Bad Boy: The Life and Politics of Lee Atwater
Lee Atwater revolutionized presidential campaigning. He helped to create a solid Republican south. And he became notorious for turning national politics back into a blood sport, not only using nasty attacks but reveling in his image as the bad boy of Washington. Then, at the age of 39, Atwater was struck by a brain tumor. In thirteen months, cancer ended the most controversial career in modern politics—the charismatic, colorful, and contradictory life of Lee Atwater.Even today Atwater is a fallen leader Republicans love and a rival Democrats love to hate. He was the first political handler as mediagenic as his candidates—certainly the first chairman of the Republican National Committee to record a blues album. His campaigns represent the high-water mark of the GOPs postwar dominance of the presidency, and his techniques set the tone for races across the country. Watching Washington since his death, politicians and pundits still wonder, What if Lee Atwater had lived?Bad Boy reveals how Lee Atwater began his career controlling crowds as jittery class clown, traumatized by the agonizing death of his little brother. In college he discovered the subtle intercourse of policy and public opinion and grew from party animal to party man. Bad Boy details Atwater’s political strategies from the grass roots to the national level. Even more ruthless were the behind-the-scenes power games as he crossed paths, and occasionally crossed swords, with nearly every major Republican of the 1980s: Reagan, Bush, Baker, Ailes, Rollins, and many more.In Bad Boy, we also see the faces Atwater tried to spin away. He was a compulsive womanizer, climbing through windows to avoid reporters. He played radical politics but promoted ”big tent” Republicanism. Even his last public moment is controversial. Did Atwater’s deathbed words really repudiate entire campaigns, or were they twisted by political enemies and second-hand reporting? Was his repentance sincere or simply one last gasp of press manipulation? Was he responsible for the infamous Willie Horton ads, or was he unfairly blamed by 1988s losers, trying for a moral victory? Is Lee Atwater, a master of spin, now being spun in his grave?In its sudden end, Atwater’s remarkable life resembled the rise and fall of a fine political novel. With the probing insights of an expert interviewer and a rare stylistic verve, John Brady tells that whole frantic, fascinating story—the life of the baddest boy in D.C.