is paying to have run in Tennessee to oppose senatorial candidate Harold Ford, who, if elected, would be the first black Senator from a southern state since Reconstruction. Most of the discussion about this ad has centered, not surprisingly, on that seemingly unclothed blonde who says she met Harold Ford "at the Playboy Party," and who closes out the ad by looking longingly into the camera and cooing seductively, "Call me, Harold."

There can be little doubt what lingering sentiments this part of the ad is meant to appeal to, but the GOP spokesmen profess not to see it. Tonight on the HARDBALL program, Chris Matthews asked White House Spokesman Tony Snow about this point. Snow said he didn't see anything racial about the ad at all. Even when Matthews pressed him in disbelief, pointing out that the blonde was the only person appearing with bare shoulders in the ad, Snow dismissed the suggestion, adding that in every campaign somebody would play the "race card," implying that only someone trying to play the "race card" in a campaign would try to convince the public that there was anything racial in having an apparently naked white woman close out an ad with an open invitation to a black candidate; "call me, Harold."

Bob Corker, Ford's Republican opponent, DOES see something wrong with the ad, or so he would have us believe, and he has professed his desire to see the ad pulled from television. Still, the ad continues to run. In fact, the woman who appeared as an official spokesperson for the RNC to tell reporters that the ad would continue to run is the same woman who has been traveling through the state with Corker on his campaign.

And where is Ken Mehlman in all this? He tells reporters he doesn't have any problem with the ad at all.

Yeah, and George Allen never heard the word "Macaca" before pulling it out of his fevered brain to describe a young man whose family was from India. Meet the new GOP, same as the old . . . well, the Grand Old Party.

And while the Republicans are busy telling journalists that only the deluded, race-card-playing liberal elite would ever see anything racial in this imagery, Rush Limbaugh takes to the air to accuse Michael J. Fox of exaggerating his Parkinson's symptoms in his appearance in a campaign ad on behalf of a candidate who supports stem cell research.

But there's another aspect of the anti-Ford ads that also needs attention. That same ad that closes with a seductive white woman suggesting a tryst with Ford opens with a black woman speaking on camera. What does she have to say about the election?

"Harold Ford looks nice. Isn't that enough?"

Is this meant to tell us that Ford is a good looking candidate? Or is it meant to suggest something about the motivations and insights of black women voters?

The Republican Party will not renounce its addiction to racist campaign tactics. The party of Lincoln, the party of Reconstruction, is today the last unapologetic home of unreconstructed bigotry.

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