Hey, check out what it’s legal to do now


That masterpiece of American democracy was created by Turn Right USA with the help of “filmmaker” Ladd Ehlinger, Jr, perhaps best known for producing Dale “Get Away From That!” Peterson’s Alabama Ag commissioner ad in 2010. You can tell it’s a Ladd because there’s a gun in it. The subject of this advertisement—probably “object” is the more appropriate word—is Janice Hahn, a Los Angeles City Council member currently running for Congress. In 2008, an LA Fox affiliate ran an investigative piece about the city’s use of “gang intervention specialists”—former gang members who served as liaisons among police, community organizations and gangs—that accused Hahn of paying gang members and pulling strings to get them out of jail. You should probably know that it turns out that didn’t actually happen. Also, the rappers featured in this video are called the Splack Pack, in case you want to book them for your daughter’s bat mitzvah.

Hahn’s opponent in the July special election will be Republican Craig Huey, although you wouldn’t know it from this video. Huey has condemned the ad’s subtly racist/sexist overtones, which you might detect in the part where his opponent’s face is superimposed on a stripper who uses her income to buy guns for black people. Huey’s condemnation is actually plausible, since his campaign has no legal connection to the people who made the ad. Turn Right USA is what’s called a Super PAC—”a Federal Non-connected, Expenditure Only Political Action Committee…organized to execute Independent Expenditure campaigns” made legal by Citizens United v. FEC. Turn Right and other Super PACs can raise essentially unlimited quantities of money from anonymous donors to produce and air political advertisements, provided they don’t endorse a specific candidate.

Of course, in an election with only two viable candidates, an attack on one amounts to an endorsement of another. “Amounts to” and “is” are two different things to the FEC, however, and Turn Right USA can make as many of these ads as it wants. Exactly who Turn Right USA is besides Ladd Ehlinger remains undetermined, as does the source of their funding. Basically, a named entity with a WordPress homepage funded by anonymous donors can spend any amount of money producing and airing a legally unlimited number of political commercials, and no actual human being has to take responsibility for any of them.

Clearly, this is the democracy our Founders envisioned. The freedom of wealthy citizens/corporate entities to flood public discourse with anonymous political statements might make for a lively public sphere, but as Thomas Jefferson said, the American farmer goes into the field with the plough in one hand, a volume of Bacon in the other and a bag over his head. The beauty of Citizens United v. FEC is that it not only protects anonymity but virtually mandates negativity. The decision stipulates that you can secretly spend as much money as you want in order to say whatever, as long as you don’t say anything positive about anybody—that would be endorsing a candidate. So, you know, stick to racial prejudice.

The members of Splack Pack, Kue Dog and Uncle Head,* maintain that the ad is not racist. “It might be sexist,” Kue Dog admits. He also mentions that Ehlinger came up with the hook “give me your cash, bitch,” but the rest is pure Splack. That makes their inability to stay on beat all the more baffling, but these issues seem subordinate to a larger question: what is the actual content of this video?

I watched it several times before I understood who Janice Hahn is or what she’s running for, and it was only after an hour of internet research that I figured out what the whole “gang intervention specialists” thing was. After the opening claim that Hahn bailed gangsters out of jail “so they could rape and kill again,” the video barely contains any words, apart from the aforementioned refrain. It’s just 60 seconds of a white woman pole dancing with money in her pants while black men wave guns and pictures of famous criminals drift across the screen, plus the occasional hammer and sickle. It’s not so much a statement as a series of associations.

This is how a society makes itself dumber. The claim that Janice Hahn used city money to support violent criminals is bad enough and maybe kind of libelous, but the statement made here doesn’t even use verbs. It’s just Hahn-gangs-money-black people-violence, and from that we are supposed to know not to vote for her. That Turn Right and Ehlinger are so smug about their idiocy—Ehlinger opined that the commercial is “only offensive to people without a sense of humor”—is galling. That we have collectively mandated this form of rhetoric through the Supreme Court is terrifying. We get the democracy we deserve, but it seems we’re too stupid and lazy to deserve even that. Now we get our choice of the democracies purchased for us.

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  1. I think you’re overstating the threat of something like this to the institution of democracy. Only someone in an adult care facility could watch this without having a critical thinking alarm go off in his head. And then the juvenile presentation of whatever ideas the ad might contain combats any unconscious associations that might be forming against the viewer’s wishes. If anonymous doners want to waste their money airing these kinds of ads I would encourage them. I’m much more afraid of something like Fox news subverting democracy. You have to have your critical thinking armed and ready before you watch, and even afterward you need to do research on top of what you hear to sort the bullshit from the facts (I suppose Fox news makes societies smarter). This type of ad is easy to dismiss without any real consideration, and in that light, it is kind of funny. That people were paid to produce and air it. With real money.

  2. Charlie- Though I admit that this is an extreme (and extremely bad) example, there are many otherwise sane people who will be influenced by such an ad. Basically, I propose that those watching television ads aren’t using their critical thinking skills anyway.
    From my experience (especially the folks I work with) there are many voters who eat this kind of stuff up, and confirmation bias doesn’t go far enough to rationalize this behavior. Willful ingorance is more accurate. These are the same kind of folks who tell Obama-hating jokes. Just like my racist grandpa, those kind of jokes reveal a deeper truth of evil-hearted belief.

    Also, check out Ehlinger’s response to critics attacking the truthfulness of the matter: “He said the allegation about Hahn getting gangsters out of jail early comes right from the mouth of Myrick, who is serving a life sentence for rape and robbery. Said Ehlinger: ‘I’m going to take him at his word. I trust Myrick’s word over Janice Hahn’s. And you should, too.'”

    Yup, I’ll take a convicted rapist and thief’s word over an elected official’s. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of crooked and untrustworthy public servants. But they didn’t get those jobs via rape and pillage, they got them because a majority of the electorate believed in them.

  3. An armed society is a polite and safe society.

    You’d have to live in a excessively nice neighborhood to think that the police can save you before or while you’re under attack.

    And of course you’d have to be a “friend” of the police to even think that in the first place.

    Sounds like a utopia/gated community.

  4. Rossen: Name one “armed society,” historically, that was “polite” and “safe.”

    Before you answer, fair warning: I suspect that you’re retarded.

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