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A political advertisement on behalf of the George H. W. Bush presidential campaign appears, running on televisions around the country between September 21 and October 4, 1988. Called “Weekend Pass,” it depicts convicted murderer William “Willie” Horton, who was granted 10 separate furloughs from prison, and used the time from his last furlough to kidnap and rape a young woman. The advertisement and subsequent media barrage falsely accuses Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts, of creating the “furlough program” that led to Horton’s release, and paints Dukakis as “soft on crime.” It will come to be known as one of the most overly racist political advertisements in the history of modern US presidential politics.
Ad Content - The ad begins by comparing the positions of the two candidates on crime. It notes that Bush supports the death penalty for convicted murderers, whereas Dukakis does not. The ad’s voiceover narrator then states, “Dukakis not only opposes the death penalty, he allowed first-degree murderers to have weekend passes from prison,” with the accompanying text “Opposes Death Penalty, Allowed Murderers to Have Weekend Passes” superimposed on a photograph of Dukakis. The narrator then says, “One was Willie Horton, who murdered a boy in a robbery, stabbing him 19 times,” accompanied by a mug shot of Horton. The voiceover continues: “Despite a life sentence, Horton received 10 weekend passes from prison. Horton fled, kidnapped a young couple, stabbing the man and repeatedly raping his girlfriend.” At this point, the ad shows another picture of Horton being arrested while the accompanying text reads, “Kidnapping, Stabbing, Raping.” The ad’s narration concludes: “Weekend prison passes. Dukakis on crime.” The ad is credited to the “National Security Political Action Committee.” (Inside Politics (.org) 1999; Museum of the Moving Image 2008; Cross 11/18/2009)
'Soft on Crime' - The ad is a reflection of the measures the Bush campaign is willing to undertake to defeat the apparently strong Dukakis candidacy. Dukakis is a popular Democratic governor and widely credited with what pundits call the “Massachusetts Miracle,” reversing the downward economic spiral in his state without resorting to hefty tax increases. At the time of the ad, Dukakis enjoys a 17-point lead over Bush in the polls. Bush campaign strategists, led by campaign manager Lee Atwater, have learned from focus groups that conservative Democratic voters, which some call “Reagan Democrats,” are not solid in their support of Dukakis, and are swayed by reports that he vetoed legislation requiring teachers to say the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the school day. They also react negatively when they learn that during Dukakis’s tenure as governor, Horton had been furloughed and subsequently raped a white woman. Atwater and the Bush campaign decide that Dukakis can successfully be attacked as a “liberal” who is “not patriotic” and is “soft on crime.” Atwater, who has a strong record of appealing to racism in key voting groups (see 1981), tells Republican Party officials, “By the time this election is over, Willie Horton will be a household name.” Although Dukakis had vetoed a bill mandating the death penalty for first-degree murder in Massachusetts, he did not institute the furlough program; that was signed into law by Republican governor Francis Sargent in 1972. The ads and the accompanying media blitz successfully avoid telling voters that Sargent, not Dukakis, instituted the furlough program. (Simon 10/1/1990; Inside Politics (.org) 1999)
Running the Horton Ad - The ad is sponsored by an ostensibly “independent” political organization, the conservative National Security Political Action Committee (NSPAC), headed by former Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Thomas Moorer. NSPAC’s daughter organization “Americans for Bush” actually put together the ad, created by marketer Larry McCarthy in close conjunction with Atwater and other Bush campaign aides; Atwater determined months before that the Horton ad should not come directly from the Bush campaign, but from an “independent” group supporting Bush, thus giving the Bush campaign the opportunity to distance itself from the ad, and even criticize it, should voters react negatively towards its message (see June-September 1988). The first version of the ad does not use the menacing mug shot of Horton, which McCarthy later says depicts “every suburban mother’s greatest fear.” McCarthy and Atwater feared that the networks would refuse to run the ad if it appeared controversial. However, the network censors do not object, so McCarthy quickly substitutes a second version of the ad featuring the mug shot. When Democrats and progressive critics of the Bush campaign complain that Bush is running a racist ad, Bush media adviser Roger Ailes says that neither he nor the campaign have any control over what outside groups like “Americans for Bush” put on the airwaves. InsidePolitics will later write, “This gave the Bush camp plausible deniability that helped its candidate avoid public condemnation for racist campaigning.”
