We will soon mark the 20th anniversary of Lee’s passing, and I still miss him. I took this idea from the Democratic Underground organization which has its own “Lee Atwater Evil Republican of the Year Award” complete with a photo of his grave. They want to bash him but I want to remember his good qualities, and this is the type of discussion he would have enjoyed.
Even though he was a political genius, Lee never would have predicted the elections of Bill Clinton or George W. Bush (who had the office next to his). In Lee’s era, Barack Obama was a community organizer.
The film Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story, and the book Bad Boy: The Life and Politics of Lee Atwater are both highly critical. They blame him for the Willie Horton advertisements, even though the 1988 Bush campaign never ran any commercial with Horton’s picture. Like all of us, Lee made some serious mistakes. The difference is that he later apologized for them, even to Michael Dukakis.
This year there are many outstanding nominees for the award. The GOP gained a historic 63 seats, and the award should go to the person who did the most to make this possible. A partial list of nominees appears below, and the 2009 recipient was the Tea Party movement. If Lee was making the selection the honor would go to his good friend Karl Rove who raised $55 million for the campaign. Other nominees include:
- Gov. Chris Christie (NJ) who has spearheaded the conservative reform movement and has already brought great change to the Garden State.
- Sen. Scott Brown (MA) whose election last January ended the Democratic Super Majority. Prior to Brown, the Senate was run by a series of cloture motions.
- George W. Bush (TX) who protected us from terrorists, took the fight to the enemy and devastated al Qaeda. Over 22,000 terrorists are now deceased, Libya’s nuclear weapons are stored in Tennessee, the Syrian army is gone from Lebanon, and Saddam Hussein’s yellowcake is in Canada. The Bush Administration brought freedom to 50 million people living under the oppressive thumb of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban. Just a few years ago few would have imagined Sunni Iraqi Arabs fighting alongside Americans to destroy al-Qaeda terrorists.
- Dick Cheney (WY) who was by far the most powerful and influential Vice President in American history. His primary focus was the war on terror, and Cheney was tough, honest and unafraid. He knew we were at war, and vigorously promoted the surge.
- House Speaker-elect John Boehner (OH) who has already instituted historic reforms. For the first time ever, C-SPAN cameras have been placed in the Rules Committee, and the Speaker’s executive jet is being returned to the Air Force. For the first time in four years open rules and amendments will be allowed. The omnibus budget is now in the Congressional dustbin along with the House Committee on Global Warming, union card check and the cap and trade national energy tax.
- Former Gov. Mitt Romney (MA) who visited over 100 districts this year and is already leading Obama in several battleground states.
- Former Gov. Sarah Palin (AK) who made key endorsements. She backed Terry Branstad in the gubernatorial primary even though this alienated many of her supporters in the religious right. Iowa is the site of the first in the nation presidential precinct caucuses.
- Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (AR) who won the 2008 Iowa caucuses and is maintaining his lead. He says WikiLeaks and Private Bradley Manning should be tried for treason. Huckabee also says the death penalty should be applied in treason cases.
- RNC Chairman Michael Steele (MD) whose “Fire Pelosi” bus tour visited all 50 states. He screwed up on Afghanistan and fundraising, but is surprising his critics by seeking re-election.
- Budget Committee Chairman-elect Paul Ryan (WI) for inspiring leadership on economic issues. His “road map” plan was discussed in many campaigns. The GOP’s top priority is cutting the budget, and Ryan will demonstrate how it can be done.
- Congressmen-elect Allen West (FL) and Tim Scott (SC) as trail blazers. The GOP once again has African Americans serving in the House. If the GOP was ever able to capture 20% of the African American vote it would permanently become the nation’s majority party.
- Lt. Gov.-elect Jennifer Carroll (FL) is the only African American Republican to hold statewide office, and is destined for a major leadership role.
- Sen. Jim Inhofe (OK) who scored a huge victory against the cap and trade national energy tax, which ultimately resulted in the abolishment of the House Committee on Global Warming.
- Sen. John McCain (AZ) who was re-elected despite vigorous opposition. All American’s owe the Senator a tremendous debt of gratitude for his leadership on the Iraq surge.
- Sen. Bob Bennett (UT) and Rep. Gresham Barrett (SC) who both supported Bush’s TARP program even though it cost them their political careers. They helped save the American economy.
- Former state GOP Chairman Sue Lowden (NV) who opposed isolationist libertarians even though it resulted in her primary defeat. The re-election of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) allows Lowden to say “I told you so.”
- Sen.-elect Ron Johnson (WI) who defeated the only lawmaker who opposed the USA Patriot Act which has been vital to the war on terror. A year ago no one would have thought Sen. Russ Feingold (D) would lose to Johnson.
- Sen.-elect Dan Coats (IN) who came out of retirement and moved back home when the party needed him. Without Coats the GOP could have faced certain defeat with the reprehensible John Hostettler, a former Congressman who is a disciple of Pat Buchanan.
- GOP state Chairman Tom Ross (DE) who warned us about Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell. We should have listened to him and all of his predictions came true. The GOP threw away a safe seat which will be missed in the 112th Congress.
- CEO’s Meg Whitman (CA) and Linda McMahon (CT) who spent a combined $200 million on their own money on their respective campaigns. They didn’t win but they put up a valiant struggle. McMahon saved the GOP from the awful libertarian Peter Schiff.
- The GOP members of the Kentucky State Senate who passed a resolution in support of the Civil Rights Act even though it was a jab at the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate.
- The South Carolina Republican Party which censured State Senator Jake Knotts to demonstrate that the GOP has no tolerance for racism.
- Michelle Malkin who is the star of the 2011 “Great American Conservative Women Calendar.” She replaces Carrie Prejean who was the real 2009 Miss USA. Not too many 5′ 2″ 40 year old women can make that claim.
- The GOP state chairmen in South Carolina, Missouri, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York who led tremendous revival efforts.
- Mark Levin who denounced the American Conservative Union when they allowed the John Birch Society to serve as a co-sponsor of the Conservative Political Action Conference. Levin boycotted CPAC and other conservative leaders should have followed his example.
Finally, honorable mention should go to Atwater himself. He told Life magazine one month before he died:
My illness helped me to see 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.