[Willie Horton. The name is enough to make a politician blanch. Ever since 1988, when the George H. W. Bush presidential campaign machine wielded the Horton horror story against his Democratic rival, the threat of being “Willie Horton’ed” has shaped the politics of crime and punishment. “The ghost of Willie Horton has loomed over any conversation about sentencing reform for over 30 years,” says Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., co-sponsor of one such proposal.
Now, with crime down and the excesses of the criminal justice system under bipartisan attack, some believe the ghost has been expelled. Upcoming election seasons will put that theory to the test.
How did a single sadistic home invasion — one of many senseless crimes in the violent 1980’s — reshape the politics of criminal justice for a generation? It began with a 30-second television ad.]