Oops ... GOP Does It Again

Republicans are embroiled in another racial controversy. The latest furor was unleashed when a conservative group began running a TV ad in Kansas City, Mo., that attacks "diversity." The ad was paid for by an independent group, the Republican Ideas Political Committee. In it, a fictional woman says she put her son in a private school because the public school had drugs, violence and "a bit more diversity than he could handle." The end of the ad reads: "Vote Republican."

Democrats hollered "race-baiting." Joe Andrews, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, called on Republicans to repudiate the ad. In a letter to his Republican counterpart Jim Nicholson, Mr. Andrews wrote, "I'm asking you and Gov. Bush to send a signal to the haters and race-baiters that campaigns should be about lifting up all Americans and not about scape-goating racial and ethnic minorities for political gain."

Gov. George W. Bush and Nicholson have since denounced the ad. Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes told CBS News, "Gov. Bush is very concerned. He strongly disagrees with the sentiments expressed in this commercial. He believes most Americans will reject it."

Indeed, Rep. James Talent, the GOP's candidate for Governor of Missouri, took to the House floor to ask that the ad be taken off the air. "This advertisement comes perilously close to bigotry, which is a sentiment that has no place in American politics."

Richard Nadler, who wrote the ad, blew off his putative Republican allies. He reportedly plans to run the ad at least through Oct. 6 and hinted that it may run in other cities as well.

The ad evoked comparison to the infamous 1988 Willie Horton TV ad that was likewise financed by an independent group, Citizens United. Then as now, racial symbols were used to energize the Republican base.

Then as now, the GOP took cover behind the "independent" nature of the expenditure.

Then as now, the intended beneficiaries of a racial appeal included a Bush. In 1988, it was Bush the elder. Today, Nadler said he hopes his ad will help "Republicans up and down the line."

Given the GOP's history of exploiting racial fears to win elections, Republican hand wringing over the ad smacks of hypocrisy. It bears remembering that Gov. Bush has steadfastly refused to take a stance on the flying of the Confederate flag in South Carolina on the grounds that it is a "local issue." Yet, he has weighed in on a local television commercial that addresses a local issue, the decades-long school desegregation battle.

And, last year, Rep. Talent failed to support a House resolution condemning the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group of old-school bigots who had been given unparalleled access to Republican congressional leaders. Truth be told, the anti-diversity ad has national implications. Missouri is one of a handful of battleground states that is up for grabs in the presidential race. Research shows that swing voters (read: white moderates) will not support a party that is perceived to be hostile to minorities, particularly African Americans. With the roiling of the racial waters in Missouri, the Show-me-State may show the country how much race still matters.

Faye M. Anderson is president of the Douglass Policy Institute.

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