Yesterday at the Newseum, consultant Alex Castellanos spoke at a 2010 elections preview hosted by the University of Virginia Center for Politics and Politico. Castellanos, who fashions himself as a the “father of the modern attack ad,” has helped produce ads for industry clients — like the Chamber of Commerce and the health insurance trade group — to kill health reform. Recently, after a top communications official was forced out of the Republican National Committee, Castellanos indicated that he will also advise the party on its communications strategy.
Perhaps what sets Castellanos apart from other political consultants is his use of subliminal, often racist, messages. In a profile piece, Eric Boehlert noted some of Castellanos’ most infamous work:
In 1990, working for Republican Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, he produced perhaps the most racially divisive TV ad in campaign history. Called “White Hands,” it featured an angry white worker crumpling up a job rejection notice. He had lost out because “they had to give it to a minority.” More recently, in 2000, his firm National Media produced an ad mocking Al Gore’s stance on prescription drugs, flashing the word “RATS” on the screen for a split second. Castellanos denied using subliminal advertising.
ThinkProgress caught up with Castellanos yesterday, and asked him if he had produced a “White Hands” ad for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) last year — who Castellanos advised for the Presidential campaign — would McCain have won the election? Castellanos, in a rare expression of honesty, said no he wouldn’t because his own “White Hands” ad would have hurt the country in “race relations” since “most people knew Barack Obama is a black man”:
CASTELLANOS: No I think just the opposite. [...] I think most people knew that Barack Obama is a black man. I dont think that was a shot. As a matter of fact I think one of the things people wanted last election, was they wanted to move in a better place in race relations in this country.
While Castellanos admits his own race-based ads would have backfired last year, he is still up to his old tricks. In a recent ad he produced for the Chamber of Commerce against health reform, one scene features a factory boss forced to fire a white employee. As the worker is summoned to the boss’ office, he taps a black coworker on his way out. The black worker, still gainfully employed, looks directly into the camera for a moment before the white worker is dismissed by the boss. “This is the same old right wing dog whistle politics,” observed Eddie Vale, spokesman for the AFL-CIO. “They’re trying to use race and class to scare working people about a health care bill.”