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?

(LAUGHTER)

(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.

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FILED UNDER: Campaign 2006, Race and Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Christopher says:

    “Hilary Shelton, head of the Washington office of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, and John Geer, a Vanderbilt University political scientist”

    These two are the biggest racist in the country! lol Liberals are a pretty funny bunch.

    And James, u don’t think a politician attending Playboy parties is appropriate fodder to throw? Wow, what’s it gonna take?

  2. James Joyner says:

    Christopher: I don’t think it’s inappropriate; I just don’t care. If the voters do care, it’s a perfectly legitimate issue to flog.

  3. Watch the ad again. Are any of the characters one that you would want to be or your children to be? If you can say I want my daughter to be the kind to wear an off the shoulder blouse in the middle of the day, attend playboy parties where she can hook up with people that she can’t get to call he back or a son who gets his income from porn producers, then the ad tells you to vote for Ford. If that is not your dream for your children (or you don’t like paying higher taxes, think the second amendment is not an optional part of the constitution, think terrorist rights are not as important than protecting the US, don’t rely only on other countries to safeguard the US or don’t vote on looks), then you should vote for Corker.

    I suspect the ad is going to resonate with married women with children. Not as a crypto-Mandingo appeal but on the good old values appeal.

    What I find interesting is the dogs that didn’t bark in the ad. Some of which I think the GOP has a legitimate case to run on and some is a little harder to make the case for.

    “This economy is too strong, we need to get our unemployment numbers up”

    “I’m tired of my vote mattering, I just want the judges to make all the decisions”

    “I get my values from Hollywood and Hollywood supports Harold”

    “It takes a thief to catch a thief and there ain’t no more thieven a family than the Fords of Tennessee”

    “Government is just to small”

  4. Anderson says:

    Did she *actually* meet Ford at the Playboy Party? Or is it like “I’m not a bimbo, but I play one on TV”?

  5. madmatt says:

    So its going to be okay if dems start suggesting that corker was making shady real estate deals while mayor….maybe a nice dixie mafia archetype saying…bob…call me about that deal?

  6. Ed says:

    Are you kidding me? This is so obviously a play to the “Hide the women, the N****** are coming!” old Southern fears. It’s despicable in this day and time. Haven’t we gotten beyond this yet?

  7. bithead says:

    Lesson: If you’re attacking a black Democrat…. and it doesn’t matter on what… you’re a racist. If they attack Black Republicans, it’s not a racist attack. After all, Democrats can NEVER be racist.

    Straight out of the Jesse Jackson school of race baiting.

  8. legion says:

    Well, the actual racism of the ad may be a moot point, since _both_ Corker _and_ Ken Mehlman have gone on the record saying the ad is crap… but they also both claim they have no control & don’t have the power to actually _pull_ the ads. Which is utter & complete crap, since the RNC apparantly _paid_ for the ads & has their name all over the responsibility tags at the end…

  9. legion says:

    Bithead,
    I’m being only slightly snarky here, but it’s hard to call a black man criticising another black man racist, and there just aren’t that many blacks _in_ the GOP to begin with, so they kinda start out at a disadvantage… 🙂

  10. Triumph says:

    And here I thought the white woman was just a caricature of a bimbo that one might meet at the Playboy mansion.

    You obviously have no understanding of Tennessee–the birthplace of the KKK.

    Like most of the Confederacy, it is a state where conservatives consistently appeal to “tradition.”

    This is clearly an attempt by a very desperate Republican party to appeal to latent racist tendencies in the electorate.

    It will likely work, I am afraid.

  11. cian says:

    Who is this aimed at? Anyone frightened by the idea of white women or men getting together with black women or men were never going to vote for Ford in the first place. What it says to those who have yet to decide is Wow, do I really want to line up with someone who wants to line up with them? On balance, Ford wins on this one.

