Thursday, February 23, 2006

Willie Horton, wedge issues and American politics
Soft on crime; soft on terrorism

There is a long tradition of playing the race card in American politics. Why? Unfortunately, because it works.

Willie Horton is the classic example. If you are not familiar with this example follow the link. Bush the First used it to argue that Democratic presidential candidate Dukakis was soft on crime, but it was made more effective because Horton just happened to be black.

A wedge issue is one where you can split off some of your opponents supporters without alienating your own base. Bush the First, though, wasn't so much using Willie Horton as a wedge at least not directly. Rather he wanted to bolster his credibility for being tough on criminals. And it didn't hurt that using a black face helped cement that perception with many Americans. Dukakis never effectively responded to the soft-on-crime tag that Bush I (and Lee Atwater) stuck on him. The reason is he never figured out how to do so without being labeled a racist by his base amongst blacks. So, in the end, Willie Horton is a good example of a wedge issue.

Fastforward to present day. Democrats, fairly or not, are perceived as being soft on terrorism; what public support Bush II has resides in being perceived as tough in the war on terror. Then the ports issue comes along.

Ah, it's the perfect storm. Play the national security card with the dark-skinned face. Place a wedge between Bush and the core of his support, Americans whose #1 issue is homeland security. That didn't work when the UK company owned the ports. It does now because the color of the port owner's skin has changed. Play off a public perception that many Arabs are terrorist sympathizers. Notice that the conditions for a fire storm are auspicious - news of cartoon riots has left the tender very dry.

Never mind that you've not shown that change of ownership has anything to do with port security.

Willie Horton was a murderer released on furlough in Governor Dukakis' state and while on furlough did commit a vicious rape. Dubai is no Willie Horton. But Hillary Clinton (among others) is using Dubai as if it was.

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Anonymous Anomolous said...

Is it in principle impossible to cast a skeptical eye towards the UAE without being a racist?

10:02 PM  
Blogger John B. Chilton said...


I hope so. I do it all the time.

And, I also don't see anything wrong with racial profiling based on statistical differences between groups, whether individuals or countries.

I'm arguing that much of the opposition is visceral and the politicians exploiting that emotion are playing on race.

So let's be skeptical, let's keep bringing facts to the table, let's see what coherent tale it tells. That's not racist. Jumping to conclusions, though, may very well be.

10:41 PM  

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