Before James Carville, before Karl Rove, before David Axelrod…there was Lee Atwater.
I was relaxing at home last night and decided to watch the movie Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story via Netflix. It was an interesting movie, especially for those of us who were politically active at the time. Here are my thoughts on the film.
The movie chronicles the short yet eventful life of Lee Atwater, who was best known as George H. W. Bush’s Campaign Manager. Atwater burst on to the American political stage in the late 70’s and was a force through the late 80’s. A brain tumor took his life in 1991 but not before he left a mark on American politics.
Overall, the chief villans in the movie are Republicans, especially the Bushs and Atwater. The filmmaker claims to be independent but the overall subtext is anti-Bush. The prevailing notion is that Atwater (and his associates like Karl Rove) were responsible for the eventual rise of W to the Presidency and the perceived problems that ensued from that event. Its important to note the film was released in early 2008 when Bush 43 was ending his term as a two-term, yet deeply unpopular President.
However, there is a lot of truth in the movie about how an amoral yet brilliant person made a massive impact on political campaigns. Lee Atwater came from the backwater of South Carolina to the big time of Washington, DC as a very young man. He was successful, but it came at a high price both to himself and others. In many respects, the movie is a cautionary tale to those who strive to make their mark in politics. Regardless of political party, there are a lot of shameful things that go on during campaigns, particularly those for national office. The movie brings some of the darkness associated with that into the open.
What is sad yet most compelling about the movie is the end. After attaining the pinnacle of power and with a long record of success, Lee Atwater was afflicted with a brain tumor. As he saw his fast-paced life coming to an end, he regretted what he had done and was fearful for what was ahead of him. He was terrified of dying because he knew that he had to answer for what he had done to others during his climb to the top. Some of the most poignent moments of the film are when his opponents and erstwhile cohorts recall Lee Atwater apologizing to them for what he did.
Ultimately, Lee Atwater died on April 1, 1991 from his brain tumor. His influence was felt long after his demise though, he was a historically significant character in American politics. Operatives on both sides of the political devide learned from Atwater and applied the lessons learned to their candidates. Perhaps that is legacy, for better or worse.
I would give this movie two stars and encourage those on the right to watch it. If you take away the liberal bias of the filmmaker, there is a lot to learn from the life and times of Lee Atwater. Mostly, I see it as a cautionary tale of what happens when unchecked ambition and a lust for power take hold of a talented person. Furthermore, it holds a mirror up to the voters and shows how they are complicit in how modern political campaigns have evolved.
Sobering stuff indeed.
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February 25th, 2012 by admindude