Profiles in America’s systemic racist history: Remembering Republican strategist Lee Atwater

In his almost 40 years of living, Lee Atwater (February 27, 1951-March 29, 1991) rapidly became one of the top Republican political strategists as he worked to help elect or re-elect South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond and Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W Bush during the 1980s.
Atwater earned his spot in the race baiting Hall of Shame during the 1988 presidential campaign when he helped Bush attack Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis about a furlough program during his tenure as governor of Massachusetts that led to inmate Willie Horton raping and murdering a white woman in Oxon Hill, Maryland while on release. Tennessee Democratic Senator Al Gore had been the first to raise the issue during the Democratic primary, but at Atwater’s direction, the attack ads were extremely successful in preying upon white fears of big, bad, black criminals–a fear not supported by statistics then and now that show that most crimes, including murder, are intra-racial (same) and not inter-racial (different). In August of 1988, Atwater boasted: “By the time we’re finished, they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’ running mate.”
In a 1981 interview about the “Southern Strategy,” the plan that Republicans used to attract racist white Democrats to the GOP (where many remain), Atwater bluntly described the effects of the strategy as follows:
Atwater: “As to the whole Southern strategy that Harry S. Dent, Sr. and others put together in 1968, opposition to the Voting Rights Act would have been a central part of keeping the South. Now you don’t have to do that. All that you need to do to keep the South is for Reagan to run in place on the issues that he’s campaigned on since 1964, and that’s fiscal conservatism, balancing the budget, cut taxes, you know, the whole cluster.

Questioner: But the fact is, isn’t it, that Reagan does get to the 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, 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 byproduct 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 a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
For those among us today who confuse systemic racism with prejudices that all of us have, the difference is that systemic racism directly leads to unjust results to the detriment of Blacks and other racial minorities in America solely on the color of skin. Whether it is discrimination in bank lending, housing, education, health care, or crime and punishment, since America’s founding, whites have never had governmental policies implemented that discriminates against themselves based on skin color. Never!  Lest we forget…