illustration: Katherine Streeter
Republican supporters of school vouchers are running attack ads against presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry, apparently to suppress voter turnout in the black community.
The ads are aimed primarily at African Americans in swing states and will run in Milwaukee, Cleveland, Toledo, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Kansas City. A board member of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), who also heads a pro-voucher group in Washington, D.C., is organizing the ad campaign.
The campaign includes newspaper and radio ads and is noteworthy for its reliance on innuendo and half-truths. One newspaper ad, for instance, attacks Teresa Heinz Kerry for being "elitist, rich, and white." A radio ad quotes NAACP Chairman Julian Bond calling on Kerry to include people of color in his campaign — but then fails to mention that Bond praised Kerry at the NAACP convention this July, while Bush was roundly criticized as the first sitting president since Warren Harding to not attend an NAACP convention.
Bush garnered about 8 percent of the African-American vote in 2000. The ad campaign seems designed to sow cynicism and dampen voter turnout rather than win votes for Bush, who has an abysmal standing among blacks due to Republican policies on civil rights, jobs, social programs, and tax breaks for the rich. "The Republican strategy is to get black people not to vote, and it's a very conscious strategy, even if it is disgusting," says Michael Charney, a teacher activist who has written about the political effect of the voucher program in Cleveland, where anti-Kerry ads are also running. "The goal is to take people's attention off the issues and discredit the entire political process by arguing that the leadership in both parties comes from rich whites."