11
Nov
08

Neckties, contracts, high voltage!


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Originally uploaded by johnvierdsen

Vierdsen’s been an observer of politics for about 20 years and a participant, off and on, for about half those years. During that time, he’s seen a lot. One of his first political memories (other than picking Jack Kemp for VP in kindergarten because he had a good name and hey, he was under the elephant. Alabama has an elephant. Win!) is of the notorious Willie Horton ad used against Gov. Michael Dukakis in the ’88 campaign.

That brings us to “Boogie Man,” the brilliant documentary on Lee Atwater that played at The Nickelodeon and will be shown on PBS’ “Frontline” tonight at 9 p.m. Atwater was behind the ad, and farmed it out to a third-party group.

Now, sit down, kids. Uncle John wants to tell you some things.

A lot of S.C. politicos would like to fashion themselves after Atwater. Of the Brahmans of Palmetto State GOP consultants, most worked with him, for him, or employed him. The younger ones would like to be the next Atwater (almost like every basketball player wants to be the next Michael Jordan).

Atwater did some really nefarious shit. Not the least of which was to Columbia liberal activist and attorney Tom Turnipseed in his 1980 race for Congress. Whatever you think about Turnipseed’s politics, he’s a good man and didn’t deserve what happened. As we all know, Atwater later apologized before he passed away from cancer.

Still, Atwater’s legacy, as much as he didn’t want it to be, is rough, balls-out, mean goddamn politics. The political atmosphere in this state is cast in his image.

It’s a schadenfreude-based political economy. You love it when you nail the opposition, and you do it with ruthless action. Then, you have to get your shit together and keep composed when it happens to you. Because it will.

Some heavy things, back room deals and plain unethical behavior took place during the General Assembly primary races (and a few others in the general election). The consultants and candidates who approved, carried out or were at least complicit in what happened know who they are, what they did, and probably don’t care.

Vierdsen both loves and hates this mess. Seeing a candidate, person, or organization that you are targeting get blown up is as satisfying as watching a linebacker for your team nail the hell out of the opposition’s quarterback so hard that he fumbles and separates his shoulder.

Then again, you know you just earned yourself a few more years in Purgatory. And, watching other people get treated the same way, especially if you aren’t involved in either camp, can make you a little ill.

Ultimately, though, you’ve got to play the game. You’ve got to have the spine and the lack of scruples to win. In the paraphrased words of Ollie North’s ’94 campaign manager, you’ve got to want to cut the other guy’s balls off.

If you do try to make out like you’re the next Atwater, no matter what you do, it’s important to have Vince Foster’s words in the back of your mind:

“I was not meant for the job or the spotlight of public life in Washington. Here ruining people is considered sport.”
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1 Response to “Neckties, contracts, high voltage!”


  1. November 13, 2008 at 1:12 am

    Good article and very good insight. I never liked the mercenary culture that exists in the world of political communication. Too many operatives treat voters not as people, but levels to be manipulated in order to gain power.

    This is one of the big reasons why people are becoming so cynical of politics.


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