Of the Republican Party’s notorious political tacticians. Infamous for his incendiary attacks on opponents and for offering his spiel on racist code words. This offense was common place in the GOP’s political arena. Atwater is renowned for his infamous ‘Southern Strategy’ interview, where he readily divulged how he enticed racist southern voters.
In the lead-up to the infamous remarks, it is fascinating to witness the confidence with which Atwater believes himself to be establishing the racial innocence of latter-day Republican campaigning: “My generations,” he insists, “will be the first generation of Southerners that won’t be prejudiced.” He proceeds to develop the argument that by dropping talk about civil rights gains like the Voting Rights Act and sticking to the now-mainstream tropes of fiscal conversation and national defense, consultants like him were proving “people in the South are like any people in the history or the world.”
Fast forward to today and you may wonder the zeal behind Trump’s duplicitous nature, and how his outwardly aggressiveness even obligingly, pays homage to his formidable predecessor. There goes the saying “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!”
Snippet of Lee Atwater’s infamous ‘Southern Strategy’ interview
“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, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a by-product of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites…. We want to cut this, is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and hell of a lot more abstract then Nigger, Nigger.”
The 1988 Bush Ad Campaign
Seven years after that interview, in his stated goal to “rip the bark off the little bastard (Michael Dukakis)” on behalf of his candidate George H.W. Bush; Atwater ran the infamous ad blaming Dukakis for an escaped Massachusetts convict, Willie Horton, “repeatedly raping” an apparently white girl. Indeed, Atwater pledged to make “Willie Horton his running mate.” The commercial was sponsored by a dummy outfit called the National Security Political Action Committee, and also lead Bush to Presidential victory.
BB King’s friendship with Atwater
Surprisingly, the acclaimed Blues guitarist, BB King became pally with Atwater and they even collaborated on stage. In 1990, Atwater released a boogie/R&B album titled Red Hot & Blue. (The album ended up snagging a Grammy nomination). The record featured Sam Moore, Isaac Hayes, Carla Thomas, and B.B. King. Atwater and King play on track 10, “Buzz Me.
Atwater died from an inoperable brain tumor in 1991. “I felt as if I lost a son when Stevie Ray Vaughn passed unexpectedly and I feel similarly on the passing of my friend, Lee Atwater,” King said in a statement. So when the time came for the 1992 Republican National Convention, it was no surprise when it was announced that King would give a musical tribute to Atwater on opening day of the convention in Houston, Texas.