Election 2012

Listen to Lee Atwater Describe the Southern Strategy

I've referenced this quote nearly every time I've written about dog-whistles and the Southern Strategy, but I've never heard a tape of Lee Atwater, the proto-Rove of the Reagan/Bush era, actually saying the words.

The Nation discovered the tape:

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.”

In other words, why risk losing voters with "nigger" when you can use coded language that your target demographic understands as the equivalent to "nigger?"

Hence, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich made a big deal out of food stamps and welfare -- not "nigger, nigger" but these lines of attack speak directly to racially resentful white voters. Romney also used "foreign" to describe the president's policies, most recently in the second debate. And who can forget the "Obama Isn't Working" banner? All Atwater-style dog-whistles.

As long as the Republican base is made up of white Southern men, this will always be a part of its political textbook.

  • Arturo Jacobo Saiz

    The white vote is all they’ll ever get in great numbers, they only tolerate Bobbi Jindal and hacks like Marco Rubio and Alberto Gonzales, did I mention Gay people? This thought pattern is embeded in their DNA.

  • Gevdarg

    The new code word for “niggers” is “Obama Supporters”. That’s why Romney and the GOP lost me forever (as if they ever had me) with the infamous 47% comment that Romney doubled down on.

  • Victor_the_Crab

    But hopefully, as the country becomes more ethnically diverse, the Southern Strategy becomes a hinderance to Republican’s chances for victory.

  • D_C_Wilson

    And if Atwater had lived long enough, he would have added “protect the integrity of the vote” to the list.

  • rob black

    I remember hearing this tape, or seeing this quote about the time Atwater underwent his literal “death bed” conversion. In which, as he was slowly dieing of cancer, he admitted to all of these tactics…and expressed what appeared to be real sorrow for what he had done.
    Unfortunately for us all, the damage was done, and his acolyte, one Karl Rove, not only built a career using this horrible exploitation of weak minded and ignorant bigots, but positively wallows in it to this day.
    For those who still like to think of St. Ronnie as merely a doddering tool, keep in mind that he kicked off his campaign with this dog whistle, in the same town where only a few years before, 3 civil rights workers had been murdered by the police and buried in levy.
    Despicable…..from top to bottom.

    • D_C_Wilson

      St. Ron did love his “welfare queen” dog whistles.

  • Atwater and Rove must be in the Top 10 list of the most evil people in American history.

    • gescove

      It might be tough to shave that list to just 10. Rush Limbaugh. Andrew Breitbart. Ann Coulter. Richard Nixon. Dick Cheney. Donald Rumsfeld. Pat Buchanan. Richard Murdoch. The Kochs. Paul Wolfowitz. George W. Bush. Ronald Reagan. John Bolton. I mean, the list of epic RW douchenozzles is endless…

      • incredulous72


        Just for some historical perspective.

        • all racist rhetoric basicly started with hoover and his love for press. (nuff said)

    • Zen Diesel

      Add Newton Leroy McPherson aka “Newt Gingrich” to the top ten list as well.

  • Christine Mitchell

    How shocked my white friends are when I call this stuff racist…welfare President and entitlement programs and all of the dog whistles from the last 2 general elections. They say I’m playing the race card. I say it isn’t playing the race card when it really is about race, and now I can show them. Great find.

    • bphoon

      They say I’m playing the race card.

      It’s hard to “play the race card” when it’s already on the table. This is nothing more that typical Republican projection.

      • Brutlyhonest

        That’s one of their go-to tactics, isn’t it? You call them on their racism then they play offended that YOU injected race into it.

  • Brutlyhonest

    One of the last ads my wingnut Congressman, Rigell, ran actually included a statement that his opponent supports a program that takes money from Medicare to provide programs for “other people.”