  12. Harry says:

    “Who is this aimed at? Anyone frightened by the idea of white women or men getting together with black women or men were never going to vote for Ford in the first place”

    I can tell you who it’s aimed at – white southern women over 50. That’s the group that is most uncomfortable with inter-racial couples. I can also tell you, from my perspective just south of Tennessee, that white women over 50 are the Republican core group most inclined right now to abandon the Republicans. I hear it in conversations, letters to the editor, talk show call-ins. They’re concerned about health care, spending, Iraq – and they’re worried that it will affect them directly. They’re turning in to voting free agents. This ad, I’m convinced, is a not-so-subtle way to keep them voting Republican.

  13. Triumph says:

    Who is this aimed at? Anyone frightened by the idea of white women or men getting together with black women or men were never going to vote for Ford in the first place.

    It is aimed at racist Whites to motivate them to go to the polls. For some reason the Christian wackos are unhappy with both Bush and the Republican congressional leadership and may not be counted on for turning out in sufficient numbers.

    These religious nuts make up significant populations of Republican support in the exurbs of Nashville & Memphis. There is probably some overlap between evangelicals and racists, but I think that this ad is designed to boost turnout in the good-ol-boy, latent racist communities.

    In a close race, playing the race card can cover the decline in the numbers explected from religious nuts.

    Even without this ad, though, the Republicans are probably in good shape in TN since I would assume that Ford’s poll numbers are inflated due to the social pressure not to appear racist–i.e. respondents are more likely to report that they will vote for a non-white candidate.

    When they get into the booth, it’s another story. This ad works to reinforce latent racist tendencies.

  14. Mark says:

    I think the reason there is such an uproar over this is that it’s possible the ad could hurt Ford – among blacks. My experiences living in DC is that the group that hates interracial dating the most is black women. The ones I know hate black men who date white women, and most of their friends are of this opinion. Again, this is based on my conversations with friends of mine, but from what I have read elsewhere I tend to think it is true.

    So, what you have with this ad is something like this: the suggestion to blacks that Harold Ford is not “one of us” because he likes white women. I tend to think that this is almost too clever for the GOP to pull off, but I think it is a reason why many black Democrats are up in arms.

  15. If the woman was black, would it make the ad not racist? Or would it be racist because it was stereotyping black women as ‘hos’.

    I stand by my comments that the ad is meant to make you go ‘I’m not like them’ and thus not want to support Ford.

  16. Triumph says:

    So, what you have with this ad is something like this: the suggestion to blacks that Harold Ford is not “one of us” because he likes white women. I tend to think that this is almost too clever for the GOP to pull off, but I think it is a reason why many black Democrats are up in arms.

    Interesting point–it serves to motivate latent white racists to vote Corker while at the same time de-motivating Af.-Amer women from voting for Ford.

    Brilliant! It is easy to “misunderestimate” the GOP, but remember that Rove learned from the master–Lee Atwater. Atwater was a southerner who was keenly aware of the subtle ways in which race “plays” in the Confederacy. Rove isn’t stupid–I am sure that Atwater’s influence rubbed off.

    Remember Rove pulled a similar stunt in South Carolina during the 2000 primary with spreading accusations about McCain’s adopted daughter being the product of a liason between the senator and an African American prostitute.

  17. Richard Gardner says:

    I didn’t think the ad was inappropriate until the second appearance of the bimbo at the end, “Harold, call me,” a not so subtle closing. Since I looked it up on Youtube I also came across political ads from both candidates. Ford is painting Corker (the Republican running) as a fat cat with a 30-room mansion, and 6 SUVs.

    There are also ads attacking Ford’s family, some of whom have criminal records (corruption, white collar stuff).

    Political attacks are normal, with lots of half-truths (here is a Ford one indirectly accusing Corker of hiring illegal immigrants), but this attack on Ford straddles the line.

    Not being from TN, I don’t know if there are local issues hidden in the ads, but there likely are.

