VIDEO: Lee Atwater Interview About Racist Southern Strategy In 1981
Obviously we never condone the use of racial slurs, but the following clip illustrates how craven the Republican strategy has been with regards to securing the white southern vote. In other words, get ready for a string of N-word references.
You can listen to the full audio over at The Nation, and they provide more context…
The back-story goes like this. In 1981, Atwater, after a decade as South Carolina’s most effective Republican operative, was working in Ronald Reagan’s White House when he was interviewed by Alexander Lamis, a political scientist at Case Western Reserve University. Lamis published the interview without using Atwater’s name in his 1984 book The Two-Party South. Fifteen years later—and eight years after Atwater passed away from cancer—Lamis republished the interview in another book using Atwater’s name. For seven years no one paid much attention. Then the New York Times’ Bob Herbert, a bit of an Atwater obsessive, quoted it in an October 6, 2005 column—then five more times over the next four years.
Those words soon became legend—quoted in both screeds (The GOP-Haters Handbook, 2007) and scholarship (Corey Robin’s 2011 classic work of political theory, The Reactionary Mind). Google Books records its use in ten books published so far this year alone. Curious about the remarks’ context, Carter, who learned Lamis had died in 2012, asked his widow if she would consider releasing the audio of the interview, especially in light of the use of race-baiting dog-whistles (lies about Obama ending work requirements for welfare; “jokes” about his supposed Kenyan provenance) in the Romney presidential campaign. Renée Lamis, an Obama donor, agreed that very same night. For one thing she was “upset,” Carter told me, that “for some time, conservatives believed [her] husband made up the Atwater interview.” For another, she was eager to illustrate that her husband’s use of the Atwater quote was scholarly, not political.
It’s shocking to hear it so plainly spoken, but there it is.
By the way, if you ever want to know how ruthless Atwater was, it’s detailed in the fantastic documentary Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story. The parts with Michael Dukakis are particularly telling as to how Atwater could dismantle somebody’s entire political life with little more than outright lies shrouded in specious attack ads.