President Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, has a reputation for going to almost any length to win. That’s usually a good thing, but his involvement in one of the most infamous—and potentially criminal—attack ads in U.S. history is enough to give us pause.
In 2002, Messina—who’s been called “the most powerful person in Washington that you haven’t heard of”—was working for Sen. Max Baucus of Montana on his re-election campaign against Republican contender Mike Taylor. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, supposedly working separate from Baucus or Messina, whipped up a campaign ad that made Taylor look like a disco-fag version of Al Capone.
With porno music blaring, the sport showed decades-old footage from Taylor’s cosmetics business, of the Republican rubbing some lotion onto another man’s face. As the clip ends, Taylor is reaching down, presumably into the man’s crotch and and a voiceover claims “Mike Taylor—not the way we do business in Montana.”
Ostensibly the voiceover is a reference to some education-loan shenanigans the Republican candidate pulled with his cosmetology school, but the implication is clear: Taylor is a faggot.
Thanks to the deliberate choice of music, the footage of man-on-man physical contact and the voice-over message, the ad is considered the epitome of homophobic demagoguery—a spot ostensibly about Taylor’s Department of Education loans, but really designed to raise questions about Taylor’s sexuality in a culturally conservative state.
Summarizing the national uproar over the ad, the Denver Post at the time noted that “only the most naive adult would miss the implication that Taylor is a homosexual” and that clearly “the supposedly inclusive Democrats deftly played on the right’s homophobia.”
It’s the same thing as when right-wingers claim a liberal has “San Francisco values.”
At the time both Messina and Baucus claimed they had no knowledge of the ad’s content. In fact, campaign law forbids a candidate and his campaign from directly being involved in ads paid for by third-party groups like the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
But in a recent, rather glowing profile of Messina in Businessweek, Baucus tells a different story:
“Jim is tough,” Baucus says. “I’ll never forget when he showed me that [Taylor] ad. We were in Bozeman in a motel. The curtains were drawn. He said, ‘Max, what do you think?’ They were afraid I wasn’t going to like it. I loved it!”
So a decade after the ad pushed Taylor to drop out of the race and Baucus scored more than 60% of the vote, he admits both he and Messina knew all about this sleazy, homophobic ad. Oh, and as Sirota reminds us, Baucus votedforthe Defense of Marriage Act.
It doesn’t seem like Messina is particularly anti-gay, however—more of an attack dog eager to take down a threat to his master. It was Messina, after all, who took point on the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell when he was the White House deputy chief of staff.
“With the exception of the President himself, the LGBT community has had no greater champion or advocate within the administration than Jim Messina,” Joe Solmonese, HRC president and Obama campaign’s national co-chair emailed BuzzFeed. “In the fight to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I had the honor of working by Jim’s side throughout the entire process. No one that I know was more proud of that accomplishment or more visibly moved on the day of its passage than Jim. I’m proud to call him a friend.”
So, at least this attack dog is on our side… right?
Photo: The White House