BRIAN LAMB, HOST: John Brady, that's not the way we normally open up this program. What's that music?
Mr. JOHN BRADY (Author, "Bad Boy: The Life and Politics of Lee Atwater"): That's music from "Red, Hot & Blue," an album that Lee Atwater recorded with B.B. King and an all-star cast of blues musicians in 1989, the year that Lee was chairman of the Republican National Committee, a very unusual thing for a chairman of the Republican National Committee to do. But as you can see from the cover of the book, Lee was not your average Republican. He was sort of a stand-up Republican. He was an Elvis like performer in the Republican arena. And he--in the picture on the cover of the book, dropped true.
This is also a picture from 1989 that appeared in Esquire magazine for a feature called One Leg at a Time, and it was a photograph taken by Lou Salvatore, a--a young photographer who covered a lot of celebrities and included Atwater in the mix because he had become a political celebrity--very unusual. Most Republicans don't have the celebrity or the notoriety that Lee acquired in office. And he was one of a kind.
LAMB: When did he die?
Mr. BRADY: He died in late March of 1991, after battling brain cancer for about 13 months.
LAMB: How old was he?
Mr. BRADY: He was 40 years and one month and three days when he died.
LAMB: Somewhere in your book you say he was the best political campaign manager in history?
Mr. BRADY: I believe he was.
Mr. BRADY: Well, he seemed to bring all of the forces that other campaign managers had together, along with tremendous power of personality. He had--he had a hard-driving spirit and an ability to organize things and to motivate and manage others and to know exactly where he couldn't do something and where he had to hire someone else to do the same thing. He had a remarkable record. He won over 40 races in a rather short political lifetime. You see rather well-known political managers today who perhaps have won eight or 10 races in their careers.
Lee had done a lot more along the way to learn every little aspect of the craft. He didn't just become a strategist after a handful of--of races. He learned how to conduct mail campaigns, how to organize telephone campaigns, how to change the message for a--a candidate who may have been too complicated--how to simplify things, how to streamline things. He had incredible intuition as a campaign manager. He also knew how to step in front of the campaign--in front of the candidate, occasionally, and take the heat to deflect things from the--the candidate.
So he did a lot of things that today, I think, are probably taken for granted in certain quarters. And a lot of people have learned from him. A lot of people imitate him or try to imitate him, and--and they get maybe a little bit of his--his persona. But he was--he was unique. He was distinctive. There was certainly a downside to what he represented as well as an upside. He was controversial, and he died at the peak of his powers.
LAMB: In a moment I want to show a picture that was originally published in Life magazine. But before I do that, I want to ask you about his brother Joe...
Mr. BRADY: Yes.
LAMB: ...because you write about that a lot.
Mr. BRADY: Right. In the early research for this book I came across what I would call the family secret, and it occurred in 1956--in the fall of 1956 when Lee was five years old. And it occurred in the kitchen of the family home in Aiken, South Carolina.
LAMB: By the way, which one in this picture is Joe?
Mr. BRADY: Joe is on the right-hand side, age three, and--although he's about two and a half in this picture. And that is Lee on the left. And this was taken about six months before the--the tragic accident. In the--in the fall of 1956 Lee and his brother, Joe, were at home with their mother, Toddy, and she was waiting for Harvey, her husband, to come home from work. He was an insurance adjuster, and he had always been on time. And on this one particular day he was running late. A--a customer--someone had come by and had gotten his attention; he couldn't seem to shake him, so he was going to be home late. And in order to put some--to keep the kids distracted for a certain period of time, Toddy decided to make doughnuts.
She put a deep-fat fryer on the stove and plugged it in and started to make the--the batter for the doughnuts. When she turned around she saw that little Joe had wandered over toward the stove and climbed up on a basket near the stove to see what was going on. And as she said, `Joe, get away from that, that's hot,' the basket slipped and Joe started to fall. He reached up and he grabbed the cord and, of course, he pulled the--the boiling oil down over himself as he hit the floor. He started to scream, and Lee came running in from the next--from the living room, where he had been watching some television show. And at that moment Harvey came through the front door, and everybody was in a state of panic and there were screams. They put Joe in a blanket and took him to a hospital. Even a--as he was being treated at the hospital, the doctors were--were weeping. It was--it was such a devastating thing to--to be a witness to and to be part of. And that--later that afternoon Joe died.
For the rest of his life Lee Atwater forbade anyone from talking about Joe. In his family, no one spoke of Joe. They internalized everything. And even when there was some slight mention of this event, both Harvey and Toddy would start to cry. So Atwater grew up living with his younger brother, even though he was dead at the age of three, competing with a--a presence. And h--he became a--someone who desperately wanted attention, not that he was lacking in love. I think his--his mother, who was the strongest person in his life, was very, very loving, but there was still a gap here at home. A sister was born later, and it was, I think, a--a good family relationship. There were no--no traumatic events after this. But they could not talk about Joe, and it affected Lee's personality, as--as I've said.
Not until he was on his deathbed could he talk about Joe with his mother, and at that point he was so far gone and had been so devastated by cancer that even though Joe had died in a matter of 16 hours and Lee died over a period of 13 months, he said to his mother, `Wasn't Joe lucky? Wasn't Joe lucky?' He told a few confidants toward the end of his life that he heard Joe's screams every day for his life, even though there was nothing he could do about it except suffer along with it.
