There have been two television ads in presidential campaigns concerning which there is a settled consensus of deep disapproval. In both cases, the consensus about these acts of supposed mischief is mistaken.
The first ad was used in 1964 by Lyndon Johnson against Barry Goldwater: A small girl plucked petals from a daisy as a voice counted down to a nuclear explosion. The ad, reflecting Johnson's fear that his large lead would cause complacency among his supporters, concluded with a voice saying: "The stakes are too high for you to stay home."
Goldwater and many of his supporters were incensed. But Goldwater had said several things suggestive of a somewhat cavalier attitude about the use of force, including nuclear weapons. He had made his judgment a legitimate issue.
In the spring of 1988, in a debate among candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, Tennessee Sen. Al Gore used the matter of Willie Horton against Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, one of Gore's rivals. Horton had been in a Massachusetts prison serving a life sentence for the murder of a boy Horton stabbed 19 times during a robbery. Horton was frequently released on weekend furloughs. Finally, he fled, kidnapped a couple, stabbed the man and repeatedly raped the woman. Because the ad, made by supporters of Vice President George Bush, included a photo of Horton, critics called it racist. But supporters of Bush argued that the Horton episode was emblematic of Massachusetts' political culture, or of a liberal mentality, pertinent to assessing Dukakis.
When North Carolina Republicans recently ran an ad featuring Wright in full cry, McCain mounted his high horse, from which he rarely dismounts, and demanded that the ad be withdrawn. The North Carolinians properly refused. Wright is relevant.
He is a demagogue with whom Obama has had a voluntary 20-year relationship that implies, if not moral approval, certainly no serious disapproval. Wright also is an ongoing fountain of anti-American and, properly understood, anti-black rubbish. His Monday speech demonstrated that he wants to be a central figure in this presidential campaign. He should be.
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