The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

October 7, 2012

The Root: 7 of history's most racist political ads

Each election cycle usually produces one ad that voters, pundits and political watchers know will be remembered long after the losing candidate has become a trivia question. In 2008 that ad was the "3 a.m." commercial, which invited viewers to wonder who, in a dangerous world, they'd rather have answering the proverbial "red phone" in the White House. Hillary Clinton may have ended up losing the primary, but she won the ad contest hands down with one of the most effective political ads in recent memory.

This election has produced its own share of memorable ads, among them one that is being touted as potentially effective by some, but racially charged by others. The controversial Romney campaign ad attempts to depict President Obama as the welfare president.

Whether or not the ad is appealing to racism in the electorate may be up for debate, but there's no doubt that is a timeworn strategy in American politics. Plenty of campaign ads over the years have been undeniably racist.

"Hands," 1990

It's not exactly a surprise that a man infamous for whistling and singing the Confederate pride anthem "Dixie" to black Sen. Carol Moseley Braun as an insult would also be responsible for one of the most racially inflammatory ads in American political history. What is somewhat surprising is that the ad in question, which shows the hands of a white man crumpling up a job-rejection letter, was created by a member of a racial minority. During his surprisingly competitive 1990 race for re-election in North Carolina against African-American Democratic candidate Harvey Gantt, the campaign of Sen. Jesse Helms released the ad "Hands." Created by Cuban-American political consultant-turned-CNN-contributor Alex Castellanos, "Hands" engaged in some of the most racially divisive political rhetoric in recent memory, vilifying Gantt as a racial-quota king and, by extension, the great big black bogeyman of working-class white America.

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