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Uncovered At Last: Lee Atwater's Infamous 'Southern Strategy' Colloquy

Over the years, we've written a lot at this site about Lee Atwater, the erstwhile godfather of Republican dog-whistle attack politics -- Amato in particular has often discussed Atwater's central role in transforming the GOP into the Party of the

Over the years, we've written a lot at this site about Lee Atwater, the erstwhile godfather of Republican dog-whistle attack politics -- Amato in particular has often discussed Atwater's central role in transforming the GOP into the Party of the Old South it has become today.

In our book Over the Cliff,, we cited an infamous interview with Atwater in which he explained how the Southern Strategy worked:

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.”

However, a number of conservatives have over the years disputed the veracity of that interview and that quote, or have claimed it wasn't really Atwater. You know, the denial thing.

Now James Carter IV -- the same researcher who dug up Mitt Romney's "47 percent" remarks on video has unearthed the entire 42-minute interview. Rick Perlstein has the entire thing over at The Nation:

In the lead-up to the infamous remarks, it is fascinating to witness the confidence with which Atwater believes himself to be establishing the racial innocence of latter-day Republican campaigning: “My generation,” he insists, “will be the first generation of Southerners that won’t be prejudiced.” He proceeds to develop the argument that by dropping talk about civil rights gains like the Voting Rights Act and sticking to the now-mainstream tropes of fiscal conservatism and national defense, consultants like him were proving “people in the South are just like any people in the history of the world.”

It is only upon Professor Lamis’s gently Socratic follow-ups, and those of a co-interviewer named “Saul” (Carter hasn't been able to confirm his identity, but suspects it was the late White House correspondent Saul Friedman), that Atwater begins to loosen up—prefacing his reflections, with a plainly guilty conscience, “Now, y’all aren't quoting me on this?” (Apparently , this is the reason why Atwater’s name wasn’t published in 1984 but was in 1999, after his death).

He then utters his infamous words. The interlocutors go on to kibitz about Huey Long and barbecue. Then Atwater, apparently satisfied that he'd absolved the Southern Republican Party of racism once and for all, follows up with a prediction based on a study he claims demonstrates that Strom Thurmond won 38 percent of South Carolina’s middle-class black vote in his 1978 Senate campaign (run by Atwater).

“That voter, in my judgment,” he claims, “will be more likely to vote his economic interests than he will anything else. And that is the voter that I think through a fairly slow but very steady process, will go Republican.” Because race no longer matters: “In my judgment Karl Marx [is right]... the real issues ultimately will be the economic issues.” He continues, in words that uncannily echo the “47 percent tape” (nothing new under the wingnut sun), that “statistically, as the number of non-producers in the system moves toward fifty percent,” the conservative coalition cannot but expand. Voila: a new Republican majority. Racism won't have anything to do with it.

So they claim, to this very day.

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