Early last week, cable viewers in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area were treated to a most unusual campaign advertisement. The 60-second spot, which aired on MSNBC, accused U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) of, among other things, "getting rich with million-dollar pension plans and stock deals," lying to his constituents by reneging on an earlier promise not to run for a third term and supporting "communistic health care," as a Soviet flag hovered over his face on the screen. It concluded with a call to vote for Republican senatorial candidate Norm Coleman.
The ad, paid for by a group calling itself Citizens Opposed to Racism and Discrimination (CORAD), was quickly denounced by both the Wellstone and Coleman campaigns. Wellstone supporters called the spot blatantly false and said it did not contain the disclaimer required of outside advertisers; they vowed to complain to the Federal Election Commission. (CORAD says that it spent less than the soft-money limit of $2,000 for the ad, and that it ran a five-second disclaimer.) Coleman's camp, fearing fallout from the negative character attacks, sent out a press release immediately requesting that the ad be removed. "It was way over the top," says Coleman press secretary Leslie Kupchella. "That's not the kind of rhetoric we want in this Senate race." But CORAD did not heed the Coleman camp's calls, and says it plans to run yet another ad. "With all due respect to Norm Coleman," says CORAD co-founder Keith Roberts, who also goes by the alias Don Kennedy, "we feel very strongly about Wellstone."
CORAD was founded in 1998 by two 30-something white businessmen who met at the gym. The group doubles as CORAD Healthcare Inc., marketing products that target "some of life's most embarrassing ailments." Their current headliner is Maxim antiperspirant, which is touted as a lifesaver for those suffering from excessive sweating.
But it's CORAD's political message that has made more headlines. In 1999, Roberts and co-founder Rocco Gotti decided to launch a crusade against the Democratic Party geared toward the black community. "Democrats are great marketers and have blacks captivated," says Roberts. "Republicans are afraid to go into the inner city. They think that blacks hate us." So he and Gotti shelled out $80,000 from their own pockets and hired music producer B-Cube and rapper Shoanna Z (a k a Shoanna Zealand) to produce a politically charged CD, for distribution in the Twin Cities and to radio markets nationwide.
Roberts and Gotti wrote the lyrics themselves. "Rap has eclipsed country music as the most popular form of music in our culture. As conservatives, we want our finger on the pulse of society," they explained to the Jewish World Review. Their CD received a rave review in The Washington Times, praise from the Minnesota GOP and a satisfied thank-you note from then-Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, who was happy to hear "modern music that addresses social issues with responsible solutions." The Republican National Committee even considered giving CORAD funds to continue its music project.
The CD itself includes tracks such as "Gun Control is Racist," "Liberal Democrats are Racist" and "Liberal Democrat Education is Wack." Didactic titles aside, the CD's music is decent and, according to both CORAD and Minnesota Black Republican Coalition President Lucky Rosenbloom, it has been well received. The lyrics focus primarily on the issues of gun rights, school vouchers and accusations of a liberal media bias. CORAD's theme that blacks have been enslaved by a Democratic Party that takes them for granted is ever present:
Colorado black lynched by racist youths
Clinton's gun control laws sets racists loose.
Charleton marched with Martin Luther King
to attack Mr. Heston is assault on our King.
Heston fights for our rights both day and night
Liberals all hate him because they know he's right.
Meanwhile, here's Shoanna Z on education: "White Democrats oppose school vouchers to ensure their own power/ They fear educated blacks who will be smarter by the hour." Another lyric -- "With violent criminals and cops who can't defend/ Gotta protect our people, with gun control freedom ends" -- even seems a subtle appropriation of Malcolm X.
Continuing with the theme, CORAD has awarded Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), former Attorney General Janet Reno and Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) with the distinction "Racist of the Month" for their respective sins of promoting campaign-finance reform, gun control and habitual communism. Even President Bush has come under fire from the group. "Your new welfare expansionism will only do more to recess the civil-rights movement ... . It is hard to grasp that I am actually writing a Republican president to chastise him for the advancement of socialism. Perhaps you should join Mr. Jeffords and leave the Republican Party," Roberts wrote to Bush on a Frontpagemag.com message board.
CORAD pulls no punches when it comes to getting its message across, nor does it have any qualms about speaking on behalf of others. "The NAACP was formed by whites," says Roberts, apparently referring to members of the multiracial group that founded the organization. "Any time you say only blacks can serve blacks or only whites can serve whites, that's racist." The Black Republican Coalition's Rosenbloom applauds CORAD "for having the guts to stand up and tell the truth." But, he adds, "I don't want two white Republicans coming into the black community and telling us what's good for us."
Yet it's hard to think of a better description of CORAD's $80,000 ploy to draw black votes to the GOP through musical propaganda. In June 2000, Gotti appeared on Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect, excitedly touting the prospects of an electoral realignment in the black community: "Ninety percent of blacks vote democratic . If just 10 [percent] or 20 percent of the blacks voted Republican, the presidential race could never go to a Democrat." CORAD's Web site takes the propaganda to a whole new level by rehashing historical platitudes: Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, a majority of southern Democrats opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, former Vice President Al Gore's dad was one of them, etc., etc., etc. Interestingly, there is no attempt to extend this "Republicans are the true champions of civil rights" mantra beyond the 1960s. CORAD makes no mention of Dixiecrats, the Republicans' southern strategy or ensuing electoral realignments. That might dilute the message or cast doubts on CORAD's position.
Fortunately, it appears that many members of CORAD's target audience don't believe the hype. CORAD's all but silent online message boards contain a few telling posts, namely this one calling for the removal of Ronald Reagan's picture from their Web site:
This site is too funny. I'm simply cracking up. I am a conservative leaning African American who is also a member of the hip hop generation. I like that you guys are promoting the concept of African Americans expanding their political vision, but you are NEVER going to accomplish that by insulting our intelligence. Ronald Reagan is the anti-Christ as far as most blacks are concerned and if you don't take that stupid picture down from the homepage, you will turn off more people who happen to surf onto your site than you will attract.
CORAD's response? "Ronald Reagan loved black people. In high school he played football with black people. Ronald Reagan had many black friends," says Roberts.
Roberts himself admits that CORAD does not "officially" have any black members, though it calls the conservative Los Angeles Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson "a good friend." In fact, the only black face on CORAD's Web site other than Peterson's is that of a sweaty black man next to a not so subtle advertisement for the commercial entity that shares the group's e-mail address and corporation name. "Use Maxim to fight the sweat that comes with fighting racism Stop excessive sweating with Maxim," it reads.
One wonders how effective an antiracist movement one can have without the support of any victims of racism, especially given that CORAD is not an angry-white-man organization alleging reverse discrimination. Instead, it claims to be "America's objective defender of minorities, Blacks and women and children." In the end, though, CORAD's game is to peddle an old conservative message to black voters through a new medium and a pretense of genuine antiracism. Promulgating right-wing rap music may be a clever strategy, but the only success to date suggested by Minnesota exit polls is a strong showing from Alan Keyes in the 2000 GOP primary. And as the Coleman campaign fears, the hyper-negative CORAD ads may only backfire and damage the Republican candidate they claim to support.
That said, the Twin Cities chapter of the NAACP would do well to pay attention to the new presence in its backyard rather than taking its Democratic base for granted. When asked about the group, a St. Paul NAACP representative replied, "CORAD? We haven't heard of them."