Attacking Barack the Old-Fashioned Way: Race

How to attack the first black president during his re-election campaign? Why worry about anything sophisticated and truly clever when your opponent’s most obvious deficit is staring you in the face.

Or, rather, your opponent’s most glaring deficit is his own — and his former pastor’s — black face.

The New York Times reports this morning,

“A group of high-profile Republican strategists is working with a conservative billionaire on a proposal to mount one of the most provocative campaigns of the “super PAC” era and attack President Obama in ways that Republicans have so far shied away from.”

The plan, which is awaiting approval, calls for running commercials linking Mr. Obama to incendiary comments by his former spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose race-related sermons made him a highly charged figure in the 2008 campaign.”

The whole thing reminds me a bit of the effort in 1964 by Republican nominee Barry Goldwater to tar President Lyndon Johnson for moral failures — his own and the country’s.

Instead of producing sixty-second spots that viewers might actually watch, Goldwater’s advisers opted for a more arresting and better-produced thirty-minute films that would, they hoped, take the spotlight off their own candidate’s bellicose rhetoric and instead stoke fears of a full presidential term for Johnson.

The program, called “Choice,” juxtaposed disturbing images of sexual promiscuity, moral bankruptcy and racial unrest (representing Johnson’s America) with tranquil, traditional, patriotic scenes (representing Goldwater’s America). Interjected between jarring images of lewd dancing, female strippers, rioting and gambling was a black Lincoln speeding recklessly along a dirt road.

In one scene, the driver tosses a beer can from the car. That image was meant to associate Johnson – reported to occasionally drive his own Lincoln at high speeds on his sprawling Texas ranch while drinking beer – with the disturbing scenes of moral corruption.

In a memorandum to campaign advisors, Goldwater’s publicity director explained that “the purpose of this film is to portray and remind people of something they already know exists, and that is the moral crisis in America. . . . We just wanted to make them mad, make their stomachs turn.”

Early in the film, the narrator, actor Raymond Massey, intoned

“Now there are two Americas. One is words like “allegiance” and “Republic.” This America is an ideal, a dream. The other America is no longer a dream, but a nightmare. Our streets are not safe. Immorality begins to flourish. Violence pits Americans against American. We don’t want this.”

Goldwater had approved the program’s creation, but was never involved its production. Finally completed by the Los Angeles advertising firm of Anderson, Morgan, DeSantis and Ball at a cost of $50,000, the program was booked to air on NBC at 2 p.m. on October 22, 1964.

That plan quickly collapsed when advisors showed the film to Goldwater. “It’s nothing but a racist film,” he scoffed and ordered its cancellation. While the film never aired on national television, the campaign nonetheless sent copies of “Choice” to Goldwater supporters around the country. Thousands of viewers saw it in private screenings at movie houses and drive-in theaters.

Of course, Romney’s media professionals won’t be creating the thinly veiled racist appeals, as did Goldwater’s campaign. They’ll just do it on his behalf, with his tacit approval.

Even if Mitt decides this is finally his Sister Soljah moment and condemns the effort, it’s not likely these racist businessmen will desist.

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