2012 Election | Advertising | Barack Obama | Joe Solmonese | Montana

Obama Campaign Manager's Allegedly Homophobic Political Ad: VIDEO


Jim Messina, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff and current Obama campaign manager, was the subject of a generally friendly profile in this week's Businessweek. But on the profile's fourth page, in reference to Jim Messina's tenure working for Sen. Max Bacaus, of Montana, readers find this:

Messina will go a long way to win, as the two leading stories from his Montana career suggest. Both involve the 2002 Senate race he ran for Baucus, a Democrat seeking reelection in a terrible year for Democrats. To protect Baucus, Messina had him refuse to participate in any debate that didn’t also include a fringe third-party candidate who’d inadvertently dyed his skin blue with homemade antibiotics—a guaranteed distraction.

The other story involved his Republican challenger, a state senator named Mike Taylor, who was the target of an ad so devastating it got national attention. The ad charged Taylor with having embezzled student loans from a cosmetology school he’d owned in the 1980s. But its force lay in the music and imagery. Set to a porn soundtrack, it featured snippets of an old television ad for Taylor’s hair salon that showed the candidate clad in a medallioned, open-shirted disco outfit, massaging lotion into another man’s face, and then appearing to reach toward the man’s crotch, as a narrator intoned, “Not the way we do business in Montana.”

“Jim is tough,” Baucus says. “I’ll never forget when he showed me that 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!” Humiliated, Taylor quit the race, and Baucus sailed to victory. “I found out quickly from Messina that there was no honor in politics,” Taylor says in an e-mail.

The facial cream ad is a classic in the annals of political dirty-trickdom, as David Sirota points out at Salon:

... very few spots are so indelible as to be considered iconic, and almost all of those are national presidential ads, like the 1964 Johnson campaign’s “Daisy” spot; the 1988 Bush campaign’s racially charged “Revolving Door”; and the 2004Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacks on John Kerry’s war record. Arguably the only congressional ad to ever reach such rarefied air was the 2002 Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spot against Montana Republican Senate nominee Mike Taylor.

Renowned in political circles, the ad set porno music to 20-year-old footage of a video from Taylor’s cosmetics business. The video showed Taylor in a leisure suit rubbing cream into another man’s face. As the spot faded to black, it showed Taylor then seeming to reach for the man’s crotch as a voice-over said “Mike Taylor — not the way we do business in Montana.”

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.”

... but is that so? The video is so cheese-tastic that it would be insane for a political opponent not to use it in a campaign ad. As to the porn-movie music -- what other music could this video possibly be set to? The moment a political ad features facial hair of this caliber, soundtrack options become somewhat limited.

Note: Joe Solmonese, former HRC president (and current Obama campaign co-chair) emailed Buzzfeed yesterday to defend Messina's LGBT rights cred:

"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."

Watch the old Baucus ad AFTER THE JUMP ...


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  1. Sorry, but I don't see it. The ad really isn't all that suggstive, and I don't know what porn music was like back then, but this doesn't sound like an 'adult video' to me. The look for both guys aside - it was the 70s I guess - this would be suggestive to straight homophobic Christians, because it features (horror!) a man having face cream applied. If this was two women, no-one would think anything of it.

    Posted by: Dave | Jun 16, 2012 12:16:20 PM

  2. If we will only accept allies with a pristine past, we aren't going to get anywhere. As the saying goes:

    "A man with few vices has few virtues."

    Posted by: Yeek | Jun 16, 2012 12:17:18 PM

  3. I'm glad that you used the word "allegedly" when describing that ad as homophobic. I didn't get that sense at all. It got right to the point that the guy ran a business, propped up by student loans which he embezzled ... works for me (and, apparently, it worked for Bacaus!

    I am sure that Republicans will try to use this to smear Obama et al, but were it not this ad, it would be something else, so no surprise really.

