The Tennessee Republican Party has sent out a flier with the tag line “Vote early to preserve your way of life” across the top.
Among the recipients of the flier was Rabbi Louis Zivic of Knoxville’s Heska Amuna Synagogue, who described the phrase as racially charged.
“I think it’s a subtle message, but it’s well understood,” Zivic told the Forward. “I think this is all pitched sub rosa to people who have a tendency to be discriminatory.”
In earlier decades, some white leaders used similar language in opposing civil rights for blacks, though Zivic was reluctant to draw a direct connection to fights over desegregation.
“I’m not sure I’d put it in terms of Jim Crow, that seems a little bit strong, particularly here in East Tennessee,” the rabbi said. But it “means that in Tennessee we live life in a particular way. We cherish values like heterosexual marriage, we cherish values like family, and I think the implication is we want to stop further change, and of course the racial situation is part of what changes.”
The executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party, Chris Devaney, denied that the mailing had any racial implications. “To suggest that our mailing has racial overtones is just absurd,” Devaney told the Forward. “This mailing is just pointing out that Democrats, if elected, would change your way of life by raising your taxes and taking your money.”
The GOP flier urges people to vote Republican, but does not mention any specific candidates for office. Apart from the phrase in question, the remainder of the flier has an unambiguously economic theme.
“If you don’t vote, liberal Democrats will take control of Congress and raise your taxes,” the ad says. The background has pictures of $100 bills and a cash-register that says, “Taxes $$.”
Despite the economic thrust, Zivic compared the mailing to a recent television ad from the Republican National Committee that takes aim at Tennessee Senate candidate Rep. Harold Ford Jr., who could become the South’s first black senator since Reconstruction. The ad, which Democrats and some Republicans claim played on anxiety over interracial relationships, features a young white woman imploring Ford to call her.
Ford’s GOP opponent, Bob Corker, asked the RNC to stop airing the ad, describing it as “tacky” and “over the top.”