Lee Atwater's Diseased Patriotism Continues to Infect American Politics
I've always been skeptical of deathbed conversions. Some of it has to do with this notion that seems to exist among conservative Christians that salvation has nothing to do with deeds, just faith. You can bugger little boys in the choirloft, cheat on your wife, embezzle money, burn down your neighbor's house, and none of it matters as long as you believe Jesus died just so you could do all these things.
When Lee Atwater, who was Karl Rove's mentor in the politics of destruction, was dying from a brain tumor, he called for an excision of the "tumor of the soul" in American politics. Horse, barn door, etc. Perhaps bigger people than I am can forgive, but when you look at what Atwater's politics of destruction used against Michael Dukakis in 1988 led to, including the presidency of his then-employer's son, it's hard to look at what happened to Atwater as anything other than "Payback's a bitch, asshole." The only thing that kept me from doing that is the desire to be perhaps just a bit better. Not too much better, because sometimes trying to rise above people who want to drag you into the gutter just leaves you face down flat in the mud with a jackboot on the small of your back.
Bill Moyers talked about Lee Atwater a number of years ago:
Atwater may be best known for turning Willie Horton into not just a household name, but also a generic term, like "Kleenex", for any kind of demonology done in politics. The most recent example, of course, is the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But what I remember Atwater most for is how he turned the Pledge of Allegiance into a major campaign issue.
In 1988, Joseph Sobran wrote in National Review about the Pledge dustup: