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WORTH REPEATING: Lee Atwater’s Infamous Last Words

THE NATION: It has become, for liberals and leftists enraged by the way Republicans never suffer the consequences for turning electoral politics into a cesspool, a kind of smoking gun. The late, legendarily brutal campaign consultant Lee Atwater explains how Republicans can win the vote of racists without sounding racist themselves:

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.”

Now, the same indefatigable researcher who brought us Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” remarks, James Carter IV, has dug up the entire forty-two-minute interview from which that quote derives. Here, The Nation publishes it in its entirety for the very first time. MORE

RELATED: In the wake of yet another hard-fought and bitter presidential campaign, FRONTLINE presents a spirited and revealing biography of Lee Atwater, the charming, Machiavellian godfather of modern take-no-prisoners Republican political campaigns. Through eye-opening interviews with Atwater’s closest friends and adversaries, the film explores the life of the controversial political operative who mentored Karl Rove and George W. Bush, led the GOP to historic victories, and wrote the party’s winning playbook. The story tracks Atwater’s rise from his beginnings in South Carolina as a high school election kingmaker all the way to the White House and his subsequent battle with cancer and final search for forgiveness and redemption. To Democrats, Atwater was a political assassin who one Congresswoman dubbed “the most evil man in America,” but to Republicans he remains a hero for his deep understanding of the American voter and his unapologetic vision of politics as warfare. MORE

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