The 1988 campaign ad was waged by then-Vice President George H.W. Bush in his presidential run against Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. As depicted in the TV commercial, Horton— a black man serving a life sentence without parole for murder—was released as a part of a Massachusetts weekend furlough program. While on furlough, Horton committed armed robbery and rape.The specter of Horton played a decisive role in the 1988 race, arguably dooming Dukakis’ bid for the White House. The governor’s decision to ride in a tank—and his principled yet lackluster response to a question on his death penalty stance if his wife were raped and murdered—did not help his cause. But Willie Horton upended the race and represented a new low in race card politics, and the manipulation of white fear of black criminality—and an irrational and visceral hatred of black people in general—to win elections.
Southern Poverty Law Center
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