Accompanying Newspaper Reports, Bush Campaign Ads - The ad airs for the first time on September 21. On September 22, newspapers around the nation begin publishing articles telling the story of Angie and Clifford Barnes, victimized by Horton while on furlouogh. On October 5, the Bush campaign releases a “sister” television ad, called “Revolving Door.” Scripted by Ailes, the commercial does not mention Horton nor does it show the now-infamous mug shot, but emphasizes the contention that Dukakis is “soft on crime” and has what it calls a “lenient” furlough policy for violent convicts. The central image of the ad is a stream of African-American inmates moving slowly in and out of a revolving gate. The voiceover says that Dukakis had vetoed the death penalty and given furloughs to “first-degree murderers not eligible for parole. While out, many committed other crimes like kidnapping and rape.” At the same time, Clifford Barnes and the sister of the youth murdered by Horton embark on a nationwide speaking tour funded by a pro-Bush independent group known as the Committee for the Presidency. Barnes also appears on a number of television talk shows, including those hosted by Oprah Winfrey and Geraldo Rivera. Barnes and the victim’s sister also appear in two “victim” ads, where Barnes says: “Mike Dukakis and Willie Horton changed our lives forever.… We are worried people don’t know enough about Mike Dukakis.” In 1999, InsidePolitics will write that the media gives the “Revolving Door” ad a “courteous reception,” and focuses more on the two ads’ impact on the election, and the Dukakis campaign’s lack of response, instead of discussing the issues of race and crime as portrayed by the ads. It is not until October 24, less than two weeks before the election, that anyone in the mainstream media airs footage of critics questioning whether the ads are racially inflammatory, but these appearances are few and far between, and are always balanced with appearances by Bush supporters praising the campaign’s media strategy. (Inside Politics (.org) 1999; Inside Politics (.org) 1999; Cross 11/18/2009)
Denials - Bush and his vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle will deny that the ads are racist, and will accuse Democrats of trying to use racism to stir up controversy (see October 1988).
Failure to Respond - The Dukakis campaign will make what many political observers later characterize as a major political blunder: it refuses to answer the ads or dispute their content until almost the last days of the campaign, hoping that viewers would instead conclude that the ads are unfair without the Dukakis campaign’s involvement. The ads will be hugely successful in securing the election for Bush (see September-November 1988). (Museum of the Moving Image 2008)
The “Willie Horton” (a.k.a. “Weekend Pass”) campaign ad, produced by an “independent” political organization on behalf of the Bush re-election campaign (see June-September 1988 and September 21 - October 4, 1988), and the Bush campaign’s accompanying ad, “Revolving Door,” draw accusations from the Democratic challenger, Michael Dukakis, that they are racist in their appeals. President Bush denies the accusations that race has anything to do with the ads, or even that racism exists. He calls the Dukakis accusations “some desperation kind of move,” and says: “There isn’t any racism. It’s absolutely ridiculous.” Dukakis is leveling these accusations, Bush says, because he “is weak on crime and defense and that’s the inescapable truth.” Bush accuses Dukakis of lying about his record, and accuses the Democrat of both racist and sexist behavior, though he gives no details or evidence. Bush’s vice-presidential candidate, Dan Quayle, agrees, and accuses the Dukakis campaign of behaving in a racist manner, saying: “It’s totally absurd and ridiculous. I think it shows just how desperate they really are, to start fanning the flames of racism in this country.” Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson has accused the Bush campaign of trying to incite racial fears through the Horton ad, and Dukakis’s vice-presidential candidate, Lloyd Bentsen, says there seems to be “a racial element” in the Bush campaign’s strategy. In contrast to Bush’s denials, Bush media adviser Roger Ailes jokes with reporters about the ads, saying that the campaign’s only question about the Horton ad was whether to portray Horton “with a knife in his hand or without it,” and accuses Dukakis’s campaign of spreading racism about Hispanics in its own ads. Bush states that he is “fully behind” both the “Weekend Pass” and “Revolving Door” ads. (Dowd 10/25/1988)
President George H. W. Bush places Vice President Dan Quayle in charge of the “Council on Competitiveness,” whose job is to review proposed agency regulations that arrive at the White House (see January 1985). Quayle’s council bottles up rules that industry opposes, and sometimes blocks them entirely by claiming that they post an excessive burden on businesses. (Savage 2007, pp. 305)
Former Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) becomes secretary of defense under President George H. W. Bush. (US Department of Defense 11/24/2005) Cheney is the second choice; Bush’s first consideration, former Texas senator John Tower, lost key Senate support when details of his licentious lifestyle and possible alcoholism became known. Cheney was the choice of, among others, Vice President Dan Quayle and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who both feel that Bush needs someone in the position fast, and the best way to have someone move through the confirmation process is to have someone from Congress. Although Cheney never served in the military, and managed to dodge service during the Vietnam War with five student deferments, he has no skeletons in his closet like Tower’s, and he has the support of Congressional hawks. His confirmation hearings are little more than a formality.
Cheney Leaves the House, Gingrich Steps In - Cheney’s House colleague, Republican Mickey Edwards, later reflects, “The whole world we live in would be totally different if Dick Cheney had not been plucked from the House to take the place of John Tower.” Cheney was “in line to become the [GOP’s] leader in the House and ultimately the majority leader and speaker,” Edwards will say. “If that [had] happened, the whole Gingrich era wouldn’t have happened.” Edwards is referring to Newt Gingrich (R-GA), the future speaker of the House who, in authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein’s own reflections, “ushered in fifteen years of rancorous, polarized politics.” While Cheney is as partisan as Gingrich, he is not the kind of confrontational, scorched-earth politician Gingrich is. According to Edwards, no one can envision Cheney moving down the same road as Gingrich will.
Successful Tenure - As the Pentagon’s civilian chief, many will reflect on Cheney’s tenure as perhaps his finest hour as a public servant. “I saw him for four years as [defense secretary]. He was one of the best executives the Department of Defense had ever seen,” later says Larry Wilkerson, who will serve in the Bush-Cheney administration as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. “He made decisions. Contrast that with the other one I saw [Clinton Secretary of Defense Lester Aspin], who couldn’t make a decision if it slapped him in the face.” Cheney will preside over a gradual reduction in forces stationed abroad—a reduction skillfully managed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell.
