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BAD BOY by John Brady


The Life and Politics of Lee Atwater

by John Brady

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-201-62733-7
Publisher: Addison-Wesley

 Brady (Journalism/Univ. of Missouri), former editor of Boston magazine, provides an entertaining account of the notorious Republican political operative. Lee Atwater led the way in refining the basic tools of negative campaigning--attack ads, dirty tricks, and manipulation of the press--that dominate contemporary politics. Unconcerned with issues or consequences for the country, this devotee of Machiavelli approached political campaigns as wars to be won at any cost. These activities alone offer sufficient material for a juicy biography, but when you throw in continual womanizing, an addiction to exercise and to such musical genres as rock 'n' roll and the blues, and death from a brain tumor, his story takes on a larger-than-life quality. Wisely, Brady presents his material in a detached manner, letting Atwater's actions speak for themselves. The only significant exception to this approach is his discussion of the infamous Willie Horton television commercials, where Brady bends over backwards to minimize Atwater's responsibility. Nevertheless, by the last chapter we have become so inured to Atwater's antics that a final, potentially appalling incident is unsurprising. Confronted with a serious illness, he declares his love for his secretary/personal assistant, installs her as primary keeper and sometime bedmate in his family home (while living with his wife, children, and mother), then finds the emotional strain too intense and completely withdraws from her. Brady points to the tragic death of his brother when Atwater was five, along with his obvious hyperactivity and a penchant for manipulating people and information, to explain Atwater's behavior and personality. Whatever demons were behind his obsessions and skills, however, the result was a political strategist of the highest caliber. If we also criticize Atwater as amoral, we must ask further: What does this say about the candidates who were eager to hire him, and about the political system in which his tactics were successful? A combination of cynical political reality and modern tragedy, this volume is well worth reading. (b&w photos)