Grossest political ad of the season: Wingnut for Senate stokes racial resentment in new, terrible TV spot

Look out, elderly white voters! A Democratic senator wants to give Social Security to scary immigrant criminals!

Published September 5, 2014 4:35PM (EDT)

  (AP/Danny Johnston)
(AP/Danny Johnston)

There has been no shortage of terrible ads this election cycle, and the Arkansas Senate race seems to be producing some of the worst. Democrat Mark Pryor cranked out a doozy last week that used the Ebola outbreak in Africa to attack his Republican opponent, Tom Cotton. Well, Cotton has apparently decided that he wasn’t going to let Pryor run away with the race for “Worst Political Ad In Arkansas,” and has responded with his own terrible TV spot.

Yesterday, Cotton’s campaign released an ad aimed squarely at the racial-resentment centers of the elderly, white conservative brain. It features grainy, sepia-toned footage of circa-1963 white people working hard at their productive and fulfilling jobs and earning paychecks, portions of which were diverted to Social Security. “But liberals in Washington,” the narrator warns, “want to let illegal immigrants get Social Security for work they did with forged identities.” After pegging Mark Pryor as one of those Washington liberals, Cotton’s ad concludes: “On illegal immigration, Mark Pryor never takes your side.”

Wow. Where to begin? Well, let’s start with the not-at-all-subtle racial message of the ad: Tom Cotton’s on the side of all these hardworking Americans who just happen to be white, while Mark Pryor’s on the side of scary immigrant criminals. That’s not so much racial dog-whistling as it is racial … air-horning, I guess.

And it’s a tactic that’s been deployed before, to much controversy and condemnation. Jed Lewison points out that this ad borrows heavily in tone and spirit from the infamous “Hands” ad released by the late North Carolina senator and racist bog monster Jesse Helms:

Cotton’s ad’s message also doesn’t make sense. The ad seems to suggest that the hard work and payroll tax contributions of American workers are undermined by undocumented immigrants gaining eligibility for Social Security. It’s ostensibly aimed at seniors who are already receiving Social Security benefits. But their benefits are being paid for by payroll tax contributions from younger workers, including many undocumented immigrants. The complaint seems to be “BUT THEY DIDN’T EARN IT,” which … OK, but are we talking about old people and their Social Security benefits or undocumented immigrants here? (If we are talking about old people receiving their benefits, Cotton’s vote in favor of a 2013 budget proposal that raised the Social Security eligibility age to 70 seems more relevant than any immigration vote Pryor cast in 2006.)

But the problems don’t end with raw racial resentment and muddled messaging. When Cotton’s ad says that “liberals in Washington want to let illegal immigrants get Social Security for work they did with forged identities,” a citation flashes at the bottom of the screen for Senate roll call vote #130 on May 18, 2006. That vote was on a motion to table (“kill,” in Senate speak) an amendment to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 that would have ensured that “persons who receive an adjustment of status under this bill are not able to receive Social Security benefits as a result of unlawful activity.” The motion passed by one vote, 50-49, with Mark Pryor voting in favor of passage.

You know who else voted to kill that amendment? Other noted “liberals in Washington” like Sam Brownback, Lindsey Graham, Richard Lugar, Mel Martinez, John McCain, Ted Stevens and George Voinovich. Yes, yes, I’m aware that many of them are considered RINOs by the conservative purity patrol, but it’s tough to call this a “liberal” conspiracy when so many people with (R) next to their names voted for it.

As for the actual amendment itself, take a look again at the description – it prevented “persons who receive an adjustment of status under this bill” from receiving “Social Security benefits as a result of unlawful activity.” That meant that immigrants who gained legal status because of this legislation would not be credited for payroll taxes paid (using fraudulent tax IDs) while they were still undocumented. So the ad’s claim that Pryor wanted to “let illegal immigrants get Social Security” is a lie – the amendment dealt with people who, by virtue of the legislation, would no longer be “illegal immigrants” and would be eligible for Social Security. The issue was whether they deserved credit for taxes paid prior to legalization. Not a single “illegal immigrant” would “get Social Security.” This bullshit claim has been bumping around ever since the actual vote happened eight years ago, and it’s been debunked many times over.

So rest easy, scared elderly white people of Arkansas. Undocumented immigrants are not stealing your hard-earned Social Security with the help of Mark Pryor.

By Simon Maloy

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