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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Playing the Race Card in Louisiana

A Democratic radio ad attacks Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy for endorsing “a documentary which claims slavery was better for black folks than welfare.” But the film didn’t make such a claim, and Cassidy didn’t discuss welfare or slavery in his endorsement of it.

The radio ad, paid for by the Democratic State Central Committee of Louisiana, began airing in New Orleans just days before the Dec. 6 runoff election between Cassidy and Sen. Mary Landrieu. The polls show Cassidy comfortably ahead of the three-term Democratic incumbent, who is trying to buck a Republican wave that gave the GOP control of the U.S. Senate in November.

In the ad, a man and woman discuss the upcoming election. At one point, the man says, “And can you believe, Doc Cassidy has endorsed a documentary which claims slavery was better for black folks than welfare.”

The ad is referring to a 2010 conservative documentary called “A New America.” The film features conservative political commentators presenting the conservative viewpoint on a host of issues, including the Federal Reserve, the U.S. Constitution, health care, and government social welfare programs.

“One of the commentators in the documentary is Star Parker, who argues that slavery was better than welfare,” Kirstin Alvanitakis, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Democratic party, told us in an email.

But that’s a matter of interpretation, not fact.

Parker, a columnist who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2010, takes the position in the film that poor people are too dependent on social programs. At one point, she compares the psychological impact of welfare to slavery. She argues that slavery was so bad that blacks actively sought to get out of it, while “welfare folks are comfortable” with government assistance and don’t seek to break what she describes as “this vicious cycle of dependency.”

Parker: I think the difference between welfare and slavery is that in slavery you always have a hope for the future. You can always hope that the law will change. You can actively participate, as many slaves did, in underground and other methods to leave. The challenge with welfare is that it steals away just enough dignity and assurance within a person that they should want more, that they just end up living this vicious cycle of dependency. With slavery, people generally want out. But with welfare, folks are comfortable.

The state Democratic party has every right to take issue with Parker’s opinion, but it is putting words in her mouth when it claims she said “slavery was better for black folks than welfare.”

The ad also goes beyond the facts when it implies that Cassidy endorses the idea that slavery was better than welfare.

Cassidy did endorse the film and, in fact, appeared in it, according to a video that features him on the YouTube channel set up for release of the movie. The YouTube channel was created on Jan. 8, 2010, and one of the trailers said that the movie was scheduled for release on Jan. 21, 2010. That was when Congress was debating the health care bill and the movie trailers deal extensively with the conservative belief that President Obama’s “government-run” health care plan would lead to rationing, diminished quality of care, and increased government dependency. One of the trailers is a nearly nine-minute long video titled, “The Truth About Health Care.”

A doctor, Cassidy talks about the Democratic health care plan. He clearly embraces the general notion that it will increase government dependency at the expense of individual freedom. He also mentions cap and trade, long term care insurance and in general “the protective role of government in all segments of our life.”

But Cassidy does not discuss slavery, welfare or Parker’s commentary. And he certainly does not endorse the notion that “slavery was better for black folks than welfare.”

— Eugene Kiely