Nov 12, 2008

Boogie Man and the end of Atwaterian national politics

If you were lucky to catch Boogie Man, Stefan Forbes' terrific documentary on 80's Republican political operative Lee Atwater, a baby faced, fun loving, guitar playing southerner who transformed the GOP's political apparatus into a top shelf smear and misrepresentation machine through push polling, unsubstantiated rumors and disingenuous advertising, by all means, spread the word - its one of the most searingly honest looks at the cancers within our politics to ever find its way to the screen.

Atwater, who has been widely credited as a mentor to George W. Bush and Karl Rove, ascended to the chairmanship of the GOP following H.W. Bush's election, was stricken at a fundraiser for Senator and former Presidential candidate Phil Gramm in 1990. He was diagnosed with a terminal brain cancer and spent his final year and change physically bloated and in search for some measure of spiritual meaning - he died of the brain tumor at 40, having spent considerable amounts of time with any sort of religious figure he could find in his final months. He repented for much of his conduct in the previous decade in a series of touching correspondances with former foes and Life Magazine, but will mostly be remembered for the audacity of his tactics, which reached their zenith with the infamous Willie Horton ads from the 88' Presidential campaign. In the wake of the election heard round the world, you come away from this film with a special appreciation for just how far we've come since the late 80's - no longer can the outcome of an entire national election season hinge on the manufactured fear of black criminality and the Democratic candidates' perceived weakness on "crime" - people seem to understand we have bigger problems as a country. Or so we hope in the AAO - Age After Obama.

The film opened in NYC in September (its already long gone), but screened on PBS' frontline last night and will continue to do so throughout this week. Here's a trailer: