Four years ago, Willie Horton was the unwitting point man, the cutting edge, the bludgeon of George Bush's winning campaign for president. Horton, a black convict furloughed by Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis when he was governor of Massachusetts, had raped a Maryland woman when he was outside prison bars and thereby became part of history.
A Republican operative by the name of Floyd Brown made a TV commercial at once covertly racist and overtly suggestive that the Democrats were soft on crime. Aired repeatedly by the 1988 Bush campaign, the Horton ad became the ultimate political dirty trick. And a successful one, especially when Governor Dukakis made the mistake of not deigning to reply.
Yet after he was elected to the White House, President Bush found memories of the Horton ad did not gibe with his stated wish to be leader of a "kinder, gentler" nation. Defensively and often, he found himself having to deny that the Horton ad was the hate-mongering, fear-mongering gimmick it was.