Category Archives: Lee Atwater

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Grocery Grumbling

Wood czarina Nancy R. Hiller gets itchy just thinking about the whole Bloomingfoods/union contretemps going on.

Natch, which of us aren’t torn in this little tug of war? The majority of the citizenry of the People’s Republic of Bloomington are union partisans — yet everybody who’s anybody is hot for Bloomingfoods, the five-store co-op’s founders, its management, and its boardfolk.

Bloomingfoods Union Rally

Rally For B’foods Union Last week

In any case, Hiller got her hands on a list of benefits B’foods offers its galley slaves. The bennies look good, I’ll have to say. Shoot, they even offer free professional counseling which employees are eligible for the minute they start working. Dang, mang, I’d have saved tens of thousands of dollars in shrink fees had I worked for B-foods in my late 20s through early 40s.

Anyway, as soon as I get some free time, I’m going to grill some insiders about their grievances. A very friendly inside source has provided me a list of names and phone numbers of people who just may offer some insight into why at least some B-foods workers are ready to man the barricades.

Until then, read about Bloomingfoods’ employee benefits here, courtesy of our town’s most adept juggler of hammer and saw, the fab Ms. Hiller.


The two most effective political messages in American history were Lyndon B. Johnson’s fabled mushroom cloud TV ad in 1964 and George H.W. Bush’s Willie Horton spots.

Mushroom Cloud Ad

Don’t Get Burned By Goldwater

I was too young to remember the mushroom cloud commercial, being eight at the time, but I remember Willie Horton well — I was 32 in 1988. Willie Horton was almost perfect in its simplicity and impact. Lee Atwater and company concocted the archetypical bogeyman: a scary, grotesque, really dark-skinned black man, a rapist/murderer sprung from prison by a lily-livered, pointy-headed Democratic governor. And you wanted that milquetoast Dem to be your president?


The Face Of Fear

As Atwater, Bush’s storied political strategist, said early on, “By the time we’re finished, they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’ running mate.”

His strategy was no less craven than that of adman Tony Schwartz, who created the mushroom cloud commercial (which, BTW, ran only once.) But craven in politics and other public pastimes works. Barry Goldwater was effectively painted forever as a nuke-slinging madman, Mike Dukakis a patsy for criminals, welfare queens, and — worst of all — black people.

The secret to success in public discourse is to scare the bejesus out of people.

Just as soon as GHWB trounced Dukakis in the ’88 beauty contest, it struck me that what separated the Democrats from the Republicans was the latters’ gleeful willingness to scare the populace and the formers’ hesitancy to do so (at least in the years post-1964.)

I immediately thought of the environment — you know, the air we breathe and the water we drink? All the environmental movement needed to do was start making the citizenry of this holy land wet its pants about pollution and, next thing you’d know, we’d start doing a thing or two about it. After all, the Reagan Administration had been as careful a steward of the environment as an eight-year-old husbanding his bag of Halloween candy.

Cut to almost two decades later: Al Gore et al came out with An Inconvenient Truth. Wouldn’t you know it, that Oscar®-winning doc got millions of us shuddering over the possibility that the likes of New York City and Miami Beach might soon be under water.


The Documentary Film Spawned A Book

We on the crunchy end of the political spectrum finally had our Willie Horton.

Don’t get me wrong, I dug An Inconv. Truth the most. Still, as I watched the picture, I had the feeling that certain suppositions in it were less than sure-fire bets. Nevertheless, the scare job was for a good cause, not for painting an entire race of American citizens as murderers and rapists.

Now comes a think piece by Charles C. Mann in September’s The Atlantic mag. He posits that the environmental gang is overreaching with its oft-times overblown rhetoric. Mann is a science writer who penned, among other works, the highly-lauded 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.

Mann feels the scare tactics of environmentalists are working against their own aims. He cites for support, for instance, French philosopher Pascal Bruckner, who insists that many climate worriers are apocalyptic fanatics:

A best-selling, telegenic public intellectual (a species that hardly exists in this country), Bruckner is mainly going after what he calls “ecologism,” of which McKibbenites are exemplars. At base, he says, ecologism seeks not to save nature but to purify humankind through self-flaggelating asceticism.

To Bruckner, ecologism is both ethnocentric and counterproductive.

McKibbenites, of course, are fans of high-profile ecologist Bill McKibben.

Mann is right about some of the overblown rhetoric: One anti-Keystone Pipeline activist says if the thing is built “civilization would be at risk.” Mann’s conclusion is such operatic verbiage marginalizes environmentalists.

