Nov 13, 2008

Doin' Dirt

There is something to be said for knowing your enemy.

To this end, the late Lee Atwater and his "politics of resentment" resonate in Washington political circles, though Atwater has been dead for some time. Atwater, whose biggest success was running the campaign that made George H.W. Bush the nation's Forty-First President, was a compelling, if not completely despicable figure. His life is the subject of the documentary Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story currently running on the PBS program Frontline.

Atwater got his start interning for another late South Carolina racist, Storm Thurmond. The Boogie Man's career spans from Thurmond to Ronald Reagan, the aforementioned Bush through to the soon-to-be-departed Bush 43. Karl Rove was an Atwater protege.

Perhaps Atwater's most controversial political move was the infamously racist Willie Horton ad that he ran against Michael Dukakis in 1988.

Atwater's willingness to do any and everything to win an election bought him a lot of glory, though the tactics that he choose were beyond reprehensible. Karl Rove, the prized pupil of the Atwater school, used all the lessons on how to do dirt that he learned from Atwater in his work for 43. Thus Atwater's evil political style outlasted him.

In the ultimate of all ironies, Atwater lived out the last few years of his life suffering from a debilitating bout with cancer. Boogie Man documents this rise and fall which is indeed fascinating, while at the same time infuriating.

One can only hope that days of people like Lee Atwater dominating our politics have passed and that Obama's election, and his refusal to go engage in such disgusting low ball antics, may have indeed started a new trend.

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