Last week Americans were in a tizzy about a new racist political scandal. Rick Perry, the governor of Texas and a current contender for the GOP presidential nomination, was found to be leasing a hunting camp called “N-----head.” Naturally, Americans were in shock. How could someone who wants to hold the highest office in the land be so insensitive and bigoted? The Perry camp tried to downplay the camp’s name, saying that Perry didn’t come up with the name, and that he’d always taken issue with it being called that. But according to a new op-ed column from one of Perry’s colleagues, Perry has a history of being wildly racist. And one time that racism helped put him where he is in the government today.
In a Politico article titled, “Rick Perry no stranger to racial politics,” Martin Frost, a former Democratic state congressman from Texas, claims that without racism Perry would have never won his first statewide office—agriculture commissioner—in 1990.
Karl Rove, the brains behind George W. Bush’s presidential career, ran Perry’s campaign in 1990, and one of his most valuable weapons was a Willie Horton-esque ad that put Perry over the top. If you don’t know, a Willie Horton ad is one in which white fear of Blacks is exploited for political gain.
As BET.com explained recently: “Willie Horton is a convicted felon who, in 1986, fled incarceration while on Massachusetts’ ‘weekend furlough’ program for inmates. Horton ended up committing a string of other crimes, including a rape, and getting caught again. When Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, who had supported the weekend furlough program, ran for president in 1988, Horton became a focal point of the race … when George H.W. Bush, used Horton in an attack ad, broadcasting his mug shot and terrifying America enough to beat Dukakis.”
Two years after Bush senior put out the original ad, Rove and Perry conspired to come up with their own Horton commercial to defeat Perry’s opponent, incumbent Jim Hightower. Their ad, in which Hightower was shown standing with Rev. Jesse Jackson, whom Hightower had supported for president in 1988, was a bit different than the commercial that had inspired it, but the meaning was the same. When Perry’s ad asked, “Does Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower share your values?” the translation was obvious to anyone paying attention: “This guy likes uppity Black folk. Do you?”
Frost claims that without that ad, which was the perfect poison for a Texas that still had a lot of racial tension, Perry would have lost the race, and not been governor now. Regardless of that speculation, one wonders what sort of frightening racial campaigning we’re in for if Perry secures the Republican nomination. And this time his opponent won’t just be mingling with Blacks, he’ll be Black.
(Photo: Scott Eells-Pool/Getty Images)