Friday, May 13, 2011

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story

One of the people interviewed in this movie said (roughly) the problem I have with the Republican Party is that they portray themselves as the party of the common man, yet work primarily for and in the interest of the wealthiest 1% of the country and portray themselves as the party of strict moral standards and yet lead often deviant lifestyles. Put plainly, this guy’s problem with the Republican Party is that they are so good at pulling the wool over people’s eyes and he doesn’t appreciate it. If that the case, he’s certainly not going to be a fan of Lee Atwater, a key figure in the modern version of the Republican political machine. You think Karl Rove is bad? Take a look at his teacher.

The Republican Party was making it in the 60’s and 70’s, but it seemed like the Democrats had cornered the market on effective, beloved mass communication. The Republican Party might get the occasional vote, but if they wanted to be a true powerhouse, they had to get better at being persuasive and eloquent. Lee Atwater, though a nobody from the Carolinas, was a master at what he called spinning, which is, of course, now part of the basic political vocabulary. He could make anything sound as damning or uplifting as the chose. At the start of the 80’s he had the perfect vehicle through which to exhibit his gifts, Ronal Reagan. Reagan said he never would have won the primary and been on the road to the Whitehouse without Lee. But while Lee had the talent, he completely lacked in conscience. He had zero qualms about lying or cheating or straight up backstabbing to get the right story out.

He used racist tactics, sexist tactics and everything in between. The fascinating aspect of the story is not that such a person existed, but that it worked so very well. America, we were duped and then we were duped again in the 90’s and then his protégée duped us again in the early millennium. Atwater, his methods and his approach have become such an overwhelmingly successful aspect of campaigning that now it’s considered political idiocy to not use them. Now, the tables have turned and it is the Republican Party who is so effective at mass communication and the Democratic Party who seems at a loss for these abilities, even with the eloquence of Obama at the mic. Let’s just hope they don’t find their own Lee Atwater to turn that ship around for them.

If you want to see an unbiased, balanced examination of a very uniquely American political animal, this is the movie for you. This guy is fascinating and his story is even more so.