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How Lee Atwater Perfected the G.O.P.'s Appeal to Racism

Boogiemen

by ISHMAEL REED

One of the founders of the Neo-Confederate organization called The League of the South, which will probably renew its call for secession of the southern states if Barack Obama wins, was the late Grady McWhiney. In his book, “ Cracker Culture, Celtic Ways of the Old (University of Alabama, 1988), he traced ‘cracker’ to the Gaelic word craic–still used in Ireland and anglicized in spelling to ‘crack’–and said it meant ‘entertaining conversation. ‘ (Folk etymology had had it that cracker came from cracking or pounding corn, or using whips to drive cattle. He was quoted in the Irish Literary Supplement. "Celts and Southerners, in Dr. McWhiney’s view, are pastoral groups with a taste for gambling, drinking, ‘raucous music, ‘ dancing, hunting, fishing and horse and dog racing. They are lazier than the English and Northerners and cling to an easily offended sense of honor, naturally linked to ‘a propensity to violence. ‘. . . " He resigned from the League of The South complaining that it had been taken over by “’the dirty fingernail crowd. . . . ’”

I learned first hand about how the media buckled under when self described crackers seized the Republican party. The kind of people who even use hot sauce on ice cream. Who, like South
Carolinian Lee Atwater, love black culture, especially the
“raucous” music Rock and Roll, but have issues with its creators. (In this tradition, check out Sarah Palin’s Hands-in-the-air moves on the last “Saturday Night . “)

During the administration of Bush One, I was invited to do commentaries on NPR’s “All Things Considered. ” After the infamous Willie Horton ad ran, an ad that criticized a Massachusetts program that led to the furlough of a black rapist and murderer, Willie Horton, and an ad that some contend caused the defeat of democratic nominee, Michael Dukakis, I wrote a commentary about how the ad would backfire on Bush, One and Lee Atwater. The commentary was rejected and that was the end of my career as a commentator on NPR. Atwater also employed tactics that were used earlier by

Richard Nixon, one of his admirers, and are being used in the current campaign by Senator McCain. Painting one’s opponent as unpatriotic ( a socialist, even) and packaging his wealthy clients as ordinary Joes like Bush One pretending to enjoy pork rinds and cowboy boots. Atwater’s playing of the media is also a current strategy.

A number of news entertainers have repeated the McCain charge that the media are in the tank for Obama. Two academic studies and one by Lexis Nexus have disputed the media’s supposed love of Obama. I watched three hours of Morning Joe on Oct. 20th. Much of the time was spent analyzing General Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama and debating whether it was given because both were black.

Pat Buchanan, member of the media that’s so cozy with Barack Obama is on MSNBC all day championing the cause of Senator McCain. During this show he joined Tucker Carlson, Howard Kurtz, and others who believe that the media love Obama. An Obama representative was riddled with questions, while Rick Davis, McCain’s man, and Atwater impersonator, wasn’t questioned at all. The male commentators expressed their having the hots for hot Sarah Palin without mentioning Troopergate. Even Lawrence O’Donald was panting about the Vice Presidential candidate’s measurements.

William Ayers was brought up without citing the support of the projects on which Ayers and Obama worked by the Annenberg family, a Republican family that supports McCain. None of the media has followed up on Obama’s listing of Republicans and conservatives who served on the same board as Ayers and Obama. On Oct. 24, Joe Scarburough and Mika Brzezinski chided The New York Times for suggesting that there were hints of racism in John McCain’s campaign. I suppose they missed the ad coupling Barack Obama with Paris Hilton and Rudolph Giuliani’s playing of the Willie Horton card.

Here’s the script of a Giuliani’s Robo call:

“Hi, this is Rudy Giuliani, and I’m calling for John McCain and the Republican National Committee because you need to know that Barack Obama opposes mandatory prison sentences for sex offenders, drug dealers, and murderers. It’s true, I read Obama’s words myself. And recently, Congressional liberals introduced a bill to eliminate mandatory prison sentences for violent criminals — trying to give liberal judges the power to decide whether criminals are sent to jail or set free. With priorities like these, we just can’t trust the inexperience and judgment of Barack Obama and his liberal allies. “

Walter Isaacson, appearing on this typical all white cable panel adjudicating what’s racist and what’s not, agreed with Mika and Joe about the Times charge against McCain.

This is the same Walter Isaacson who traveled to the headquarters of David Horowitz, an ideological thug, and begged forgiveness after Jack White called Horowitz a racist. Mika Brzezinski chimed in that it’s hard to run against an African American candidate, which probably explains Governor Tom Bradley and Senators Harvey Gant and Harold Ford.  

