It was a simpler
time. Al Gore had yet to invent the Internet. Daringly opinionated
people still revered Abraham Lincoln. The godless Communists — not
Islamic extremists — were the Implacable Enemy With Whom No Compromise
Is Possible. So implacable, in fact, that the CIA for years had
been merrily arming, funding and training Islamic extremists — the
current Implacable Enemy With Whom No Compromise Is Possible — to
repel those same godless Communists from a Muslim nation they had
invaded and were brutally occupying. Most notably, negative campaigning,
not subtleties positing causative links between freelance terrorism
and the National Greatness variety, sparked the heated controversy
of the day.
Party candidate, Congressman Ron Paul hardly made a splash in the
presidential campaign of 1988, receiving about one-half of one percent
of the popular vote. I voted for Dr. Paul that year. I don't remember
what, if anything, he had to say about the Willie
Horton commercials the George H.W. Bush presidential campaign
ran in 1988. For what it's worth, he probably agreed they qualified
as negative campaigning.
had killed a 17 year-old Lawrence, Massachusetts, gas station attendant
in 1974. He was serving a life sentence without possibility of parole
when he was released in June 1986 as part of a weekend furlough
program. He never reported back. Ten months later, police arrested
him in Maryland after he had raped a woman and stabbed and pistol-whipped
her fiancé. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to two
consecutive life terms plus 85 years. The judge in Maryland refused
to return Horton to the criminal justice system of Massachusetts,
citing the lax standards that allowed him to escape.
As you might
expect, the 1988 Republican campaign made abundant hay of the Willie
Horton debacle, as Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis
had been Massachusetts Governor at the time of Horton's release.
Dukakis had not signed the furlough program into law, but he had
vetoed a bill passed by the legislature in 1976 that would have
barred furloughs for first-degree murder convicts. He had supported
the program as a means of criminal rehabilitation, claiming it was
"99 percent effective." When the Bush campaign ran commercials
showing felons parading through a prison's revolving door, Dukakis
went on counterattack, calling the ads racist and impugning the
Republicans' own lax standards with respect to the release of federal
in this long-forgotten episode from a long-forgotten presidential
campaign is that neither side accused the other of transgressing
the bounds of human decency. Dukakis never characterized as "absurd"
or "extraordinary" the Republicans' claim that Horton's
release had something to do with the crimes he subsequently committed.
(Of course, he would have been hard pressed to do so: it had everything
to do with them.) For their part, the Republicans never questioned
Dukakis' patriotism for playing the race card in his counterattack.
The question of negative campaign tactics may or may not be an interesting
one; at least the parties to this dispute addressed the issue at
take on an entirely different complexion when someone dares to raise
fundamental questions about the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.
Contrast the semblance of logical argumentation surrounding the
1988 Willie Horton ads with the vainglorious moral posturing that
confronted Congressman Ron Paul's introduction of the wildly commonsensical
notion of what I'll call TARFUSI — Terrorism as Retaliation for
U.S. Imperialism — to the May 15, 2007 Republican presidential debates.
Readers of this website are familiar with his exchange
with New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, but it bears revisiting.
why he favored the Founding Fathers' noninterventionist foreign
policy, Dr. Paul was asked whether 9/11 had changed things. In fact,
he answered, 9/11 only bolstered his position, as foreign policy
was a "major contributing factor" to the attacks:
ever read the reasons they attacked us? They attacked us because
we’ve been over there; we’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We’ve
been in the Middle East — I think Reagan was right. We don’t understand
the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics. So right now we’re
building an embassy in Iraq that’s bigger than the Vatican. We’re
building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was
doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be
objecting. We need to look at what we do from the perspective
of what would happen if somebody else did it to us.
He was treading
on sacred ground, impugning the ways and means of the Benevolent
Hegemon. Was the good (or not so good, apparently) doctor blasphemously
suggesting "we" "invited" the attacks?
here, returning to 1988, why Dukakis didn't ask the Republicans
whether they thought the good people of Massachusetts had invited
Willie Horton to attack the unfortunate couple in Maryland. The
Republicans might then have taken a preliminary page from 2008 presidential
Huckabee's playbook: "Yes, as a matter of fact, the good
people of Massachusetts did invite the attack, because the Governor
and legislators in Boston, the waitress in Worcester, the plumber
in Springfield and the pension analyst in Marlborough are all one
commonwealth, just as Americans are all one nation and therefore
responsible for — and morally bound to rally around — their policymakers'
sangfroid, Dr. Paul proceeded to shed cool light on the heat-seeking,
baldly tendentious question:
that we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they
did it, and they are delighted that we’re over there because Osama
bin Laden has said, ‘I am glad you’re over on our sand because
we can target you so much easier.’ They have already now since
that time — have killed 3,400 of our men, and I don’t think it
has its limits, as Oliver Wendell Holmes once noted: "The mind
of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye. The more light you shine
on it, the more it will contract." Giuliani reacted with overwrought
— and probably disingenuous — indignation:
an extraordinary statement. That’s an extraordinary statement,
as someone who lived through the attack of September 11, that
we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don’t
think I’ve heard that before, and I’ve heard some pretty absurd
explanations for September 11th.
an extraordinary statement! Four-year-olds in a sandbox can grasp
the retaliation concept — you knock over my sandcastle with your
shovel, I'll whack you upside the head with my pail — but Giuliani
dismisses it out of hand. His crackpot
realism blinds him to TARFUSI reality. Giuliani regards the
U.S.' motives as so pure, its methods so gentle, and its aims so
transparent and pure that foreigners should get down on their knees
and thank God for all the mayhem the U.S. sends their way. Hey,
firebombing and nuking the Germans and Japanese uplifted them, didn't
it? What's the problem with those rag-heads? Haven't they read our
Dr. Paul put
Giuliani in his place that night. He has not backed off, driving
the TARFUSI message home over and over again in debates and interviews,
even in the face of sniggering candidates, hostile audiences and
journalists who have abandoned all pretense of objectivity. His
Golden Rule of Foreign Policy is gaining currency:
If we think
that we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred,
then we have a problem. They don’t come here to attack us because
we’re rich and we’re free. They come and they attack us because
we’re over there. I mean, what would we think if we were — if
other foreign countries were doing that to us?
For this alone
we owe Dr. Paul an eternal debt of gratitude. Win or lose, the day
is coming — indeed, it may already be here — when Americans will
evaluate their federal government's foreign-policy prescriptions
using the same standards they apply to, say, the 1986 State of Massachusetts
criminal justice system's prisoner furlough program. The scales
are falling from their eyes. In increasing numbers, they are coming
to recognize the mind-boggling expense, utter futility and very
real (as the events of 9/11 demonstrated) dangers associated with
the decadent military empire foisted on them by that baleful brood
of bipartisan vipers infesting the banks of the Potomac.
(sic) Americana. I can't say it's been nice knowing you.
Pivetta [send him mail] lives
in Royal Oak, Michigan, where he pines for a bygone era in which
baseball actively strove to maintain its continuity with its past.
He draws dark parallels between the rise of publicly financed stadiums
and the demise of both the Grand Old Game and the cause of American