"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bare Knuckle Politics: Lee Atwater

American political history has been characterized by a great deal of political chicanery on the part of almost all political parties. Everyone has heard the debate about who stole the most presidential votes in Illinois in 1960. Was it the Democratic machine in Chicago or the Republican bosses in Little Egypt in southern Illinois? In recent decades, the Democrats have not always behaved as Boy Scouts, but the Republicans have far outpaced them in the black arts of the political craft, beginning in the election of 1988.
Lee Atwater

Political strategist Lee Atwater brought all the instincts and energies of an attack dog to the political arena. He proved to be a worthy successor to Republican dirty-trickster Donald Segretti, who proved that ugly tactics and dirty tricks were the ingredients of political success. In 1972, Segretti planted false stories about Mrs. Edmund Muskie and also planted the claim that Senator Muskie disparaged French Canadians, by manufacturing the infamous “Canuck” letter. He created false stories about the sex lives of other Democrats, and eventually served six months in federal prison for breaking campaign laws. In 1980, Atwater was one of the first strategists to use push polling, telephone calls purporting to be part of a poll that fed listeners damaging information about an opponent. He was ruthless and manipulative, not much of a strategist but a brilliant tactician who produced victories. He managed the campaign of Floyd Spence against incumbent Democratic Congressman Tom Turnipseed, who was favored to be reelected. Atwater learned that Turnipseed underwent shock therapy as a teenager, and the strategist spread the word that the Congressman had been hooked up to jumper cables one time too many. That was enough to elect Spence in South Carolina, where ugly campaigns and dirty tricks were a tradition.

After working for Senator Strom Thurmond, Atwater joined the Reagan campaign organization in 1980 and quickly became one of its senior operatives. His sometime friend, Ed Rollins, described Atwater as “Oliver North in civilian clothes;” “and he’d do anything to win. There were no rules or standards in Lee’s operating manual....” He made no secret of his conviction that negative campaigning almost guaranteed success. He was Rollin’s deputy in running the 1984 Reagan campaign. Unbeknownst to Rollins, Atwater and several others were running a dirty tricks operation that publicized the fact that vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro’s parents had been arrested but not convicted of rum running. In that campaign, a $10 million illegal contribution from Ferdinand Marcos was used, but Rollins said he had only learned about it after the fact. He was an effective strategist and pretty much a straight arrow. Marcos gave Reagan $4 million in 1980 and $10 million in 1984, but perhaps only $8 of the former payment went to the campaign. When Rollins and Senator Paul Laxault discussed the matter, the Nevada solon said, “When I was over there cutting off Marcos’s nuts, he gave me a hard time. ‘How can you do this?’ he kept saying to me. ‘I gave Reagan ten million dollars.’” To be fair to Reagan, it seems that Marcos and the Philippine courier thought the $10 was a personal gift, but the President channeled most of it into the campaign.

In 1993 he ran the successful Christy Whiteman gubernatorial campaign in New Jersey and foolishly admitted distributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to African-American ministers to hold down the black vote. This tactic has become so common, and necessary for Republicans, that he may not have even realized it was unethical.

Lee Atwater ran George H.W. Bush’s successful campaign in 1988. He also served as chairman of the Republican National Committee. He came to be called the “Darth Vader of the Republican Party.” Atwater skillfully chipped away Massachusetts Governor Dukakis’s seventeen point lead and helped put George H.W. Bush in the White House. During the campaign he became a good friend of George H. W. Bush, son of the Vice President. The turning point came when Atwater made murderer Willie Horton a household name. While on a weekend Massachusetts prison furlough, Horton, a Black, raped a white woman. The most powerful TV advertisement using Horton’s mug shot, and blaming Governor Dukakis for the rape, was aired by an “independent” committee for deniability’s sake, but “Lee Atwater was Willie Horton’s godfather....” Atwater said, “The Horton case is one of those gut issues that are value issues, particularly in the South…And if we hammer at these over and over, we are going to win.” There were also claims that Kitty Dukakis had burned an American flag in protesting the Vietnam War and that she had mental health problems.

Atwater and media consultant Roger Ailes then defined Dukakis as a card-carrying ACLU member who also opposed the death penalty and flag burning. Ailes also produced a commercial that used a photograph of Dukakis riding a tank in a helmet that made the Democratic standard bearer look like a perfect hypocrite. Of course, that fair was game and very adept politics.

Sherman has written African American Baseball: A Brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Turnipseed wasn't an incumbent congressman – he was a state senator.

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About Me

Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. It discusses elements in the Republican coalition, their ideologies, strategies, informational and financial resources, and election shenanigans. Abuses of power by the Reagan and G. W. Bush administration and the Republican Congresses are detailed. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go to http://www.publishamerica.com/shopping. It can also be obtained through the on-line operations of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do not consider purchasing it if you are looking for something that mirrors the mainstream media!