Unsurprisingly, so much so that it is a little strange that it is even considered news, Bloomberg News informs us that the GOP plans to go back one of the oldest and rattiest pages in its playbook by painting Barack Obama as soft on crime and thus out of step/touch/contact with the fabled “mainstream of America.”
The Republicans are facing an uphill battle against a fresh-faced Democrat for a third term in the White House, and they are reaching for a familiar playbook: crime.
It worked in 1988; it will be tried again in 2008.
With Illinois Senator Barack Obama almost certain to be the Democratic nominee, Republican groups are focusing on his vulnerabilities. They are highlighting some of his positions during his eight years in the Illinois state legislature, from opposing extending the death penalty for gang members to supporting the “decriminalization” of marijuana and refusing to back restrictions on porn shops.
“I would be amazed if crime was not used extensively to show how out of step this guy is with the mainstream of America,” said Tony Fabrizio, a Republican strategist unaffiliated with the campaign of the party’s presumptive nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain. Fabrizio said the crime votes, in particular, were “something visceral.”
The reporter who wrote this piece only seems to remember back to 1988, because 1968 and Richard Nixon’s “law and order” campaign would be the real start of this gambit’s modern history, with precursor honors (?) going to the bizarre pro-Goldwater experimental film Choice from 1964. Yes, I put the words Goldwater and “experimental film” in the same sentence. Choice was an unsettling montage of staged and archival footage that juxtaposed the presumed white viewers’ “real” America of children and flag with the rising Democratic America of black people, violence, gambling, nudity, and speeding Cadillacs with beer cans flying out the window. All that and some seething Voice of God narration from conservative actor Raymond Massey.
At the same time, “outing” seemingly progressive candidates from the “mainstream” has been a feature of American right-wing discourse since the very beginning. Let me throw out one example from my research on the 1796 presidential election. A Federalist writer in the Reading (Pa.) Weekly Advertiser dredged up Democratic-Republican figurehead Thomas Jefferson’s opposition to a national fast day when he was serving in the Continental Congress back in 1776. Supposedly Jefferson had attacked the idea “with Sneer and Ridicule,” representing the proposal as “the Offspring of Ignorance or Superstition.” Just like Barack Obama’s lack of a flag pin or implied lack of vengefulness toward marijuana users, Jefferson’s alleged insouciance about national fast days marked him as far too rad to be elected by good American voters.