In the eighth chapter of his 1995 memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” Barack Obama describes a barbershop haircut he got in Chicago in the 1980s, just days after he moved to the city for his new job as a community organizer.
Obama’s barber, named Smitty, speaks in the passage of the racial and political tension in Chicago before the city elected Harold Washington as its first black mayor in 1983, and the neglect African Americans felt from the Democratic Party at the time.
In the paperback version of the book, Obama directly quotes Smitty’s words. In the audio version, Obama reads them aloud.
Now, a pro-Trump super PAC is using that passage from the first black president’s book to lure black voters away from Democrats with a misleading attack ad targeting Georgia’s 6th Congressional District’s special election.
Great America Alliance, which brands itself as the “largest and most effective pro-Trump Super PAC,” is among the many outside political groups pouring money into Tuesday’s election, the most expensive congressional race in U.S. history as The Washington Post’s Robert Costa reported and one that could have far-reaching consequences for Republicans nationwide.
Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel are in a dead heat for the seat, traditionally a stronghold for conservatives, which was vacated by Tom Price when Trump appointed him secretary of health and human services.
Ossoff has been highly critical of Trump. Handel, whom the president endorsed on Twitter Monday, has not. The results could serve as a road map for how Republican members of Congress should navigate their relationship with Trump during their own reelection campaigns.
The district in the northern suburbs of Atlanta has been in Republican hands since 1979. The population is about 13 percent African American, but a “turnout gap” among black voters in 2016 and in the first round of the special election has Democrats worried, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which is one of the reasons civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) has campaigned there for Ossoff.
Great America Alliance’s radio ad targets black voters by taking Smitty’s words and Obama’s voice out of context.
The radio ad opens with a monologue from conservative political activist Autry Pruitt, a black man and Trump surrogate who often argues that Democrats have taken black voters for granted.
“Hi, my name is Autry Pruitt, a fellow black American working hard every day, just like you,” Pruitt says. “It may seem out of season, but all of a sudden, Democratic politicians have started coming around again. We normally only see them every other November, swarming around and making promises to get our vote. But nothing ever changes for us, does it? Here’s what President Barack Obama had to say about it.”
Then Obama begins speaking, but the ad provides no context for his words.
“A plantation. Black people in the worst jobs. The worst housing. Police brutality rampant,” Obama says. “But when the so-called black committeemen came around election time, we’d all line up and vote the straight Democratic ticket. Sell our souls for a Christmas turkey.”
Then Pruitt tells listeners not to “sell out for another Christmas turkey.”
A video version of the ad turns the phrase into a hashtag. “Take Obama’s Advice,” it says. “Don’t sell out for a #ChristmasTurkey.”
But in the greater context of the memoir’s eighth chapter, it’s clear the words don’t belong to Obama — and from Smitty they take on a different meaning.
Here is the full scene in “Dreams From My Father”:
“Had to be here before Harold to understand what he means to this city,” Smitty said. “Before Harold, seemed like we’d always be second-class citizens.”
“Plantation politics,” the man with the newspaper said.
“That’s just what it was, too,” Smitty said. “A plantation. Black people in the worst jobs. The worst housing. Police brutality rampant. But when the so-called black committeemen came around election time, we’d all line up and vote the straight Democratic ticket. Sell our souls for a Christmas turkey. White folks spitting in our faces, and we’d reward ‘em with the vote.”
PolitiFact, a fact-checking publication run by the Tampa Bay Times, assigned the Great America Alliance ad its “Pants on Fire” rating for being misleading.
Though a spokesman from the PAC, Pruitt told PolitiFact that the Obama quote was not taken out of context.
“The clip of President Obama was absolutely in context on this issue and helps make our point in the ad, which is why we used it,” Pruitt said, according to PolitiFact.
Great America Alliance co-chair Eric Beach told CNN that the ad was an “outside the box” attempt to show “creatively” the Democrats’ history with black voters.
“It’s like any ad,” Beach told CNN about the edited quote, “those are his words and we want to use his words and I’ll leave it at that.”
Eric Schultz, a senior adviser to Obama, told CNN that the use of the former president’s voice in the ad was “fraudulent” and a “shameful, indefensible tactic.”
“Deceptively using President Obama’s voice to suggest people sit out of the democratic process is a form of voter suppression and it not only signals weakness, it runs counter to our American values,” Schultz said.
In response to a tweet asking about the ad Monday night, Pruitt wrote: “Not an effort to suppress votes; it is an effort to get my fellow Black Americans to run screaming from lying democrats #christmasturkey”
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