If you get a chance to see The Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story, you will watch the architect of the modern-day GOP's political strategy to win elections, which is to smear the other person with slimy personal attacks and vicious lies to keep Americans focused on the politics of personal destruction while feigning innocence. The idea is that those smear tactics will deflect us away from the real issues that Americans face every day. Karl Rove, Atwater's best student, has taken over since he died and has succeeded in continuing that disgusting legacy. Up until now, that is.
Politics has been a dirty game throughout our history, but even Michael Dukakis had no idea how to respond to the Willie Horton ad, and in the movie he says as much. He thought it was beneath him to respond to such shameful accusations and he realized that he was wrong a little too late. Part of Atwater's strategy was also to get theses smears planted into the main stream press and he succeeded on that level as well. "Bernard Shaw dealt a crushing blow to the Dukakis candidacy by asking the Massachusetts governor about Horton with the opening question of his final debate with George H. W. Bush."
We thought John Kerry would have learned that lesson too, but when he was swift-boated, he was slow on the draw to defend himself. Their surrogates took to the airwaves en masse, and so a war hero was accused on TV of shooting himself on purpose to win some medals to help his future political career. And it worked.
These attacks were carried out by Nixon's anointed one, John O'Neal. By the time the Swiftboaters were thoroughly debunked by the media, the damage had been done. In fact, how many Americans actually remember that the smears were debunked? You can bet they all remember the smears.
All through the summer we saw attack ads on Obama calling him a Hollywood celebrity comparing him to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. He was portrayed as an arugula-eating, latte-sipping, martini-drinking, country club elitist who pals around with terrorists, doesn't wear an American flag lapel pin, won't say the Pledge of Allegiance, and hates America. He's odd; he's different; he's got a funny name. You know the drill.
And did work somewhat, because McCain kept it close in the polls until the conventions came upon us at the end of August. Check out this Gallop poll graph as a sample of the time line.
McCain got a bump from the Palin effect and briefly took the lead back from Obama, but many were skeptical of her nomination. It certainly rallied the Republican base that really dislikes John McCain, but after the initial honeymoon, Americans as a whole now realize that it was another cheap political gimmick and have turned away from her very quickly.
Fifty-seven percent of likely voters questioned in the poll say that Palin does not have the personal qualities a president should have.
Now, Biden would beat Palin by 12 points if the running mates were chosen in a separate vote.
It was politics as usual up until America witnessed the greatest economic meltdown our generation has ever seen. And nothing crystallized it like George Bush and Henry Paulson's plea for $700 billion to rescue Wall street. (Here's the text.)
Immediately the nation snapped out of worrying if Obama was sipping tea at a diner and not American enough and started to see who could actually best handle this dire economic situation. McCain tried to sensationalize the crisis for political purposes by saying he was suspending his campaign and America realized it was just another typical con job.
And as the debates finished, Obama retook the lead in all the polls, because Americans saw that in response to a crisis, he truly looked like a Commander-in-Chief. Even the Conservative Talking Head Brigade of Charles Krauthammer and Dick Morris agreed with this assessment.
What was McCain's response to this? Open up the Atwater playbook and hammer Obama as being a friend of Bill Ayers in robo-calls, while their surrogates once again took to the airwaves for a full frontal assault. His "friends" at the National Republican Trust PAC brought in new Rev. Wright smear ads that are running now on all the cable stations. And did you know he wants to destroy electricity and the coal industry?
And how has all these wild and desperate smears worked far as we all vote on election day? Instead of the politics of personal destruction tearing down Obama, his lead widened and poll after poll told us that McCain was just being downright nasty. Instead realizing the ineffectiveness and addressing the issues at hand, the McCain camp continued a campaign of personal attacks.
McCain yelled from his pulpit, "Obama is a Socialist" and the "Redistributor-in-Chief". He then unleashed his last political gimmick: Joe the Plumber. Unfortunately for McCain, his poll numbers kept falling.
So today is the day we all get to find out if the Lee Atwater school of politics has been defeated by the reality of our economic situation.
It has taken a real crisis to combat the very successful campaign strategy that Atwater championed to win George H.W. Bush the White House in '88. The same techniques that Karl Rove mastered and implemented in beating McCain and then Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004. Will truth and reality finally win out?
I wish I could tell you that Americans henceforth will never be influenced by scurrilous personal attack ads and campaign smears in the future, but my hope today is that finally this great nation has been shocked into actually using their brains to decide who should lead us out of the wilderness that came upon due to the negligence of Conservatism. I think Americans unfortunately have a short memory span and these dirty tactics will always be with us. If Obama wins, then I do think that America have no excuses any more if they do get taken in by these cowardly tricks. So I say to you now:
Yes, We Can.