Web video: The Architect
This short clip from FRONTLINE's 2005 report on Karl Rove offers another glimpse of what the young Rove learned from his mentor, Lee Atwater.
Atwater's Life & Times
G.O.P. Chairman Lee Atwater: Playing Hardball
Eric Alterman's 1989 profile of Atwater, who had recently been appointed chairman of the Republican National Committee. "Imagine, if you will, a guitar-wielding political synthesis of Huck Finn and Machiavelli. Now try to imagine winning an election against him."
1988 Presidential Television Commercials
View the full "Willie Horton," "Revolving Door" and "Tank Ride" ads on the Museum of the Moving Image's Living Room Candidate Web site, an archive of presidential ads dating back to 1952. It also features playlists of ads about certain subjects or themes, including this collection about negative campaigning.
Saying No to Lee Atwater
Time magazine reports on Atwater's "effort to lure black voters into the GOP," including his appointment to Howard University's board of trustees, a move which provoked "the most intense burst of campus unrest since the Viet Nam War."
The Hunting of the President
This first chapter of Joe Conason and Gene Lyons' book on Bill Clinton details Atwater's involvement in a smear campaign against the then-Arkansas governor, whom Atwater viewed as a serious potential threat to George H.W. Bush's chances of re-election in 1992.
Time magazine's analysis of Vice President George H.W. Bush's confrontational interview with CBS's Dan Rather in early 1988, just as the presidential campaign was getting underway. It caused a minifirestorm and, as Time reports, capped a month-long "get tough" campaign orchestrated by Atwater and other Bush advisers.
It's the Year of the Handlers
Time's Walter Shapiro goes behind the scenes of the 1988 presidential campaigns and doesn't like what he sees. "There is a cynical edge to it all, as the backstage puppeteers pull the strings, and Bush and Dukakis dangle before the TV cameras obediently reciting their memorized themes for the day."
G.O.P. Chief's Enemy Is Now Illness
Michael Oreskes writes about Atwater's battle with cancer for The New York Times. "For the first time in his adult life, Mr. Atwater's central preoccupation is no longer politics. His enemy is not some Democrat he can slash away at, but a small cluster, about a quarter of an inch in diameter, of errant cells in the right forward part of his brain." Oreskes also wrote Atwater's obituary for the Times.
What Lee Atwater Learned
Tom Turnipseed, a South Carolina politician, writes about Atwater's end-of-life apology to him in this 1991 Washington Post op-ed piece. Years earlier, Atwater had told reporters Turnipseed had been "hooked up to jumper cables" in reference to a bout of mental illness Turnipseed had suffered while in college.
Gops, Look Out! The Democrats' Atwater
Newsweek's Howard Fineman compares Democratic political consultant James Carville to Atwater, a full year before Carville made his name with Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign.
The Cult of Lee Atwater
In 1993, Maureen Dowd wrote: "Having lied and schemed his whole short life to make himself into a mythic figure -- the king of the hoods -- Atwater would be tickled to know that, nearly three years after he died of a brain tumor at 40, his cult is bigger than ever." Dowd has returned to Atwater in her columns since then: during the 2000 South Carolina Republican primary between George W. Bush and John McCain, and in October 2008, as McCain attacked Barack Obama.
The Myth of America's Genteel Political History
In this 2004 audio commentary for NPR, historian Kenneth C. Davis offers a brief history of personal attacks in presidential campaigns, stretching back to the 1800 contest between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. "The mean-spirited politics of personal destruction is as American as apple pie, slavery and lynching."
The Atlantic's Joshua Green examines the world of opposition research, which aims to fulfill Lee Atwater's adage that "a campaign should frame its opponent before the opponent can frame himself."
Impossible, Ridiculous, Repugnant
New York Times columnist Bob Herbert sounds off on former Education Secretary Bill Bennett's 2006 remark that "you could abort every black baby in this country, and our crime rate would go down." "When I first heard about Mr. Bennett's comments, I wondered why anyone was surprised. I've come to expect racial effrontery from big shots in the Republican Party." Herbert traces that effrontery back to Lee Atwater and the party's strategy of appealing to Southern whites.
NOW: Dirty Politics 2008
The PBS newsmagazine NOW traveled to South Carolina in advance of the presidential primaries to see how native son Lee Atwater's dirty tricks are being plied in the digital age.
Clinton Borrows from GOP Playbook
Writing during the 2008 Democratic primaries, NPR Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving notes that Hillary Clinton has "been running a pretty good imitation of a Republican campaign" against Barack Obama.
New Yorker Executive Editor Dorothy Wickenden recalls Atwater's attacks on Michael Dukakis and his deathbed repentance as she appeals to Barack Obama and John McCain to wage a civil campaign in the general election.
Why the Democrats Keep Losing National Elections
Newsweek's Jonathan Darman rejects the notion that Democrats have Republican campaign tactics to blame for their inability to capture the White House. "History shows that the modern Republican Party has had more going for it than just Karl Rove: for 40 years, it has been the conservative party in an essentially conservative nation."
Historians Say McCain Camp Not Sleaziest
Politico.com interviewed presidential historians and political scientists who rebutted the Obama campaign's claim that John McCain was running the "sleaziest and least honorable campaign" in modern presidential history.
Bill Moyers' Journal: Going Negative, 2008
Bill Moyers discusses the negative attacks of the 2008 presidential campaign with communications professor Kathleen Hall Jamison. Watch video of their conversation and read an essay by Jamison on the topic.
Obama's Win: A Death-Knell for 1960s Cultural Politics?
Writing on the liberal blog Talking Points Memo, Greg Sargent argues that, in defeating "both the Clinton machine and the Rove-Atwater brand of politics that Republicans have honed for so long," Barack Obama dealt a blow to both groups' brand of cultural politics. But Sargent thinks Obama will have to deliver on his promises in order to bury those tactics once and for all.