When the Supreme Court authorized unchecked SuperPAC spending in elections with the Citizens United decision, there was a lot of fear and confusion. Suddenly extremely wealthy people and businesses could anonymously spend more than the candidates themselves to sway the election in their personal (because corporations are people, my friend) favor. The Republicans were suddenly poised to enjoy a massive political advantage as the party of billionaires has, unsurprisingly, many more billionaires at its disposal to fund political ads. And worse, because these ads could not be coordinated with the campaigns themselves, it looked like the GOP could turn a blind eye to horrible, unfair attack ads and claim plausible deniability by disavowing the “rogue” SuperPAC after the damage was already done.
Overlooked in the gnashing of teeth over Citizens United was the silver lining of SuperPACs — it’s encouraged vain wealthy people with little to no political acumen to make truly stupid ads that may do more harm than good.
Enter this ad airing in Ohio encouraging black voters to vote Republican:
Well there you go black folk! Remember that there was a president over 150 years ago who was a Republican AND freed the slaves (even though he was personally kind of a racist). And that civil rights group entirely run by Democrats was founded by Republicans over 100 years ago when the political positions of the parties would be unrecognizable today! This ad is backed by a big budget and took its time creating a slick, 60-second ad to highlight the greatest arguments for the Republican cause and the best it can come up with is sharing a name with politicians from a century ago? Not an encouraging start.
Moving boldly into the middle of the last century, the ad reminds us that “Republicans passed the Civil Rights Act while Democrats opposed it.” This sentence is “true” in the way that “Republicans passed Obamacare while Democrats opposed it” because one Republican voted for it and a handful of Democrats voted against it. The Civil Rights Act was largely the achievement of President Johnson and received the support of most Republicans (except the new, crazy group called the “conservatives” — but they never took over the GOP or anything) and most Democrats except the racist contingent of segregationists who still called themselves “Democrats” because they — like the idiots making this ad — thought that Lincoln being a Republican 100 years earlier was more important for party affiliation than policy. These “Democrats” had run third party campaigns against sitting Democratic presidents. What happened to all these racist “Democrats” who opposed the Civil Rights Act? They joined the Republican Party. The ad skips over that point for some reason.
But the best part of this ad is what’s left unsaid. After making dubious connections between the modern conservative GOP to a long-dead party from the last two centuries, the ad just concludes by asking for the support of black voters. There isn’t even an attempt to explain how Republicans would serve the African-American community today, or even how the Democrats have failed the community. There’s at least an opening for some bullshit about “school choice” and “encouraging dependency” that may not be true but at least pretends to represent a policy distinction.
But there’s none of that. Black voters in Ohio are expected to respond to this ad by uncritically saying, “well I had wanted to vote for the guy who supported the reinvigoration of the auto industry that my livelihood as a Buckeye, directly or indirectly, depends on…but now you tell me Lincoln was a ‘Republican?’ I’ve got some serious thinking to do.” It’s just so deliciously condescending and racist.
This is what Citizens United has achieved — a look inside the Republican agenda unfiltered by professional spin doctors. And it is an eye opening view.