  18. Patrick McGuire says:

    Y’all have missed the point. The bimbo has nothing to do with racist feelings but rather more generally broad moral values in the South. Tennessee is in the Bible Belt and most voters there place a high value on politicians with high moral values.

    Ford ran an ad showing himself in a church, implying his religious values. This ad is meant to counter that image.

    Only a liberal weenie would see racism in it.

  19. Bandit says:

    Good projection Ed! I always wonder why liberals spend so much time looking for racists when all they have to do is look in the mirror.

  20. Not racist at all. One of the better ads of the ’06 election season.

  21. bithead says:

    I’m being only slightly snarky here, but it’s hard to call a black man criticising another black man racist, and there just aren’t that many blacks _in_ the GOP to begin with, so they kinda start out at a disadvantage… 🙂

    Yeah, well, in that situation they spend a lotta time convincing us all that the speaker they’re against isn’t really black. Witness. Justice Thomas, for example.

  22. […] James Joyner is another thoughtful writer who took a serious look at the ad (and other analyses), and tried to understand things, but partially concluded: 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. […]

  23. Just Me says:

    Okay, I am thinking if you have to jump to interpretation of how an ad is racist, then it probably isn’t racist. And the whole “plays on southern fears of white women and black men” doesn’t really ring with me-I am from the South and I didn’t see that.

    I think the ad was intended to be humorous, but falls short, so I can believe the “it isn’t a good ad” complaint, but I am not seeing the racism.

  24. eleddo says:

    I looked at the add a few times and you really must have picked up something that I didn’t, because I didn’t see anything at all racist,, just found it humorous.
    Seems you all are just trying to make something about nothing
    Eleddo-))

  25. dennis kearney says:

    get over it! the ad refers to interracial sex? so what? it’s sad that in a America we still have to refer to “interracial” sex. would we be talking about this if the woman were Hispanic or Asian? what about a black woman saying she met him at a playboy party? what if he were white– what color should the woman be then? this ad may backfire– more male voters may vote for the candidate who goes to playboy parties.

  26. anjin-san says:

    Slime & sleeze from the GOP? Damn, that’s a first…

    BTW Patrick. do you always use sissified words like “weenie” in your posts?

  27. Anderson says:

    A TPM reader notes another race-baiting tactic:

    This morning about 6:45 I’m getting ready for work and have the radio tuned to the local mega talk station. The hosts are talking about the heat that the Corker/RNC ads are picking up, but are pretty neutral on them themselves, suggesting that the ruckus–and the suggestions of racism–are overblown. They’re going through some callers, when one says, “That’s nothing. Have you heard the jungle drums on the radio ad?”

    So they play it, and, sure enough, the caller’s right. Soaring music underneath the copy when discussing Corker’s merits, jungle-like drumming when cutting to Ford’s demerits. The hosts were stone-silent when it finished, until one whistled, and said, “Damn.” They both agreed that the drumming — and the intent — was obvious.

    Lovely political party y’all have there … torture, racism, “preemptive” war …

  28. bithead says:

    Nice little fantasy you’ve got worked up for yourself, there Anderson, on all points.

    Are you so desperate for power that you’ve gotta make stuff up?

  29. Race, Ads, Ford and Horton…

    The controversy over the anti-Harold Ford ad continues, including a big story in the NYT: Ad Seen as Playing to Racial Fears
    The controversy erupted over one of the people featured: an attractive white woman, bare-shouldered, who declares that she met…

  30. tanya says:

    i think the add is hilarious. i don’t see how anyone could even dream of taking this seriously. comparing a a congressman to a terrorist. pathetic. as far as the woman with bleached blonde hair goes… are we really supposed to believe she is walking around outside naked?! i get what the rnc is trying to do…play on both a racist thing and a morals thing, but really how desperate does one have to be to stoop this low?!

  31. ben mcdonald says:

    the reference to the platinum blond is there because he is accused of going to a playboy super bowl party