    Posted by: John | Jun 16, 2012 12:19:27 PM

  4. If this ad is considered the "epitome of homophobic demagoguery" then what is Rick Santorum?

    Posted by: james | Jun 16, 2012 12:29:20 PM

  5. When we're faced with the Republican Presidential nominee who has donated to Prop 8, who has donated to an "ex-gay" group, who has signed on completely with NOM and their agenda, who is pushing a vehemently anti-gay platform, this political ad from years ago is a big nothingburger. This ad is in no way homophobic.

    Posted by: Terry | Jun 16, 2012 12:38:06 PM

  6. OK, very interesting historical information. But WHEN are you going to stop publicly trashing Obama and/or his staff? They have done more for us in the gay community than all other Presidents combined. Let's get the guy re-elected. Do you really want Romney???

    For those who say that there is not enough difference between Obama and Romney, or that Obama still hasn't 'evolved' enough on all gay issues, or that Obama hasn't issued an Executive Order on non-discrimination, or that Obama is too political, or whatever .... GET OVER IT.

    We have key cases coming to the Supreme Court in the next 1 - 3 years (DOMA, marriage, dual-parent adoption etc) and the possibility that at least one progressive Supreme Court Justice may leave the court, we are probably going to have a complete Republican Congress (Senate and House), and we have anti-gay conservatives controlling several key states (Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, etc) -- SO STOP HARPING ON OBAMA. He is our best, and only, salvation in the Presidential election and to give the pro-gay rights position the national visibility it needs.


    Posted by: MiddleoftheRoader | Jun 16, 2012 12:47:38 PM

  7. The Obama campaign manager could be shown having eaten a baby on camera himself and it doesn't compare with the slide last week in swing states to the Romney side with a tie in Michigan probably the last straw that made Obama rush to do his immigration hail-Mary to stop the bleeding. Obama non-fans like me love it. You know what happens when a malignant narcissist is challenged, they act like an unhappy snake and lose their charm. Romney's going to enjoy poking him with a stick.

    Posted by: MarkUs | Jun 16, 2012 12:51:51 PM

  8. Just because the other side is worse, that doesn't mean we have to defend the bad things people on our side do. You're voting for a sleazy politician, regardless of red or blue.

    It's an ad that used the the fear and prejudice of a large slice of the voting populace to sway opinion. It's brilliant. It's dirty and unfair, but it worked.

    You don't have a better candidate to vote for. I get it it. But why the rush to defend and deny the obvious? You don't have to drink the Kool Aid just to cast a vote.

    Posted by: Bill | Jun 16, 2012 12:56:25 PM

  9. This is no bug deal. It was a decade ago and anything suggestive is in the eye of the beholder. Yes, the footage plays on gay stereotyping but the narration focuses on the opponents sleazy business practices and it's the opponents own footage that's featured. While it would make me cringe in 2012, this is history and frankly, not a big deal; Messina has been a LGBT allay since and we need to cut the guy some slack and put it in perspective.

    Posted by: Alex Parrish | Jun 16, 2012 1:05:26 PM

  10. For f*ck's sake, people, there's MACRAMÉ in the background!!!

    Isn't that enough to scare anyone?

    Posted by: johnny | Jun 16, 2012 1:15:53 PM

  11. It's past 1 pm and all you have are three posts? Get busy!

    Posted by: UFFDA | Jun 16, 2012 1:18:05 PM

  12. I suppose in Montana at the time this was hot enough to rile up some folks. Now it's a curiosity, a relic.

    Messina played a dirty trick in a campaign and it worked. He's redeemed himself since, mostly. It's not at all like Mittens leading a storm trooper attack on a flower child in high school, performing ritual castration, then laughing it off 40 years later.

    Posted by: gregory brown | Jun 16, 2012 1:22:25 PM

  13. Ironically, Max Bacaus just announced his support for marriage equality this week.

    Posted by: Todd | Jun 16, 2012 1:24:49 PM

  14. Since when is setting-down a sponge a "crotch grab"? And that 'porn music' is typical everyday 70's generic pop heard in movies and on television shows (ever listen to the music on CHiPs?) and commercials.

    And what, no picture of the blue man?

