Ford Attack Ad Racist?
An attack ad running against Harold Ford and sponsored by the Republican National Committee is generating controversy, with the Ford campaign calling it “racist” and his Republican opponent, Bob Corker, calling for it to be removed from the air.
Here’s the video:
Here’s the transcript:
(UNKNOWN): Harold Ford looks nice, isn’t that enough?
(UNKNOWN): Terrorists need their privacy.
(UNKNOWN): When I die, Harold Ford will let me pay taxes again.
(UNKNOWN): Ford’s right. I do have too many guns.
(UNKNOWN): I met Harold at the Playboy party.
(UNKNOWN): I’d love to pay higher marriage taxes.
(UNKNOWN): Canada can take care of North Korea. They’re not busy.
(UNKNOWN): So he took money from porn movie producers? I mean, who hasn’t?
(UNKNOWN): The Republican National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.
(UNKNOWN): Harold, call me.
Now, frankly, I think the ad is lame. The fact that Ford likes to attend parties at the Playboy mansion is hardly a disqualifier, either. But there’s nothing in the ad that is even remotely about race, unless “Playboy party,” “higher marriage taxes,” or “porn movie producers” are new code words with which I’m not familiar.
UPDATE: LAT’s Peter Wallsten explains it.
Critics said the ad, which is funded by the Republican National Committee and has aired since Friday, plays on fears of interracial relationships to scare some white voters in rural Tennessee to oppose Democratic Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. Ford is locked in a tight race, hoping to become the first African American senator since Reconstruction to represent a state in the former Confederacy. “It is a powerful innuendo that plays to pre-existing prejudices about African American men and white women,” said Hilary Shelton, head of the Washington office of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, the country’s oldest civil rights organization.
John Geer, a Vanderbilt University political scientist who published a book this year on attack ads, “In Defense of Negativity,” said he had watched the anti-Ford spot repeatedly in recent days. “I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” he said. “I don’t see how you can think it’s not playing a racial card. It’s making references to interracial sex. It’s an ad that is in some sense breaking new lows.”
And here I thought the white woman was just a caricature of a bimbo that one might meet at the Playboy mansion.
I might be pre-disposed to that view, though, because I’ve gotten a couple of e-mails from the RNC and various campaign flacks touting the news that Ford had gone to some Playboy parties. Since I’m much more offended by spam than by men who enjoy looking at hot women, I just figured this was more flogging of that issue.
UPDATE: A Democrat friend (who also doesn’t find the ad objectionable) points to Josh Marshall‘s explanation:
The ad has a number of faux man on the street interviews. Each is a spoof based on GOP policy talking points. So for instance, a hunter is interviewed and he says “Ford’s right. I do have too many guns.” An older guy says “When I die, Harold Ford will let me pay taxes again.”
Not my cup of tea as far as humor goes. And I’d be surprised if Harold Ford is a big gun control man. But pretty standard fair for ‘funny’ political ads. And each addressed to a question of public policy.
But then you see that one ‘man on the street interview’ isn’t quite like the rest. It’s almost like those old Sesame Street segments, one of these things is not like the other.
It’s the one spot with the platimum blonde with no visible clothes on, vamping “I met Harold at the Playboy Party.”
What policy issue is she talking about? It’s not connected to anything. It’s just, ‘I’m a loose white woman. I hooked up with Harold at the Playboy mansion. And I can’t wait for him to do me again.’
Once you watch the ad again after realizing that, it sticks out like a sore thumb. What becomes clear is that the funny man on the street interview clips are padding, filler meant to make the ‘Harold does white chicks’ blurb appear to fit into a larger whole, just one of a number of ‘man on the street’ clips.
Two problems with that analysis, though. First, as noted above, the Ford-Playboy thing is a GOP talking point in this campaign. Second, the type of voter who still doesn’t know whether he supports Ford or Coker at this late stage of the game is what we in the business call a “moron.” These tend not to be people with a mastery of complex symbolism.
A more reasonable interpretation of the ad, I think, comes from Mark Schmitt (via Marshall): “He’s a pretty boy, he’s not from here, [he] has weird values.” Now, to be fair, Schmitt also sees “implied miscegenation” in the ad. But that summary seems to me exactly the message the ads running against Ford are conveying.
UPDATE: Replaced MSNBC version of anti-Ford ad with larger, more reliable version from YouTube.