Race, Lies & Democrats
A sex crime—a black man, a white victim—and Willie Horton, the convict furloughed by Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, who on a weekend outing brutalized a couple in Maryland, entered the culture as a cause célèbre, as a key in the switch that in the 1988 presidential campaign turned a 19-point Dukakis lead in May into an 8-point lead for George Bush in November, and as an enduring symbol: of what, no one agrees. Democrats call it race-baiting, playing on prejudice. Republicans, from the President down, say the issue is not what Horton looked like but what Dukakis did. Along with the quota wars, the struggle over busing, racial tensions in cities and on university campuses, the Horton case occupies the ground where race crosses crime and other issues, a terrain of danger and immense complexity, where feelings are high, motives suspect, and meanings everywhere unclear.
At this juncture, oddities occur. Republicans court black achievers as possible candidates. Black “leaders” denounce them as enemy renegades. As Americans accept blacks as leaders and heroes—as governors, generals, justices, and (in at least two cases) as serious possible Presidents—the civil-rights movement tumbles from favor, its clout diminished, its agenda challenged. In the crossfire of argument over the Clarence Thomas nomination, it becomes apparent that race is entangled in a cluster of issues marginally connected to it, ranging in nature from interest to principle, with great emotive power of their own.
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