Bringing Aboard the Neoconservatives - Cheney asks one of Tower’s putative hires, Paul Wolfowitz, to stay; Wolfowitz, with fellow Pentagon neoconservatives Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Zalmay Khalilzad, will draft the Pentagon’s 1992 Defense Planning Guide (DPG) (see February 18, 1992), a harshly neoconservative proposal that envisions the US as the world’s strongman, dominating every other country and locking down the Middle East oil reserves for its own use. Though the DPG is denounced by President Bush, Cheney supports it wholeheartedly, even issuing it under his own name. “He took ownership in it,” Khalilzad recalls. Cheney also brings in his aide from the Iran-Contra hearings, David Addington (see Mid-March through Early April, 1987), another neoconservative who shares Cheney’s view of almost unlimited executive power at the expense of the judicial and legislative branches. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 87-95)
Vice President Dan Quayle, chairman of the President’s Council on Competitiveness, and Louis Sullivan, secretary of health and human services, announce the FDA’s new policy on the regulation of genetically engineered foods. In the policy statement that is published three days later, the FDA will say it has determined that genetically modified (GM) foods are “substantially equivalent” to conventionally grown foods and therefore will not be subject to any special regulations. The agency justifies its position saying that assessments concerning the safety of food products should be based on the characteristics of the food product and not on the methods used to develop that product. (US Food and Drug Administration 5/29/1992 ) Specifically addressing the issue of labeling for GM foods, the May 29 statement will read: “The agency is not aware of any information showing that foods derived by these new methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way, or that, as a class, foods developed by the new techniques present any different or greater safety concern than foods developed by traditional plant breeding. For this reason, the agency does not believe that the method of development of a new plant variety… would… usually be required to be disclosed in labeling for the food.” Labeling would only be required in special cases, the FDA says. For example, if a genetically engineered tomato contains a peanut protein that is a proven allergen, a label will be needed. (US Food and Drug Administration 5/29/1992, pp. 22991 ) In their statement to the press, Sullivan says that biotechnology promises to develop new food products “that are tastier, more varied, more wholesome, and that can be produced more efficiently.” Quayle’s council played a key role in expediting the development of the policy. (Food and Drug Administration 5/26/1992) Quayle explains that the policy will ensure the competitiveness of US firms. “The reforms we announce today will speed up and simplify the process of bringing better agricultural products, developed through biotech, to consumers, food processors, and farmers,” he says. “We will ensure that biotech products will receive the same oversight as other products, instead of being hampered by unnecessary regulation.” (Eichenwald, Kolata, and Petersen 1/25/2001)
The neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century writes a “blueprint” for the “creation of a ‘global Pax Americana’” (see June 3, 1997). The document, titled Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources for a New Century, was written for the George W. Bush team even before the 2000 presidential election. It was written for future Vice President Cheney, future Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, future Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Florida Governor and Bush’s brother Jeb Bush, and Cheney’s future chief of staff Lewis Libby. (Project for the New American Century 9/2000, pp. iv and 51 )
Plans to Overthrow Iraqi Government - The report calls itself a “blueprint for maintaining global US preeminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests.” The plan shows that the Bush team intends to take military control of Persian Gulf oil whether or not Saddam Hussein was in power and should retain control of the region even if there is no threat. It says: “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” The report calls for the control of space through a new “US Space Forces,” the political control of the internet, the subversion of any growth in political power of even close allies, and advocates “regime change” in China, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Iran and other countries. It also mentions that “advanced forms of biological warfare that can ‘target’ specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool” (see February 7, 2003). (Project for the New American Century 9/2000 ; Mackay 9/7/2002)
Greater Need for US Role in Persian Gulf - PNAC states further: “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”
'US Space Forces,' Control of Internet, Subversion of Allies - PNAC calls for the control of space through a new “US Space Forces,” the political control of the Internet, and the subversion of any growth in political power of even close allies, and advocates “regime change” in China, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Iran, and other countries.
Bioweapons Targeting Specific Genotypes 'Useful' - It also mentions that “advanced forms of biological warfare that can ‘target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.”
'A New Pearl Harbor' - However, PNAC complains that thes changes are likely to take a long time, “absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor.” (Johnson 1/12/2003)
Bush Will Claim a 'Humble' Foreign Policy Stance - One month later during a presidential debate with Al Gore, Bush will assert that he wants a “humble” foreign policy in the Middle East and says he is against toppling Saddam Hussein in Iraq because it smacks of “nation building” (see October 11, 2000). Around the same time, Cheney will similarly defend Bush’s position of maintaining President Clinton’s policy not to attack Iraq, asserting that the US should not act as though “we were an imperialist power, willy-nilly moving into capitals in that part of the world, taking down governments.” (Masters 1/12/2002) Author Craig Unger will later comment, “Only a few people who had read the papers put forth by the Project for a New American Century might have guessed a far more radical policy had been developed.” (Unger 3/15/2004) A British member of Parliament will later say of the PNAC report, “This is a blueprint for US world domination—a new world order of their making. These are the thought processes of fantasist Americans who want to control the world.” (Mackay 9/7/2002) Both PNAC and its strategy plan for Bush are almost virtually ignored by the media until a few weeks before the start of the Iraq war (see February-March 20, 2003).