Mann is wrong, though, about the scare tactics. He may know a lot about science — and Bruckner may know a lot about philosophy — but neither knows the American people.


You had to know this would happen: many parents in Middlesex County, New Jersey, are far more teed off about the cancellation of the remainder of the Sayreville War Memorial High School football season than they are about the digital/anal raping/hazing ritual that caused the cancellation in the first place.

Just to keep you up to date, seven Sayreville HS football players have been arrested for their alleged near-daily hazing of team freshmen. Acc’d’g to the cops, the seven would trap freshmen in the locker room, turn out the lights, and proceed to digitally penetrate the poor kids’ anuses for fun and laughs.


Number One

The Foam Finger Takes On A Whole New Meaning

Anyway, some student victims told their parents about the ritual and the parents called the police. Seems open and shut, no?

No. Because of the scandal, the school’s principal cancelled the rest of its football season. And many parents are steamed about having to face life without high school football.

Anally raping an adolescent is one thing, I suppose, but canceling a football season? Now that’s an outrage.

Football. America’s game.


The Pencil Today:


“Can we all get along?” — Rodney King


The alarm hadn’t even rung this morning. It was about a quarter past five. Yet I was awake.

The din outside my window was, considering the hour and my state of unconsciousness just moments before, deafening.

I should have been mad, no?

I wasn’t.

A countless variety of birds was whistling, clattering, gargling, hooting, chirping, yipping, and otherwise letting the world — and this no-longer-sleeping beauty — know they were alive.

It was the most beautiful cacophonic symphony imaginable. Like the birds, I was glad to be alive.


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During the dark days when the Republicans seemed to be the only party in this holy land with guts, with a vision (albeit repulsive to me), and with exciting candidates (at least to fellow Republicans), I longed for my Dems to, well, wake up.

I mean, honestly, Michael Dukakis?

Y’Wanna Vote For Me? Okay.

The late 80s was the nadir of the party. The GOP was constantly prowling and attacking and my Dems were always cowering in a corner. The tone was set when, during the 1980 presidential debates, Ronald Reagan listened patiently to incumbent Jimmy Carter (I mean, honestly, Jimmy Carter?) read off his list of particulars, accusing Reagan of being, you know, a Republican, and then, when it was his turn to speak, gave a sad little shake of his head and said, like a headmaster, a camp counselor, a disappointed father, “There you go again.”

Now You Listen To Me

Reagan needn’t have said another word. Carter was deflated. Defeated. Finished. He knew it. Reagan knew it. And America knew it.

The Republicans, particularly Reagan, had a way of withering the Dems with a single phrase.

I was embarrassed to be a Democrat back then. It was almost as bad as being a Cubs fan.

I longed for the day my party would rear up and fight back.

The Republicans through the years had had their Joe McCarthy, their Donald Segretti and G. Gordon Liddy. By the 80s, they had their Lee Atwater. All tough, no-nonsense guys who’d stick a shiv into the belly of any Dem at any time.

Tough, Albeit Deranged

Why, I wondered, couldn’t we have a guy or two like that?

Would we always be so touchy-feely, so accepting, so forgiving, so ready and willing to bear our necks and let the predators of the world go for our jugular?

It got so that the Republicans turned our passivity into their own campaign asset — they would argue, Do you want these softies “protecting” you against the commies and the brown-skinned people of the world?

And, really, who would want Walter Mondale, to be the wingman in an alley fight?

Don’t Worry; I’m Right Behind You

But the Dems were learning. In 1989, Lee Atwater floated the rumor that Speaker of the House Tom Foley lived in a “liberal closet” (wink, wink). Barney Frank, the advance guard of the nascent fighting Dems, came out swinging.

Frank announced to the press that if the Republican innuendos about Foley’s sexuality didn’t cease forthwith, he’d release the very next morning a list of five prominent Republican congressbeings who were secretly gay and do the same thing the next day and the day after that until all the GOP closets were empty.

The Republicans jumped like scalded rabbits. Atwater instructed the White House operator to track down Foley immediately so he could tell the Speaker the attacks were history.

Hello, Tom? C’mon Man, You Can Take A Joke, Can’t You?

And then, a miracle. Bill Clinton came out of the nowhere that is Arkansas. He was tough. He was ready and willing to throw some thumbs. Not only that, he had a snarling dog on a long chain next to him, one James Carville, a guy who could make even Liddy take a deep breath.

Clinton’s campaign headquarters became know as a War Room. The gloves were off. The fight was on. The Dems won the White House, woo-hoo!

