The tributes to former President George Bush in recent days have focused on his essential decency and civility, and his embrace of others, including even his onetime opponents. But the “last gentleman,” as he has been called, was not always so gentle.
Mr. Bush’s successful campaign for the presidency in 1988 was marked in part by the racially charged politics of crime that continues to reverberate to this day. The Willie Horton episode and the political advertising that came to epitomize it remain among the most controversial chapters in modern politics, a precursor to campaigns to come and a decisive force that influenced criminal justice policy for decades.
Mr. Horton was an African-American prisoner in Massachusetts who, while released on a furlough program, raped a white Maryland woman and bound and stabbed her boyfriend. Mr. Bush’s campaign and supporters cited the case as evidence that his Democratic opponent, Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts, was insufficiently tough on crime.
To many African-American people, the scars from that campaign attack remain fresh. Whatever Mr. Bush’s intentions, they said, the campaign encouraged more race-based politics and put Democrats on the defensive, forcing them to prove themselves on crime at the expense of a generation of African-American men and women who were locked up under tougher sentencing laws championed by President Bill Clinton, among others.
Read the entire article.