Broder asserts Rove drank from Atwater's "magic potion," but doesn't provide its ingredientsAugust 23, 2007 4:54 PM EDT ››› JEREMY HOLDEN
In an August 23 column discussing Karl Rove's August 13 announcement that he was resigning as White House senior adviser, Washington Post columnist David Broder asserted that "Rove had drunk deeply of the magic potion dispensed by Lee Atwater, the South Carolina whiz who had absorbed the anger and frustration of the white Southern blue-collar families with whom he was raised." Broder added that his "first conversations with Rove were dominated by his encyclopedic knowledge of the shifting political allegiance of Dixie precincts as their residents reacted to the civil rights revolution and the changed positions of the national parties by migrating from Democrats to Dixiecrats and Wallace-ites to Republicans." But Broder did not elaborate on his assertion that Atwater -- who Broder noted served as "Rove's first boss at the Republican National Committee" -- "absorbed the anger and frustration of the white Southern blue-collar families with whom he was raised." In fact, Atwater repeatedly attempted to play on white voters' sentiments about race. For example:
- As Media Matters for America has documented, Atwater in 1988 promised to make "a household name" of Willie Horton, an African-American convict who assaulted a man and raped his fiancée after escaping a furlough from prison in Massachusetts, and to make Horton the "running mate" of then-Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. The Americans for Bush arm of the National Security Political Action Committee used Horton in an anti-Dukakis attack ad that drew particular attention to Horton's race. In 1991, Atwater apologized for the "running mate" comment. According to a January 14, 1991, Associated Press report, Atwater, who was gravely ill at the time, regretted the statement "because it makes me sound racist, which I am not."
- In an October 6, 2005, column, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert included an excerpt from the book Southern Politics in the 1990's, by Alexander P. Lamis, a political-science professor at Case Western Reserve University. In his book, Lamis documented an interview with Atwater:
Questioner: But the fact is, isn't it, that [President Ronald] Reagan does get to the [George] Wallace voter and to the racist side of the Wallace voter by doing away with Legal Services, by cutting down on food stamps ..."
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."
- In an April 16, 1991, Washington Post op-ed column, Tom Turnipseed, a South Carolina Democratic candidate for Congress in 1980, claimed that "Atwater's antics included phony polls by 'independent pollsters' to 'inform' white suburbanites that I was a member of the NAACP, because my congressman opponent was afraid to publicly say so."