Do the Wright Thing [Updated]

WASHINGTON - APRIL 28: Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois, addresses the National Press Club April 28, 2008 in Washington, DC. Wright was Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama's pastor for many years and he recently came under scrutiny when excerpts of one of his sermons showed him saying,
Will the chickens finally come home to roost? Photo: Chip Somodevilla/2008 Getty Images

Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade, plans to spend some ten million dollars on an advertising campaign assailing President Obama “in ways that Republicans have so far shied away from.” Those ways involve healthy doses of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, dark insinuations of otherness, and a general airing out of the right-wing id.

The campaign is being directed by Fred Davis, who is known for producing buzzy, outrageous campaigns, including Pete Hoekstra’s Yellow Peril ad against Debbie Stabenow. The proposed ads, laid out in this harrowing storyboard, are the perfect match of artist and mood.

One of the deeper and more persistent conservative beliefs is that President Obama glided into office because of his race. His blackness shielded him from the scrutiny he deserved, and Republicans shied away from exposing him for fear of being labeled racist. Republicans were already saying this and acting on it in 2008, and some of them funded a Wright-themed ad campaign that ran in the late stages of the campaign. That belief has persisted and even deepened.

One aspect of this belief is that, since race is the key to Obama’s mysterious power, the way to expose Obama lies in finding a black spokesman to give voice to the opposition. This sentiment led to the anointment of the comical Michael Steele as Republican National Committee chairman in 2009, the presidential candidacy of Herman Cain, and even the bizarre decision to import Alan Keyes from Maryland to run against Obama for Senate in Illinois in 2004. This campaign suggests the recruitment of an “extremely literate conservative African-American” as front man.

The proposed Ricketts-Davis campaign wrestles with the tension between its understanding that the deciding swing vote likes Obama and wants him to succeed and a deep desire to paint him in sinister, alien terms. The effort of suppressing their rage behind a façade of Romney-esque he’s-just-in-over-his-head condescension is too much. After attempting to follow the Romney strategy of offering voters an excuse for wanting to like Obama, it builds the case of him as a radical who hates America and culminates in a tirade against the voters for trusting him:

Should we have known? So many of us trusted him, believed in him. Should we have known? Perhaps there is no more important question.

Should we have known when we learned his mentor blamed America for the 9/11 attacks from his pulpit, the Sunday right after the planes hit?

The end of the spot fades to words onscreen, “Seldom in life do we get a second chance to make a right decision.” It tries to soften the message by expressing it in the first person plural, but the sublimated message is a pair of hands practically reaching through the television screen into America’s living rooms, throttling the necks of the voters and screaming at them for being such idiots to vote for this angry black radical in the first place.

Update: A statement has been made on Ricketts’s behalf insisting that he is “neither the author nor the funder of the so-called ‘Ricketts Plan’ to defeat Mr. Obama that The New York Times wrote about this morning. Not only was this plan merely a proposal — one of several submitted to the Ending Spending Action Fund by third-party vendors — but it reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects and it was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take.”

Do the Wright Thing