Blitzer Raises Specter of GOP Going 'Willie Horton' Against Obama

The Democratic presidential nomination process isn't even over, yet on Tuesday CNN's Wolf Blitzer raised the media's favorite shorthand for vicious Republicans never forgotten from 1988, a name journalists can be counted on to resurrect every election season in order to discredit criticism of a liberal candidate, as he asked a guest how “worried” he was about Republicans energizing “elements of racism” by producing “Willie Horton kind of commercials...potentially against Barack Obama?” This, just a week after possible racism by Democratic voters was suggested by Obama's ten-point loss in California's primary after polls showed him up by 13 points. Columnist Bob Novak observed: “The way Obama lost California raises the specter of the dreaded Bradley Effect.”

Blitzer's question came during an interview on The Situation Room with conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder, author of 'Stupid Black Men: How to Play the Race Card -- and Lose,' which Elder explained makes the case for how “white racism is no longer a major problem in America anymore.” Blitzer wondered: “Why do Republicans have so much trouble attracting African-American support?” Elder replied by pointing out how “Republicans, as a percentage of the party, more of them voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 than did Democrats. Al Gore's dad voted against it” and “those who founded the Klan were, in fact, Democrats, and one of their goals was to stop the spread of Republicanism.” But instead of pursuing that sordid history, Blitzer launched into his questions about Republicans using racism to defeat Obama.

The exchange about race (longer transcript below):

WOLF BLITZER: How worried are you, and you're obviously sympathetic to the Republicans, that if Barack Obama gets the Democratic presidential nomination, that there could be elements of racism that come up from the other side?

LARRY ELDER: I'm sure there are people who won't vote for him because he's black. I'm sure there are people who are voting for him because he's black.

BLITZER: No, I'm talking about the Willie Horton kind of commercials, the ads that could be used against potentially against Barack Obama.

ELDER: I think if Republicans, and they won't, were to go that low, there would be such a backlash that it would backfire. It would be counterproductive. Nobody wants that...

An excerpt from Robert Novak's Monday column about Obama's loss in California:

....[T]he way Obama lost California raises the specter of the dreaded Bradley Effect.

Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American Democrat, in 1982 unexpectedly lost his candidacy for governor of California. His defeat followed voters telling pollsters they prefer a black candidate and then voting the other way. In California's primary last Tuesday, Obama lost by a landslide 10 percentage points after a late survey showed him ahead by 13 points and other polls gave him a smaller lead.

Was this presumed 20-point reversal caused by the Bradley Effect, which has worried Democratic leaders about Obama since he became an obstacle to Hillary Clinton's majestic procession to the Oval Office? It is much too early for that conclusion, but the subject is in the minds and private comments of Democratic politicians pondering the stalemate for the party's presidential nomination....

However, disbelief in racial prejudice by their voters leads Democrats to reject speculation that they lied to pollsters in claiming to support Obama. The Zogby poll showing a big Obama lead in California and the Suffolk and Rasmussen surveys indicating a slight edge, it is argued, were just plain wrong. It is also claimed that the state's final tally was skewed by an unexpectedly low African-American vote.

But early evening Tuesday briefings on exit polls, the product of nonpartisan technicians, cautioned the listeners not to be carried away by favorable Obama numbers around the country because his actual performance often is overstated by exit polls. (Indeed, contrary to early exit poll signals of an Obama upset in New Jersey, Clinton carried the state comfortably.) No explanation was given for this aberration, but many listeners presumed it was the Bradley Effect....
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth caught Blitzer's line of questioning from about 5:13 PM EST on the February 12 edition of The Situation Room on CNN, and provided this transcript from the start of the segment:
WOLF BLITZER: He says Democrats want blacks to focus only in on one issue -- that would be race -- and that Republicans have better ideas to actually advance black Americans. Larry Elder is a radio talk show host. He's the author of a new and controversial book entitled Stupid Black Men: How to Play the Race Card and Lose. Larry is here.

LARRY ELDER: You said it, Wolf. You said it.

BLITZER: I said what?

ELDER: You said "Stupid Black Men." Thank you for-

BLITZER: Stupid Black Men is the title of this book. And that's a controversial title. How to Play the Race Card and Lose. You got to explain how you came up with this title because the title alone is generating a lot of commotion out there.

ELDER: Which proves my point. My point behind the book, Wolf, is that white racism is no longer a major problem in America anymore. And the fact that people recoil by the title shows you that they're reluctant to be perceived as racist. You know, we have a country now where Barack Obama is on the brink of possibly becoming the next President of the United States. He's winning primaries in places like Iowa, Idaho. He finished a strong second in New Hampshire. White racism is no longer a major problem in America anymore.

BLITZER: But there's still plenty of racism out there, you know. There are all these incidents you see of racial hatred. It's still a problem. It may not be as bad as it was 30 or 40 years ago, but it's still a problem.

ELDER: Wolf, they are incidents, as you pointed out. They are not, they're not frequent anymore, thank God. We now have a country where, if you go to college, go to high school, don't make bad moral mistakes, keep your nose clean, you can make it in America. If you can't make it here, you can't make it anywhere. But many Democrats don't want black people to think that for their own exploitative reasons. Why? They want that 95 percent monolithic black vote without which they cannot win at the presidential level.

BLITZER: Tell us why you think black Americans would actually be better off with Republicans.

ELDER: The Democrats want blacks to focus on white racism. Why? Because if you go point by point by point and look at some of the Republican ideas, they will disproportionately benefit black people. I'll give you one: vouchers-

BLITZER: Let's talk about, let's talk about tax cuts for the rich.

ELDER: Tax cuts, as my dad used to say, my dad was a janitor, worked two jobs as a janitor. "I've never gotten a job from a poor person." Tax cuts benefit everybody. If not poor people directly, they benefit their bosses who have more money to hire them and buy plants and buy equipment and buy resources. So tax cuts benefit America, not just rich people. But Democrats don't want you to focus on things like vouchers. In California, we had a referendum a few years ago. It failed. But it passed, Wolf, interestingly, among inner city parents. They wanted their kids to have the right to go to the school that they wanted them to go to. That's a Republican idea.

BLITZER: Why do Republicans have so much trouble attracting African-American support?

ELDER: Because of the perceived history of the Republican party. The Democratic party has a pretty skanky background, Wolf. After the Civil War, you had all these Democrats that were there voting against civil rights legislation. Republicans, as a percentage of the party, more of them voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 than did Democrats. Al Gore's dad voted against it. Democrats founded the Klan. I'm not saying the party, but those who founded the Klan were, in fact, Democrats, and one of their goals was to stop the spread of Republicanism.

BLITZER: How worried are you, and you're obviously sympathetic to the Republicans, that if Barack Obama gets the Democratic presidential nomination, that there could be elements of racism that come up from the other side?

ELDER: I'm sure there are people who won't vote for him because he's black. I'm sure there are people who are voting for him because he's black.

BLITZER: No, I'm talking about the Willie Horton kind of commercials, the ads that could be used against potentially against Barack Obama.

ELDER: I think if Republicans, and they won't, were to go that low, there would be such a backlash that it would backfire. It would be counterproductive. Nobody wants that. There aren't going to be people running those kinds of ads, not establishment types. Maybe some wing nuts might be doing it. But, by and large, Wolf, this country has evolved. This is not your grandfather's America.

[Blitzer went on to further discuss what Elder thinks of the presidential candidates.]
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center