The fact that we hear more about Rev. Wright than the preachers who embrace John McCain, Rev. Hagee, is an example of how the right has intimidated the media. For the same reason, we hear more about Bill Ayers than about about Sarah Palin’s ties to the an Alaska outfit that advocates secession. the Alaska Independence Party whose founder, Joe Volger   , made comments that in comparison make those fulminations of Rev. Wright, a marine, seem tame. “AIP founder, Joe Vogler, made incendiary comments in 1991, in an interview that’s now housed at the Oral History Program in the Rasmuson Library at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, according to the History Channel. He said:"The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government, " Vogler said in the interview, in which he talked extensively about his desire for Alaskan secession, the key goal of the AIP.

"And I won’t be buried under their damn flag, " Vogler continued in the interview, which also touched on his disappointment with the American judicial system. "I’ll be buried in Dawson. And when Alaska is an independent nation they can bring my bones home. "

At another point, Volger advocated renouncing allegiance to the United States. In the course of denouncing Federal regulation over land, he said:"And then you get mad. And you say, the hell with them. And you renounce allegiance, and you pledge your efforts, your effects, your honor, your life to Alaska. "

The Robo call which is being used by McCain’s campaign was one of Atwater’s tools. Slyly disparaging your candidate by asking a series of leading questions. When McCain’s Robo calls imply that Obama and Atwater planned the bombing of the Pentagon, some of the recipients of these calls are so ignorant that they probably think the 9/11 attack and not the 60s Weatherman activities that occurred when Obama was eight years old.

Predictably in the final weeks code terms like Welfare and Socialism are being bellowed by McCain and Palin. These are the standard Atwater tricks. Slithering beneath McCain’s speeches is the idea that Obama is going to take the hard earnings of people like tax dodger, Joe the Plumber, and give it to lazy black people whom whites have been told by the media for decades that blacks receive all of the welfare, when it would take a couple of hundred years for blacks to attain the kind of subsidies and government support that whites have received. If one refers to these appeals as racist, the little Goebbelses surrounding McCain’s campaign would plead innocence, another leaf from the Atwater handbook. Only Rick Davis has expanded the technique by accusing the accusers of racism.

Among Atwater’s clients was George Bush. So powerful is the Bush family, two of whose presidential campaigns were managed by Lee Atwater, that they were able to crush the promotion of Kitty Kelley’s devastating portrait of the Bushes “The Family” for which she received Pen Oakland’s censorship award.

The Bush family has even been able to wuss Hollywood. In Oliver Stone’s “W, ” George Bush is portrayed as a clownish loveable and clumsy dope and reformed party boy who was misled by incompetent and sinister advisors into believing that Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction, not someone who was bent on invading the country from the beginning of his presidency WMDs or no WMDs.

Bush One is portrayed as a wise leader, a Solomon, despite his connection to the Iran Contra scandal his support of Central American death squads, the Willie Horton campaign and his invasion of Panama that caused 3, 000 Panamanian lives. Nothing is said in “W” about the slaughter in the desert of thousands of retreating Iraq soldiers on “The Highway of Death. ” Lee Atwater is barely identified in this film. In his attempt to be objective, Stone chickened out.

Stefan Forbes, a young film maker with little money used a small HD camera, the HYX-200 edited his film, ” The Boogie Man, The Lee Atwater Story, ” on a Macbook Pro laptop, the kind of brilliant use of technology that will lead to the decline of Hollywood in the same way that cyberspace is undercutting the flaccid Jim Crow corporate media where Joe Barbies and Jane Bimbos are awarded the status of journalists, and they have the temerity to ridicule the vacuity of Sarah Palin. Film maker Stefan Forbes, an outsider, has done what corporate Hollywood has failed to do with his “The Boogieman, The Lee Atwater Story. ”

Forbe’s is the most courageous film about the use of Atwater’s tactics by The Republican Party and his beyond the grave influence on the McCain campaign, the kind of campaign that Joesph Goebbels used against Germany’s Others.

