Citing the case of Willie Horton, a black man whose image as a criminal who committed crimes while on a weekend furlough from prison was used against 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, Politico's Roger Simon wrote that Al Gore "raised the issue in a New York primary debate against Dukakis." In fact, while Gore questioned Dukakis about "weekend passes for convicted criminals," Gore did not mention Horton's name, his crimes, or his race.
In a February 14 column claiming that "in a general election, no candidates get a pass on the past," Politico chief political columnist Roger Simon cited the case of Willie Horton -- a convicted criminal who, in 1987, assaulted a man and raped his fiancée while out on a weekend furlough from prison in Massachusetts. The image of Horton, who was black, was used against 1988 Democratic presidential nominee and then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. But Simon falsely claimed that former Vice President Al Gore "raised the issue in a New York primary debate against Dukakis." In fact, while Gore questioned Dukakis about "weekend passes for convicted criminals" and cited two specific convicted criminals who committed murder while on a weekend furlough, Gore did not raise "the matter of Willie Horton," as Simon wrote; Gore did not mention Horton, his crimes, or his race, as both Slate columnist Timothy Noah and Daily Howler editor Bob Somerby documented. As Media Matters for America noted, it was the Bush-Quayle campaign, not Gore, that first mentioned Horton and used his image against Dukakis. Indeed, Simon wrote that "the issue ... sure came up in the general election, with a new spin" when the Bush-Quayle used the Horton case to attack Dukakis.
From Simon's February 14 Politico column:
"Look, I have been written about, I have been scrubbed, I have been vetted over the last year," Obama said on "Meet the Press" in December.
But he really hasn't. Nobody has. And that is because, in presidential politics, you never get "scrubbed."
Your past is dug up, reshaped and used against you.
Just in case the name no longer rings a bell, Willie Horton was a convicted murderer who was granted 10 weekend furloughs from prison in Massachusetts under the administration of Gov. Michael Dukakis.
The 10th time, Horton fled to Maryland, broke into a home, repeatedly slashed a man with a knife and beat and raped the man's fiancée. Horton was caught and sentenced to two consecutive life terms plus 85 years.
By the time Dukakis ran for president, he had already been "vetted" and "scrubbed" on the matter of Willie Horton and was sure it could not be used against him. The Lawrence, Mass., Eagle-Tribune had done more than 200 stories about it in 1987. And when Al Gore raised the issue in a New York primary debate against Dukakis, the Democratic crowd booed Gore and applauded Dukakis.
The issue never came up again in the primaries. But it sure came up in the general election, with a new spin. "The Horton case is one of those gut issues that are value issues, particularly in the South," Lee Atwater, who was George H.W. Bush's campaign manager, told me at the time. "And if we hammer at these over and over, we are going to win."