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Ratfucking Part II - Ratfucking with Lee Atwater

myiq2xu's picture

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:

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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.'"

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What Atwater was describing is commonly called "dogwhistling."

COMING SOON: Part III - Turdblossom

(All references from Wikipedia)

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Angel Of Mercy's picture
Submitted by Angel Of Mercy on

Cool series, Citizen. Lots of good information and insight. Thank you.

Lee Atwater was Karl Rove's inspiration and mentor: A foul piece of rotting, stinking garbage...

"Tomorrow, you're all going to wake up in a Brave New World, a world where the Constitution gets trampled by an army of terrorist clones created in a stem cell research laboratory, run by homosexual doctors who sterilize their instruments over burning American flags."

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

that now that you have followed through with the promised series, no one is turning up and accusing you of accusing them of being ratfuckers.

Progress, I suppose.

Bill Clinton for First Dude!!!

myiq2xu's picture
Submitted by myiq2xu on

the end of the series.

I'm just laying out the history/foundation.

It looks like that will part IV - I was thinking three parts but Atwater and Rove require quite a bit of discussion (especially Rove.)

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

And a diploma? Our side could use a few graduates with formal training.

Very tasty, thanks for this. The quietude in comments this time is - resounding. Nope nope nope, no ratfuckers around here.

Not to be hamding out assignments but purely as suggestions, you might consider a hat-tip to Dick Tuck whose brilliant work served as the inspiration for Nixon's gang, and perhaps also some discussion of whether or not "Tucking" someone - as opposed to "ratfucking" them - is ever acceptable from a liberal progressive moral perspective.

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

Then, we could call 'em, Dick-Tuckers. That's sounds so much better, and offensive, than just plain olf Ratfucker.

Bill Clinton for First Dude!!!

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

The first one that made news was near me, so it was widely played on the news, and when the reported said
"The young man who asked the question is a Clinton supporter..." My reaction was "Hah!"

It's either College Republicans or a coordinated attack by the Obamabots(who this primary season, I wouldn't put it past them).

Bill Clinton for First Dude!!!

Turlock