Ratfucking Part II - Ratfucking with Lee Atwater
In Part I we saw where the term "ratfucking" originated and met two of the most infamous ratfuckers. In this part we will see how ratfucking went from being a small part of GOP political campaigns during the Nixon era to being the centerpiece of campaigns under Bush I.
Harvey Leroy "Lee" Atwater (February 26, 1951 – March 29, 1991) was an advisor of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. As shown in Part I, He got his start as a ratfucker thanks to Karl Rove. Rove, then the National Chairman of the College Republicans, introduced Atwater to George H.W. Bush who was then the RNC Chairman.
Atwater invented or improved upon many of the techniques of ratfucking, including creating and spreading reputation-destroying rumors. Atwater's aggressive tactics were first demonstrated during the 1980 congressional campaigns. He was a campaign consultant to Republican candidate Floyd Spence in his campaign for Congress against Democrat Tom Turnipseed.
Atwater's tactics in that campaign included push polling in the form of fake surveys by "independent pollsters" to "inform" white suburbanites that Turnipseed was a member of the NAACP. He also sent out last-minute letters from Sen. Strom Thurmond telling voters that Turnipseed would disarm America and turn it over to liberals and Communists. At a press briefing, Atwater planted a "reporter" who rose and said, "We understand Turnipseed has had psychotic treatment." Atwater later told the reporters off the record that Turnipseed "got hooked up to jumper cables" - a reference to electroconvulsive therapy that Turnipseed underwent as a teenager.
"Lee seemed to delight in making fun of a suicidal 16-year-old who was treated for depression with electroshock treatments," Turnipseed recalled. "In fact, my struggle with depression as a student was no secret. I had talked about it in a widely covered news conference as early as 1977, when I was in the South Carolina State Senate."
Atwater ran a ratfucking operation in 1984 against vice-presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro. This included the allegation that Ferraro's parents had been indicted for numbers running in the 1940s.
Atwater's most notorious campaign was the 1988 presidential election, in which Atwater approved the infamous Willie Horton ad. This ad was one of two political ads in American history so powerful and devastating (LBJ's "Daisy" ad being the other) that few people ever saw the ads when originally run, they saw it or read about it in the news because of the stir they caused. This of course, is the ultimate in politics - free advertising.
During the election, a number of false rumors were reported in the media about Dukakis, including the claim by Idaho Republican Senator Steve Symms that Dukakis's wife Kitty had burned an American flag to protest the Vietnam War, as well as the claim that Dukakis himself had been treated for a mental illness. Although there is no proof that Atwater initiated these rumors, it fits his M.O.
During that election, George W. Bush, the then vice president's son, took an office across the hall from Atwater's office, where his job was to serve as "the eyes and ears for my dad," monitoring the activities of Atwater and other campaign staff. In her memoir, Barbara Bush said that George W. and Atwater became "great friends."
After the election, Atwater was named chairman of the Republican National Committee. This appointment was controversial, but Atwater's time as chairman was short. On March 5, 1990, he collapsed during a fund raising event on behalf of Senator Phil Gramm. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor which ultimately proved fatal one year later. Before he died he repented for the things he had done.
As a member of the Reagan administration in 1981, Atwater gave an anonymous interview to Political Scientist Alexander P. Lamis. Part of this interview was printed in Lamis' book The Two-Party South, then reprinted in Southern Politics in the 1990s with Atwater's name revealed:
Atwater: "You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.'
By 1968 you can't say 'nigger' - that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff.
You're getting so abstract now that you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is that blacks get hurt worse than whites.
And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other.
You follow me - because obviously sitting around saying, 'We want to cut this,' is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than 'Nigger, nigger.'"
What Atwater was describing is commonly called "dogwhistling."
COMING SOON: Part III - Turdblossom
(All references from Wikipedia)