Saturday, September 5, 2009

My Favorite Quote

If I were asked to guess who the source of my favorite quote would be, I can assure you that my first instinct would not be to say Lee Atwater. As the founding father of the brutal "smashmouth" campaign techniques used by the Republican Party since the 1980s, Atwater epitomized everything that was wrong with the yuppie culture of the Reagan Era - he was proudly and aggressively materialistic, constantly craving to increase his personal power and fame (and always for their own right, rather than as a means to some greater end), sadistic in his competitiveness, self-serving in his worldview (hence his attraction to conservatism), and eager to exploit racial groups, ideological causes, and even human beings in order to advance his goals. One would hope that in a decent society, a man like Lee Atwater would be condemned for the savvy monster he was. Instead he rose to the higher corridors of power, culminating in his orchestration of George H. W. Bush's victory over Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election.

One year after the crowning achievement of his life's work (accomplished at the mere age of 38), Atwater was diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor. The story of his struggle to stay alive can best be found elsewhere; suffice to say that, as it became abundantly clear that he had finally met an opponent who could not be outmaneuvered with spin doctoring, Lee Atwater began to take stock of his life. Not surprisingly, he found it wanting. Quite surprisingly, he was able to brilliantly diagnose just what it was that had caused not only his own moral failings, but the spiritual decay of American civilization as he saw it.

Posted below, in its entirety, is my all-time favorite quote, from the dying lips of the man who denied America a potentially great president (Michael Dukakis) and gave us instead the Bush Dynasty:

My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood. The '80s were about acquiring — acquiring wealth, power, prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth, power, and prestige than most. But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty. What power wouldn't I trade for a little more time with my family? What price wouldn't I pay for an evening with friends? It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth, but it is a truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn on my dime. I don't know who will lead us through the '90s, but they must be made to speak to this spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of the soul.

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