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The 10 Dumbest, Most Offensive Political Ads in Recent Memory

Not a single election cycle goes by without some attempt to use fear of the "other" to win votes. Sadly, the results are sometimes successful.

Rick Perry’s recent ad decrying the end of legal discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military took the Internet by storm, holding the record for the most-disliked video in the history of YouTube. It’s not hard to see why. The ad is a bit like George Wallace spewing racial epithets in 1975. Even 10 years ago Perry could have gotten away with it...maybe. In 2011, it’s hard to imagine the ad will sway anyone but hardened bigots. 

Using bigotry to win votes is nothing new. The most common targets in 2011 are gays and lesbians, Muslims, Arabs and Latinos. Vilifying black people is also an old standby. Not a single election cycle goes by without some attempt to use fear of the “other” to win votes. Here’s a roundup of political ads from recent history that don’t even attempt to conceal their racism, sexism and homophobia. 

1. "I’m Confused"

This ad features kids "expressing" confusion over same-sex marriage. The subtext isn’t too subtle: Gay people are coming for your children. While the undertones of sexual predation are certainly there (how could they not be?), the more overt message is perhaps even more troubling: Marriage equality laws will have your children questioning bigotry at an early age. And that’s a bad thing? The National Organization for Marriage (a decidedly Orwellian name, since it apparently opposes marriage) funded this gem to fight a marriage equality bill in New Hampshire -- a bill supported by 55 percent of New Hampshire voters. It’s worth noting that the National Organization for Marriage is headquartered in New Jersey, not New Hampsire.

The New Hampshire state legislature passed the bill, making New Hampshire the fifth state to recognize same-sex marriage. Legal and legislative challenges continue to this day. 



2. “Welcome Prize”

This one combines xenophobia and racism into a neat little package. In the ad, immigrants stream across the border where thanks to bleeding-heart, big-government liberals, they apparently get limousines and other fabulous prizes. We have this one courtesy of David Vitter, who was running for Senate in Louisiana, a state not known for the high number of undocumented immigrants crossing the border. It’s not really clear where Vitter thinks the fence should be erected in Louisiana, nor for that matter why the “illegals” crossing the border are dressed more like they’re from East LA than Mexico City. What is clear, however, is that Vitter was pandering for the bigot vote that year, using the old “welfare queens” chestnut to do so.

This ad ran during Vitter’s re-election campaign after he had been identified as a john in a prostitution case. Louisiana sent him back to the Senate anyway. 



3. “Harold Ford Jr. Not For Tennessee” 

Harold Ford, Jr. was a rising star in the Democratic Party. The 2006 midterms were bitter all around, but Ford had a particularly tough fight for a Senate seat in Tennessee. The racial undertones of “tax and spend” have been explored thoroughly elsewhere. More troubling is the blonde-haired white woman urging Ford -- who was unmarried at the time -- to “call me” as a follow up to meeting him at “the Playboy party,” along with charges that he took money from “porn producers.” The NAACP denounced the ad, as did former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, who called the ad “a very serious appeal to racist sentiment.” The icing on the cake is the kicker: “He’s just not right,” a sort of 21st century coded version of “You’re not from around here.”