The Republicans, of course, eventually came back with a series of rabid curs: Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Dick Armey, and Karl Rove. They snatched away first the House of Representatives then the White House.


Then came Barack Obama with his own carnivore, Rahm Emanuel.

By the 2008 presidential election, it seemed the Democrats had reached parity with the Republicans in terms of toughness.

Still, the Republicans had their lunatic fringe fighters, the so-called Minutemen along the Mexican border, the abortion clinic bombers, the murderers of doctors who provided abortions, Michigan militias, and other terrifying creatures.

Now these really were people who could make the sane among us cower in a corner.

Somehow we always knew the guy flying the plane into a government building or the loner purchasing tons of fertilizer-based explosives would be a right-winger.

White Makes Right

And even if the Republican establishment tut-tutted these folks, I always got the feeling that puffy, paunchy chicken hawks like Rove secretly wished they too could bring a sidearm to a political debate.

We Dems could proudly say, Yeah, we’re tough now, but we aren’t psychotic.

That is, we could say it until now.

And the newest psychos come from right here in good old Monroe County.

You may have heard about the brutal attack on a gathering of white supremacists (perhaps the first time those words have ever been written together) in a Chicago suburb over the weekend.

See, a gang of five Bloomington-area men barged into a family restaurant in Tinley Park Saturday and beat the bejesus out of a bunch of old men gathered there to eat club sandwiches and tell each other how fabulous they are for being descendents of Eastern Europeans.

Attack Scene

The five were under the mistaken impression that the old men were part of a white supremacist organization.

It’s not known what feelings the old birds have in their heart of hearts for brown-skinned people, or even if they consider brown-skinned people people at all, but they swear up and down they’re not part of a Klan-like gang.

But let’s assume for a moment that they are, just for the sake of argument. Let’s assume they despise people who aren’t blessed by god with pasty skin. Let’s assume they met at the Ashford House Restaurant to discuss among friends how the darker people of this land are ruining it.

Even if that were the case, the five men who exploded into the restaurant carrying billy clubs, knives, hammers, and other instruments of mayhem are jerks.

Thought Police

They went into the place with murder in their hearts (trust me, when you carry a hammer into a brawl, you’re looking to kill someone), aiming to punish human beings for their thoughts.

Thought crime.

I thought it was a fictional conceit.

But the Sutherlin boys and their two pals from Bloomington, Indiana, have made it real.

Now, we of the left side of the spectrum have our own fringe fighters. We’d better do more to distance ourselves from our psychos than the Republicans did.


The Pencil Today:


“In the Soviet Union, capitalism triumphed over communism. In this country, capitalism triumphed over democracy.” — Fran Lebowitz (h/t to RE Paris)


“I’ve never killed a man but I’ve read several obituaries with glee.” — Mark Twain

Andrew Breitbart is dead. The Earth is now a better place.

Like Twain, I don’t care much for gloating when a bad guy dies but in this case, Whoopee!

Gone, Baby, Gone

Breitbart was a character assassin, an amoral ideologue, an agent provocateur, and, well, a dick of the highest order.

Here’s the difference between a warthog like Breitbart and a human being of decency. When Shirley Sherrod heard about his death, she said, “The news of Mr. Breitbart’s death came as a surprise to me when I was informed of it this morning. My prayers go out to Mr. Breitbart’s family as they cope during this very difficult time.”

Sherrod: A Gracious Victim

This from a woman whose career serving in government was derailed by a phony-assed, maliciously edited video produced by none other than Mr. Breitbart.

And speaking of phony-assed, maliciously edited videos, it was Breitbart’s airing of the ACORN footage that led to that social service organization’s eventual bankruptcy and demise. Nice work, Andy-baby, pissing on all those folks who need food, housing, and legal services for your own professional advancement.

Naturally, the Republican candidates for president are mourning his passing as though a great public servant is gone from the scene. Rick Santorum calls his death a “huge loss, in my opinion, to our country.” Mitt Romney remembers him as a “loving husband and father.”

“Aw, He Was Such A Nice Guy.”

Reminds me of when any notorious Outfit boss kicked the bucket back in Chicago. No matter that he’d been responsible for corrupting labor unions, forcing the Mob’s way into legitimate businesses, and murdering loan sharks, recalcitrant shopkeepers and potential witnesses, his neighbors would say he was such a nice guy and a real fine family man.

Hey, people, even A. Hitler was kind to his dog Blondi. That doesn’t excuse him for his evil acts.