Vice President Cheney, having just taken the oath of office minutes before, has a brief discussion of his new position with former Vice President Dan Quayle, who had served under George H. W. Bush. In 2007, Quayle will recall the discussion: “I said, ‘Dick, you know, you’re going to be doing a lot of this international traveling, you’re going to be doing all this political fundraising… you’ll be going to the funerals.’ I mean, this is what vice presidents do. I said, ‘We’ve all done it.’” Cheney “got that little smile,” Quayle will recall, and replies, “I have a different understanding with the president.” Quayle adds, “He had the understanding with President Bush that he would be—I’m just going to use the word ‘surrogate chief of staff.’” Bush policy director Joshua Bolten will later say that Cheney wants, and is given, a mandate by Bush that gives him access to “every table and every meeting,” making his voice heard in “whatever area the vice president feels he wants to be active in.” (Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
The Defense Policy Board (DPB) meets in secret in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon conference room on September 19 and 20 for 19 hours to discuss the option of taking military action against Iraq. (Sciolino and Tyler 10/12/2001) They also discuss how they might overcome some of the diplomatic and political pressures that would likely attempt to impede a policy of regime change in Iraq. (Sciolino and Tyler 10/12/2001) Among those attending the meeting are Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Princeton academic Bernard Lewis, Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996), Chalabi’s aide Francis Brooke, and the 18 members of the DPB. (Sciolino and Tyler 10/12/2001; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 236; Mayer 6/7/2004) Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang will later call the DPB “a neocon[servative] sanctuary,” boasting such members as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former CIA Director James Woolsey, former arms control adviser Ken Adelman, former Undersecretary of Defense Fred Ikle, and former Vice President Dan Quayle. (Lang 6/2004)
Powell, State Officials Not Informed of Meeting - Secretary of State Colin Powell and other State Department officials in charge of US policy toward Iraq are not invited and are not informed of the meeting. A source will later tell the New York Times that Powell was irritated about not being briefed on the meeting. (Sciolino and Tyler 10/12/2001)
Chalabi, Lewis Lead Discussion - During the seminar, two of Richard Perle’s invited guests, Chalabi and Lewis, lead the discussion. Lewis says that the US must encourage democratic reformers in the Middle East, “such as my friend here, Ahmed Chalabi.” Chalabi argues that Iraq is a breeding ground for terrorists and asserts that Saddam Hussein’s regime has weapons of mass destruction. (Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 232; Lang 6/2004) He also asserts “there’d be no resistance” to an attack by the US, “no guerrilla warfare from the Ba’athists, and [it would be] a quick matter of establishing a government.” (Mayer 6/7/2004)
Overthrow of Hussein Advocated - Attendees write a letter to President Bush calling for the removal of Saddam Hussein. “[E]ven if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack [of 9/11], any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism,” the letter reads. The letter is published in the Washington Times on September 20 (see September 20, 2001) in the name of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a neoconservative think tank that believes the US needs to shoulder the responsibility for maintaining “peace” and “security” in the world by strengthening its global hegemony. (Project for the New American Century 9/20/2001; Lobe 7/19/2003) Bush reportedly rejects the letter’s proposal, as both Vice President Dick Cheney and Powell agree that there is no evidence implicating Saddam Hussein in the 9/11 attacks. (Sciolino and Tyler 10/12/2001)
Woolsey Sent to Find Evidence of Hussein's Involvement - As a result of the meeting, Wolfowitz sends Woolsey to London to find evidence that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks and the earlier 1993 attack on the World Trade Center (see Mid-September-October 2001). (Lang 6/2004)
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