We should all remember Harvey Leroy “Lee” Atwater, the original Machiavellian Prince of American Politics. We should all remember his tactics as well as his later rejection of those same politics.

Before there was a Republican Karl Rove and a Democratic James Carville, there was the original Boogieman, Lee Atwater. In the summer of 2008, a movie is being released with that name and will examine the life and influence of Lee Atwater on US politics.

He was the founding father of the Attack Ads, the Negative Ads, and the general Smear and Slime based political campaign.

At the age of 39, he was at the top of the game, having led Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr both to victory. By the age of 40, he was dead from a brain tumor. He had it all, and just as suddenly lost it all.

This the arrogant Lee Atwater.

And this is the more humble version.

lee atwater sick with tumor in bed

It was not until he was in the death throws that Lee Atwater had a epiphany.

In a February 1991 article for Life Magazine, 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.

There are lessons here for all of us to learn from…

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