A new ad from the Chamber of Commerce and its allies attacking Democratic-led efforts to pass health care legislation includes a storyline that union critics say is rife with racial undertones.
The spot, titled "Millions," asserts that health reform could "wipe out even more jobs" than those lost so far. But it does so in a peculiar and perhaps controversial way.
The scenario of a distraught boss forced to fire an employee is illustrated by a white worker being summoned to the office as a black co-worker looks on.
An official with the AFL-CIO, who saw the ad air on Wednesday morning, argued that it was a perpetuation of the stereotype that minorities have a leg up on their colleagues because of affirmative-action policies. It gets at the heart of concerns raised by labor leaders like the AFL-CIO's president, Richard Trumka, who fretted during the 2008 presidential campaign that Barack Obama's candidacy would spur racial unrest within work forces.
"This is the same old right wing dog whistle politics," said Eddie Vale, spokesman for the AFL-CIO. "They're trying to use race and class to scare working people about a health care bill."
The Chamber of Commerce scoffed at the charge. "Really?" emailed spokesman Eric Wohlschlegel, in a succinct and dismissive response.
The ad does suggest that the white and black colleagues are on friendly terms. And the overall message is that health care reform will end up taxing already struggling business and hurt the nation's economy. As the script of the ad reads: "Millions of lost jobs, the highest unemployment in 25 years, and Congress's latest health care bill makes a tough economy worse. Over $500 billion in crushing tax increases, but nothing to control rising health care costs. Expensive new mandates on business that could wipe out even more jobs. Call Congress; tell them the new healthcare bill is a bill America can't afford to pay."
Wohlschlegel told the Huffington Post that the spot will air on national cable and in 19 states including Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. It is, he added, a "a multimillion dollar buy."
UPDATE: An earlier version of this article stated that the ad was from the Chamber of Commerce. The ad is from a coalition called Employers for a Healthy Economy, which includes the Chamber, the National Association of Manufacturers, and other similar groups.
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