Thursday, January 12, 2012

S.C.'s dirty politics and the infamous Lee Atwater

Posted By on Thu, Jan 12, 2012 at 4:56 PM

Now that the GOP presidential primary campaign has moved to South Carolina, the mainstream media is full of stories about our ugly-sister state’s history of, shall we say, rough-edged politics. No? OK, how about we say “filthy, no-holds-barred-whatsoever, beyond-mud-slinging, completely amoral, lyin’-ass, cruel” politics? Yeah, that’s more like it.

The big media, in classic lazy fashion, is going over the same one or two examples they all seem to have picked up from internet searches — Dubya in 1980, accusing McCain of having an illegitimate black child; future governor Caroll Campbell in a 1978 congressional race, “reminding” voters that his poll-leading opponent, Max Heller, the Democratic mayor of Greenville, was Jewish. Yes, Campbell won that race.

Those were two rough campaigns, but, honestly. As they say in my home state (which is South Carolina), those ain’t nothin’. Gutter-scraping politics has been ingrained in S.C.’s political blood for ages. When I was a teenager, the sheriff of our county was running for re-election, and someone told my father that the sheriff had been accused of having sex with a female crime victim’s corpse. Dad’s reply was, “Not that again!” Turns out the same story had circulated the last time the sheriff had run; it didn’t help defeat him either time.

What the mainstream press is missing this time around is the central part played by the late Lee Atwater, who took his home state of South Carolina’s knife-to-the-gut brand of politicking, refined it to an artform, and finally wound up bringing it to the national political arena.

An Atwater client once ran for Congress against a Democratic populist named Tom Turnipseed (don’t laugh, it’s not an uncommon name in S.C.). Turnipseed had had electroshock therapy as a teenager, so Atwater, naturally, and out of the goodness of his heart, began getting the story out that Turnipseed “had a psychotic treatment” and “got hooked up to jumper cables.” Turnipseed lost the election. When Atwater’s slimy-but-winning ways drew national notice, the national GOP enlisted him. Thus was born George Bush Sr.’s notorious “Willie Horton” ad, a racist hit job on Michael Dukakis that helped Bush win the presidency.

Atwater’s “contributions” to national campaigning didn’t end there, as he handed down his bag of dirty tricks, and helped train Karl Rove — Bush Jr.’s brain, architect of his White House wins, and the acknowledged king of contemporary hardball politics (he's the one who masterminded the "McCain has an illegitimate black child" lie).

So when you hear or read that the presidential candidates are digging up some horrible dirt on their opponents in South Carolina, realize those tactics aren’t simply the norm down there — they’ve spread like a virus for more than two decades and infected the national political arena.

Watch this preview of a film about Atwater, titled Boogie Man:

Image credit:

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Pin It
Submit to Reddit


Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Creative Loafing encourages a healthy discussion on its website from all sides of the conversation, but we reserve the right to delete any comments that detract from that. Violence, racism and personal attacks that go beyond the pale will not be tolerated.

Search Events
items in Creative Loafing Charlotte More in Creative Loafing Charlotte pool

© 2017 Womack Newspapers, Inc.
Powered by Foundation