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Meet the New Willie Horton by Marlon T. Riggs
An OpEd from The New York Times, 6 Mar. 1992

Patrick Buchanan's most controversial campaign ad has given politics a new cast of characters to demonize, then scapegoat. The specter of Willie Horton has returned, but this time, at least in Mr. Buchanan's distorted view, he is a leather-clad bare-chested, sadomasochistic homosexual dancing shamelessly in the street

As the author of the so-called pornographic images (not quite too shocking to show) now so grossly butchered in Mr. Buchanan's anti-Bush, anti-National Endowment for the Arts ad, I've witnessed with rising horror a perversion of a different order now on the rise in politics: the ruthless exploitation of race and sexuality to win high public office.

Mr. Buchanan, of course, is not alone in manipulating the divisive politics of fear and enmity. The Bush campaign of 1988 proved as adept in tarring Michael Dukakis with responsibility for the release of Mr. Horton, a black convict, and his subsequent rape of a white women.

In that single ad, old racial taboos and racist anxieties found renewed expression and public resonance. Since neither the President nor his campaign managers have ever acknowledged how deeply their strategy offended millions of African Americans (or millions of others sensitive to America's shameful history of psychosexual myths about black men), I can't help but feel a certain cool delight in Mr. Buchanan's ironic reversal of the smear tactic against George Bush himself.

But my satisfaction is cut short by the realization that my work and life, and more important, the multiple communities of which I am a part, are being grossly maligned in the process. In this mud-slinging match, I along with other gay and lesbian Americans, particularly those of color, have again become the mud.

Because my film, "Tongues Untied," affirms the lives and dignity of black gay men, conservatives have found it a convenient target, despite the awards and popular and critical acclaim it received after its broadcast last summer on public television.

On Wednesday, Jesse Helms, Republican of North Carolina, denounced the film during Senate debate over a now delayed bill to provide financing for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Last fall, the Christian Coalition collapsed the 55-minute documentary into seven, disjointed, highly sensationalized minutes, then sent hundreds of copies to members of the House of Representatives in an unsuccessful effort to force new content restrictions on the N.E.A. Of the total cost of the film, only $5,000 was N.E.A. money. And that came from an indirect source.

Mr. Buchanan's television ads, of course, have upped the ante. His anti-quota race-baiting has now fused with a brazen display of anti-gay bigotry. Presidential politics have thus been injected with a new poison: the persecution of racial and sexual difference is fast becoming the litmus test of true Republican leadership.

Sadly, Mr. Buchanan's strong showing in Tuesday's Georgia primary will likely encourage these tactics, though his campaign claims that the ad will not be repeated in Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, all of which have primaries next week. We can nonetheless expect a steady spew of words, "facts" and images that have been ripped out of context, then deflated and distorted into vicious, provocative caricatures.

Willie Horton, in other words, will continue his metamorphosis into a militant, Jesus-blaspheming, psychopathic homosexual. What kind of monster will he become next?

Needless to say, the insult in this brand of politics extends not just to blacks and gays, the majority of whom are taxpayers, and would therefore seem entitled to some measure of representation in publicly financed art.

The insult confronts all who now witness and are profoundly outraged by the quality of political -- one hesitates to say Presidential -- debate. The vilest form of obscenity these days is in our nation's leadership.


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