It was Atwater who mastered some of the slimier aspects of modern American politics, including push polling and floating reputation-destroying rumors.
* Push polling for Republican candidate Floyd Spence in
in 1980 through fake surveys that informed white suburbanites that his opponent, Tom Turnipseed, was a member of the NAACP. South Carolina
* Spreading rumors in 1984 that Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro's parents had been indicted for numbers running in the 1940s.
*The legendary 1988 television commercial on behalf of George H.W. Bush tarring Michael Dukakis for furloughing Willie Horton, a convicted murderer who subsequently committed a rape while on a furlough from a life sentence while the Democratic candidate was governor.
He was an advisor to President Reagan and Bush senior and became the chairman of the Republican National Committee after Dukakis was thumped in 1988.
Shortly before his death from the brain tumor, he said he had converted to Catholicism and in touching acts of repentance that moved me to reconsider a man I once loathed, made public and written apologies to the people he had slimed, including Dukakis and Turnipseed.
In an article for Life magazine written a month before his March 1991 death at age 40, Atwater wrote:
"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."It goes without saying that
As today's South Carolina primary goes down to the wire, the dirt-encrusted knives have again been unsheathed against John McCain, including the use of robo-calls that accuse him of voting "to allow scientific experiments to be done on unborn children."