Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hillary Clinton's Red Phone Ad and the Birth of a Nation

From the New York Time's editorial, "The Red Phone in Black and White":

ON first watching Hillary Clinton’s recent “It’s 3 a.m.” advertisement, I was left with an uneasy feeling that something was not quite right — something that went beyond my disappointment that she had decided to go negative. Repeated watching of the ad on YouTube increased my unease. I realized that I had only too often in my study of America’s racial history seen images much like these, and the sentiments to which they allude...

I have spent my life studying the pictures and symbols of racism and slavery, and when I saw the Clinton ad’s central image — innocent sleeping children and a mother in the middle of the night at risk of mortal danger — it brought to my mind scenes from the past. I couldn’t help but think of D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” the racist movie epic that helped revive the Ku Klux Klan, with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society. The danger implicit in the phone ad — as I see it — is that the person answering the phone might be a black man, someone who could not be trusted to protect us from this threat.

The ad could easily have removed its racist sub-message by including images of a black child, mother or father — or by stating that the danger was external terrorism. Instead, the child on whom the camera first focuses is blond. Two other sleeping children, presumably in another bed, are not blond, but they are dimly lighted, leaving them ambiguous. Still it is obvious that they are not black — both, in fact, seem vaguely Latino.


I am not a fan of Hillary Clinton. Nor, have I drunk the Obama Kool-Aid and become a true believer. However, I must admit that the ugliness of her campaign has pushed me, and I imagine many others, to vote for Obama in order to teach Billary a lesson about taking black folks for granted, and as punishment for how Bill Clinton disingenuously pimped the label of being "America's first black president."

With this qualification noted, I have mixed feelings about the interpretations that some have offered regarding Hillary Clinton's red phone campaign ad where Obama is skewered as being unprepared to lead the country in a crisis:

Here, some critics have offered an analysis that argues these ads are "racist" and "racially coded" because they hint at black incompetence and Hillary as the protector of white families., we all know that I beat up on white racism (and black stupidity) but I ain't buying this one. Historically, the parallel falls flat, and the commercial lacks the insidiousness, crude intelligence, and overt appeal to be "elevated" in this fashion. Frankly, Hillary Clinton's ad doesn't possess a bit of the "genius" (yes I said "genius"), offered by Birth of a Nation.

In fact, Hillary's campaign ad has more in common with the fear mongering offered by the Johnson campaign in its classic "Daisy Girl" commercial:

While noting the power of negative campaign commercials to impact voting behavior (or not), my gut doesn't tell me that the white viewers whom are ostensibly targeted by this ad would "get" the appeal. Am I wrong? And does it matter? (I am open to being swayed on this point)

My other measuring stick for determining the racism of Hillary's red phone campaign commercial is the question, "how does it compare to past campaign ads which were rightly labeled as being racist?"

For example,

The implication made by this commercial that then gubernatorial candidate Harold Ford chases white women and parties at the Playboy mansion:

Those Democrats love letting out black rapists and murderers--Premier Bush Number One's notorious Willie Horton ad:

They took our jobs! The unqualified blacks took our jobs!--The "black hands, white hands" ad from Jesse Helms:

Ultimately, Hillary's call to leadership is to my eyes, more evocative of Underdog than anything else:

Let's skewer Hillary for the racially provocative speech of her campaign officials, the clumsiness of her campaign, and how Hillary in her willingness to fight until the convention may destroy the Democratic Party and hand the election to McCain. Moreover, commentators and voters need to attack Hillary on her claims to experience, because frankly, in these matters of State how experienced is she? Ultimately, we don't need to grab at proverbial straws in an effort to burn a racial straw man. Why? Because the facts offered by Hillary Clinton's campaign provide more than enough fodder to undo her.


Ayatollah Mugsy said...

Interesting read.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more about Clinton's claim to more experience, I mean, how does being simply married to someone equal experience? If being married to someone equals gaining their skills, than Tony Romo's girlfriend should be able to replace him at the frontline.Not to mention Hillary is a dirty corporate lawyer who sat on the board of Walmart, doesn't that diserve scrutiny.