Lee Atwater was the Republican pitbull who taught Karl Rove much of what Karl knows when it comes to winning at any cost. Atwater helped coin the phrase “wedge issues.” Atwater was the first Bush’s political henchman, he destroyed Michael Dukakis using Willy Horton and turning the election of 1988 into a conversation about such weighty topics as the pledge of allegiance and flag burning. That’s how the first Bush became president. By convincing America that Michael Dukakis was a flag burner who wanted to free black rapists so they could rape again.
Just Like Ted Kennedy, Atwater died of a brain tumor. Although at a very young age. And as he lay dying in 1991, he saw the light. He converted to Catholicism, Teddy’s religion. And realizing he had been a force of evil, he offered up a famous deathbed confession. He apologized for what he did to Dukakis, and for what he did to American politics.
And for doing that, he in some ways redeemed himself.
The Dr. Frankenstein who spawned Karl Rove, the man who invented the rabid style of Republican attack dog politics, admitted it was evil. This is what Atwater admitted to in how Republicans win elections:
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 then only weeks before dying, he wrote, in, ironically, Life Magazine,
My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood. The '80s were about acquiring — acquiring wealth, power, prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth, power, and prestige than most. But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty. What power wouldn't I trade for a little more time with my family? What price wouldn't I pay for an evening with friends? It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth, but it is a truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn on my dime. I don't know who will lead us through the '90s, but they must be made to speak to this spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of the soul.
So if you’re still sorting out your politics think of Ted Kennedy in repose this morning. Think of Lee Atwater. And ask yourself how do you want to die? Like Lee Atwater who at the end realized that the only value to his life was serving as a cautionary tale of how not to live it? Or do you want to die like Ted Kennedy who, born into privilege, spent every waking day helping those less fortunate?
Bush, Sarah Palin and the entire lot of the GOP constantly remind us what an important role Christ plays in their lives when they’re not trying to deny funding for the sick and poor. Ted Kennedy never had to discuss his relationship with Christ. He knew that by his works ye shall know him.