Anyway, Breitbart — though not Hitler or a capo, but profoundly destructive in his own way — joins such luminaries as J. Edgar Hoover, George Wallace, Orval Faubus, Curtis LeMay, and Lee Atwater in the pantheon of dead evil Americans.

It’s irrelevant that he was “a loving husband and father.”

“Welcome To Hell, Andy!”


Now that Mayor Mark Kruzan doesn’t have to worry about reelection for a while, he can level with Bloomington voters about the state of the city’s finances.

They ain’t good.

Kasey Husk of the Herald Times reports this morning that Kruzan says there are “dark clouds on the horizon” for us.

Potential Cover Shot For Bloomington’s Annual Financial Report

The reason Kruzan waited until now to drop the bomb on us, apparently, is the potential that voters could have blamed him for the economic mess we’re in. That would have been stupid, of course, but then again no one ever accused the electorate, either here or nationally, of being remarkably brilliant.

Smart Enough To Know We’re Not All That Smart

Hell, an entire major political party is fired up by proud anti-intellectualism. (I won’t even link to that party — you can guess which one I mean.)

So no, the city’s empty pockets aren’t Kruzan’s fault.

But we know where the blame primarily lies — all those clever, conniving, duplicitous investment banking house unindicted felons who played our economy for hundred of billions of dollars in fees and bonuses and left it dry.

Check out Michael Lewis’s book, “Liar’s Poker” for an early snapshot of the unregulated, greenback-worshipping, hyenas that populated Goldman Sachs and the rest of the Wall Street money-squeezers back in the mid- and late-80s.

Not a one of those reprobates has ever served a minute in jail. Yet guys like Mark Kruzan have to worry that voters may turn on them because of the sins of Wall Street.

We can only hope there is a hell so that Lloyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon, and the rest of their aiders and abettors can join Andrew Breitbart in it.


With Russia’s presidential election three days away and Vladimir Putin looking like a shoo-in, we’re being inundated by news stories and commentary about what a despot the former KGB spook is. Deep thinkers are howling about how un-democratic the supposedly-now-democratic heart of the former Soviet Union is.
No doubt Putin’s goons have had “meetings” with dissenting journalists, his spies have added a dash of “strychnine” to the soup of neighboring pols or fed polonium pellets to expat whistle blowers, and his PR flacks are hard at work manipulating the minds of Russian couch potatoes.

That’s all true. Plus, Putin is such a charismatic tough guy that when he met the notoriously untraveled George W. Bush, this holy land’s president-at-the-time tumbled into a deep man-crush over him.

Putin Porn

Yesterday, though, I caught another side of the story. Former IU writing professor Erlene Stetson and her husband visit us at the Book Corner nearly every day when they’re in town. Her husband was born in Germany and they keep homes in both countries.

The husband — whose name I never catch because we start talking about world events and history immediately, leaving little time for idle chit-chat and social niceties, so let’s call him Mr. Stetson — started ruminating about Putin and Russia.

“It is amazing,” Mr. Stetson said, “how things have changed in Russia.”

He was talking about the Russia of today vis-a-vis that of such sweethearts as Joseph Stalin and his successors.

Mr. Stetson pointed out that even if the Russian press and TV outlets are manipulated and intimidated now and again, they’re still a hundred-fold freer than the old state media apparatus was under the Communist General Secretaries.

He also says the recent mass protests against Putin and Russian voter fraud would never, ever have been tolerated in the Soviet days.

Russia, 2012

Eastern Europeans of a certain generation view the new Russia in a state of near-awe these days, according to Mr. Stetson. Not that they envy Muscovites and the like, just that the relative relaxation of traditional Russian authoritarianism is so jarring in comparison to the bad old days.

Of course, it’s easy to look good when the object of comparison is a tyranny that, under Stalin, murdered tens of millions of people to maintain discipline, advance ideology, and just for the fun of it.

This reminds me of revisionist historians who decry the so-called Fathers of Our Country for owning slaves and treating women as decorative appendages.

White men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson did indeed “own” human beings, including their lovely brides.


Viewed through today’s lens, Washington and Jefferson appear to be monsters.

In their own day, though, the framers of the US Constitution were the most progressive thinkers on the face of the Earth. They eschewed divine authority and legislated nobility out of existence. Yes, the only US citizens that counted were white male land-owners.

But that was a hell of a leap forward from previous social set-ups. We’ve been taking leaps in fits and starts ever since.

As the late, astute Molly Ivins once wrote, “It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America.”


“The Lord” and Money — perhaps this should be our national anthem.

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