Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story

"Extraordinary"

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story Review


Almost 150 years after the Civil War, the Confederate Flag still stands as America's most controversial symbol. To most citizens, it represents a shameful era in our country's early history, when men could own, sell, and kill other men based on their skin color. But to those who still fly the flag today, the Stars and Bars represent a sustained rebellion against elitist outsiders who would humiliate and dominate proud white southerners. This is but a part of America's complicated legacy of race.

Lee Atwater, a smart but poor white kid from South Carolina, exploited this legacy in a way that would quite literally change the world. Stefan Forbes' electrifying documentary Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story captures the revelation that elections are more easily won by punching below the belt. Forbes forms this narrative with a mélange of original interviews and archival footage of the politicos, journalists, and friends who either saw or felt Atwater's chops to the groin.

Atwater wasn't born a Republican, but it provided him the best opportunity for his career advancement. He cared little about the issues. He loved two things: blues music and winning. So starting with the College Republicans, to which he got Karl Rove elected president via skullduggery, Atwater defined the zero-sum politics that still curses America.

Atwater learned early in his career that the media creates its own reality. In one of Boogie Man's most revealing moments, his mentor (and eventual back-stabbing victim) Ed Rollins recounts how Atwater told the National Journal his record as a campaign manager was 26-0. When Rollins called him on the lie, Atwater replied, "Now it's my record. It's in the National Journal."

The Boogie Man's career peaked in 1988, as campaign manager for George Herbert Walker Bush. Bush had a rough road ahead of him; he bore few of his predecessor Ronald Reagan's folksy charms, plus he was saddled with the baggage of America's most insidious political scandal since Watergate. How could the scion of New England aristocracy possibly win over Joe Sixpack, versus the son-of-penniless-immigrants Mike Dukakis?

With ruthless ambition and an open relationship with the truth, Atwater transformed Dukakis into an unpatriotic softie. He planted stories and produced ads about how the Massachusetts governor voted against the Pledge of Allegiance and national defense. (How a state governor could have voted against national defense escaped even Dukakis himself.)

But the clincher in '88 was overtly exploiting whites' fears of black criminals. In a classic TV spot, the furloughed murderer Willie Horton became the symbol of extreme Massachusetts liberalism, and the star of the campaign. (Eight years earlier, Atwater had helped Ronald Reagan win his southern primaries by inventing the term "welfare queen" as a more modern replacement for the N-word.)

Bush won in an improbable landslide. Atwater was rewarded with the chairmanship of the RNC (unheard-of for a 37-year-old poor kid), and he formed the nexus between Bush's son and Karl Rove that would ruin world peace and prosperity 20 years hence.

Boogie Man is no hit piece. Forbes spends as much time with those who supported Atwater - including Tucker Eskew, the beyond-colorful Rollins, and some of his friends in the blues business - as those who fell victim to his spin and lies.

What Boogie Man makes most obvious is that cancer may have killed Lee Atwater, but his legacy lives on like the Confederate Flag. Just watch 10 minutes of Fox News or MSNBC, and you'll see his seeds still bearing their rotten fruit.



Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story

Facts and Figures

Run time: 86 mins

In Theaters: Friday 26th September 2008

Distributed by: InterPositive Media

Production compaines: InterPositive Media

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Fresh: 27 Rotten: 2

IMDB: 7.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Stefan Forbes

Producer: Stefan Forbes, Noland Walker

Contactmusic


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