Last year a bubbling, bouncy young Stefan Forbes asked whether I would be interviewed for a documentary on Lee Atwater, the Republican idea man who raised the dirty tricks strategy to an art form. Forbes and his producer came out to the house and asked me a series of on camera questions about Atwater specifically his use of the fear of race mixing, the old strategy that ex confederate candidates for office used to stir up fears about blacks being elected to office, while these officers were doing some heavy race mixing with African women prisoners. I also gave my opinion about Atwater’s exploitation of anxieties about black men and his love for black music. Indeed in Forbe’s film, Atwater comes across as a “White Negro, ” a term that appears during the Civil War when a southern newspaper accused Jefferson Davis of treating southern whites like “white negroes. ”

After the interview, Forbes and I exchanged information. I sent him some historical documents and he kept me informed about the progress of the film. Early this year, Forbes announced that his documentary, “ Boogie Man, The Lee Atwater Story, ” would be shown at the Los Angeles Film Festival. It received rave reviews.

Next I learned that it was screened at the Democratic Convention. Preparing for a trip east on Sept. 19 for appearances at Yale, Colgate, The New School, NYU and a trip to Buffalo New York for my mother’s book party, I learned that Stefan’s film would be showing at the New Cinema in New York on E. 12th street.

I didn’t know what to expect. Our guests at my movie debut were my daughter, Tennessee and her friend the famed poet from Puerto Rico, Linda Rodriquez-Guglielmoni;Carla and her friends Karin Bacon, whose business is creating events all over the world – she gets to talk to Michael Jackson in Dubai – and Kate Hirson, a film maker who has worked with Clint Eastwood.

People exiting from the theater recognized me and asked what I thought of it. I told them that I hadn’t seen it. I sat in a rear corner of the theater in case I had to crawl beneath my seat were my performance not up to par. The full house was riveted as Lee Atwater’s life unraveled before us. Forbe’s interviews with politicians and commentators were mixed with archival footage. But the way the archival footage was used was ingenious. Some of it seemed to do for Atwater what talk therapists do for those who use their services. Though surrounded by his fellow good old boys, even at home, some of the stills show him to be distant from the celebratory events following the success of those politicians whom he packaged. In some of the scenes he seems to be day dreaming. When a child, Atwater caused a accident in his home that killed his younger brother. His screams haunted Atwater all of his life.

Lee Atwater perfected the appeal to racist feelings among some white voters. For over a hundred years politicians, ran against fears of a black uprising, from the ex-confederate officers, who regained their power in congress after the Civil War through Tom Watson, a politician, who began his career as a populist, through the colorful southern demagogues of the twentieth century. Instead of using explicit language, Atwater suggested code terms. Welfare. Crime. Busing. In his famous quip, Jesse Jackson said “ The bus is us. ” In Clinton’s time, African Americans were alluded to with terms like “personal responsibility, ” a code term used by Barack Obama who

Sistah Souljahed black fathers in his Father’s Day speech.

After some interviews with Joe Conason, a chilly Mary Matalin, editor of an foul work called Obamanation, Michael Dukakis, who was destroyed by Atwater, and Ed Rollins, whose comments are frank, surprising and remarkable, my face loomed above the audience. I commented on my reaction to the Horton ad and had a voice over during a scene of the Bush One inauguration, commenting on Bush One, whose family includes some dysfunctional members, speaking of “urban demoralization. ” It’s been three weeks and Hollywood hasn’t called. My fifteen minutes of fame lasted exactly fifteen minutes.

“The Boogie Man, The Lee Atwater Story” is not only informative but entertaining. One wonders whether the tactics invented and developed by his dirty tricks successors including the sinister bunch packaging McCain will succeed this time. ( These guys make Atwater’s campaign seem benign. In one ad they presented Barack Obama as a sexual threat to white children.)

My only criticism of the film is the lack of discussion about Roger Aile’s role in the nefarious Willie Horton ad and the relationship that Lee Atwater had with the late Ron Brown, Clinton’s secretary of commerce. Ailes appears in one of the movie’s stills in the company of Atwater. Ailes, president of Fox News, once told a Time reporter (8/22/88): "The only question is whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife in his hand or without it. ”

The final scenes are ghastly as well as pitiful. Atwater is shown suffering from the final stages of brain cancer. He sits slumped in a wheelchair with a head the size of a prized pumpkin as his former allies ignore him. We’re informed that as death approached Atwater was consulting religious leaders. These include Buddhists. Maybe Atwater was reincarnated as the Fox News Network. “

"The Boogieman, The Lee Atwater Story, ” will be shown in thirty five cities before election day. For more information go to www. boogiemanfilm. com/

ISHMAEL REED is author of Mixing It uP and the the publisher of Konch.His new book,"Mixing It Up, Taking On The Media Bullies," was published by De Capo.

 

 

 

 

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