    Posted by: Anastasia Beaverhausen | Jun 16, 2012 1:34:56 PM

  15. I think this ad is great. It's about time the Democrats start playing hardball and giving the Republicans a taste of their own medicine. I want to see some anti-Romney ads that really scorch the earth, and if they make fun of him for being an effete pansy, so much the better. The Supreme Court and gay marriage are on the line. Let's use every weapon at our disposal to win.

    Posted by: Justin | Jun 16, 2012 1:39:07 PM

  16. If Joe Solmonese says it's okay, then it must be bad. And while we're looking at this ad with a 2012 perspective, don't forget it was being shown in Montana 2002, not the most gay-friendly of states, even today. And its final result was exactly what it was aimed at -- making the GOP candidate quit the race. Anyone who brushes this off is blinding himself to the fact that sometimes all it takes to turn people against a person is a hint that they're queer...even today. that is was done by a Democrat who was using the GOP's own dirty tricks against them mitigates it, slightly...but only slightly. Max Bacaus is hardly a shining light when it comes to gay rights.

    Posted by: kyle Michel Sullivan | Jun 16, 2012 1:52:28 PM

  17. Oh, well, then, if Solomenese says it, it must be true.
    Sheesh - the only people who have done more harm to us queers than him are at NOM and FRC.
    But only barely, just.

    Obama has many advisers who are not interested in us queers except on voting day. The rest of the year, they see us as a pure liability. Civil rights are irrelevant to them.

    Posted by: enough already | Jun 16, 2012 2:45:22 PM

  18. I can't tell from the what the scandal was all about. I think they are saying that his school was not technically qualified to receive student loans because it was a sham school? That would have been fraud and he should have been prosecuted. Also, if there were false filings for student loans he should have been prosecuted. However, if he had students legitimately applying for student loans, then yes, he would have been pocketing the money, as would any school.

    As to the ad itself, I think the partisan reversal test would indicate that it's engendering homophobia. That is, if the ad was created by a Republican campaign I think HRC would be crying foul. However, I don't think this reflects badly on Obama because he ain't Max Bacaus, a reformed homophobe of yore.

    Posted by: anon | Jun 16, 2012 2:49:05 PM

  19. The spot is from 2002; it's 10 years old! It has nothing to do with the man in 2012. Let's move on.

    Posted by: Jacoby | Jun 16, 2012 2:51:59 PM

  20. Let's not forget that Messina has been one of the main Obama staffers slow-walking on LGBT issues and threatened advocacy groups when they didn't tow the line.

    Posted by: Mike in Houston | Jun 16, 2012 3:26:34 PM

  21. I don't understand how he showed it to Max Baucus before it was aired. This was a Montana Democratic Party ad. The two organizations are not allowed to coordinate in that way during a campaign. Sounds a bit shady. As for the ad, I think it's a great ad, and seemed to do the trick. While the ad itself does not seem homophobic, certainly homophobes watching could draw some conclusions along the gay vein.

    Posted by: William | Jun 16, 2012 3:38:27 PM

  22. Messina is a card carrying P.I.G. What greater evidence does one need that praise from spineless lap dog Joe Solmonese—and the fact that Messina is a protege of Rahmbo "All Dirty Politics, All the Time" Emanuel? The growth in support for LGBT rights by the President is in spite of not because of this thug.

    Posted by: Michael Bedwell | Jun 16, 2012 5:20:39 PM

  23. Once again the weekend towleroad is atrocious and nothing like the site the rest of the time. This ad isn't worth anything near the hyperbole the article suggested. Jeesh.

    Posted by: Pt | Jun 16, 2012 7:28:11 PM

  24. Lame
    Not a big deal. But to Romney lovers it is or should I say wallet voters

    Posted by: GeorgeM | Jun 16, 2012 10:52:54 PM

  25. Michigan (16 EVs)
    Likely Democratic
    Obama: 50%
    Romney: 42%
    Source: Rasmussen (Jun 14)

    Markus tied when? In reality neither side is going to win in a landslide.
    Why so angry at Obama? Let me ask, do gay issues matter?

    Posted by: GeorgeM | Jun 16, 2012 11:05:41 PM

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