LAMB: Here's a photograph of President Reagan, Lee Atwater there in the middle, Strom Thurmond. And who are the two people on either side?
Mr. BRADY: On the left is Harvey Atwater, Lee's father, and on the far right is Toddy Atwater. Harvey died six weeks after Lee's death in--he died in May of 1991. He was battling cancer as well while his son was dying at the age of 40. So Toddy buried in her lifetime her s--her son Joe at the age of three, her son Lee at the age of 40 and her husband. She's a remarkable woman.
LAMB: Here's a photograph that was in Life magazine originally, and it's the last photograph in your book. When was this taken?
Mr. BRADY: This was taken in November of 1990 when Lee was on the ropes with his--in his battle with brain cancer. He was stuck with a brain seizure in March of 1990, and he shielded from the press and from all inquire--inquiries the actual nature of his illness. And he was told when it was diagnosed that he would have perhaps one year to live. He decided on an aggressive form of surgery, interstitial--an interstitial procedure whereby 10 holes were drilled in his head and radium seeds were dropped into the tu--in--into the holes, and in effect they bombed the tumor.
Well, the operation was a success in a manner of speaking. The tumor was bombed, and th--there were enormous amounts of dead brain ti--tissues--br--dead brain cells, but the side effects, as I said, were devastating. He lost the left side of his body in a matter of weeks, and gradually he lost complete control of the left side of his body. He had always had a leg twitch. His--his left leg was always--always twitching. If you were around him, it would be jittering. It was very difficult to--to sit still in his presence. That stopped. But then the twitch moved to his right leg. He increasingly was dependent upon drugs. And the drugs, especially the steroids, had the bloating effect on his appearance, making him look almost Mongoloid. He was in a wheelchair. He had very little self-control. A--a man who would, in his prime, run six hours a day was now in the hands of his handlers.
And that photograph was taken by a remarkable photographer for Life magazine named Lynn Johnson who accompanied Lee for about 10 days total as he went about certain forms of business that he could--could conduct in Washington and went to his hometown in in a last journey to Columbia for a fund-raiser there; his medical bills were considerable. And that showed the--the state of affairs as he stared death in the face for the first time. He never thought that--he--he somehow thought he was going to beat this demon, and even when the doctors told him he had a year to live, he thought that this new procedure would extend it to five or even 10 years. There was some medical optimism there that was just unrealistic.
LAMB: Did you ever meet him?
Mr. BRADY: Never met him.
LAMB: Why did you get interested in doing this story?
Mr. BRADY: I'm not sure. It is really a biz--it's been a bizarre journey for me. In 1992 I was working on another book, a revised edition of my book, "The Craft of Interviewing." And all the books that I've done have been for journalists or for writers. I did "The Craft of Interviewing," I did "Craft of the Screenwriter." And during the fall--or the--during August of 1992 my daughter, Lindy, a teen-age daughter, age 14, was visiting me in Boston. Lindy lives in Cincinnati; I'm a divorced dad. And we were traveling around a little bit, doing some things, and she wanted to go to L.L. Bean in Freeport, Maine.
So we were driving from Boston up to Freeport and, of course, the talk shows on the stations in Maine were filled with discussions of the '92 campaign. And you may remember that it was a terrible campaign for George Bush. He was sputtering. He was off message. He was giving interviews from the backs of golf carts at country clubs. And Bill Clinton was looking formidable. Ross Perot was doing damage in the Republican ranks. And one of the talk show hosts on--on this radio show that we were listening to said, `If Lee Atwater were alive today, George might have a chance.' And my daughter looked at me, she said, `Who was Lee Atwater?'
And I told her what I could remember, which wasn't much--just that he had been this hard-charging campaign manager and that in 1988 he had taken George Bush's campaign from a 17-point deficit after the conventions that summer to an 8-point victory; it was a 25-point swing. I said, `Along the way Atwater disemboweled Michael Dukakis, who was governor of Massachusetts.' And it was a campaign that I had watched slightly. I'm not a very political person. I'm a registered independent. I'm from Massachusetts, which doesn't have very warm feelings toward Republicans or toward Geo--George Bush in light of that campaign.
But I'm also, I--I guess, a--a curious journalistic type. And so I said to Lindy, `When we get back from this trip, why don't we go to the library and get a book about Atwater?' We always read something as a summer project. Well, we went to the library and there was no book about Lee Atwater. And the librarian in this little town where I live, just north of Boston, said that it's very unusual because there are over 3,000 references to Lee Atwater in either other books or in major magazine and newspaper articles, but there is no book about Atwater. And then she looked at me and she said, `There probably should be a book about Atwater.' So I asked for a couple of those articles about Atwater, began reading them and I answered my daughter's question that week. But I--it became an interest in--in--in the--the details of a man's career and his life that were almost obsessive. I--I calls Columbia--I called Columbia, South Carolina, to see if Harvey Atwater was in the phone book, and I ended up talking with Toddy. She said that her husband had died, and she filled me in on a few of the particulars. And we began a series of conversations each morning for about 10 days. I told her, `I'd like to do a book about your son.' She said, `Several have tried, and they've all ended up nowhere.'
So I sent her my credentials, a copy of one of my books, and I began to interview her each morning for about an hour--45 minutes to an hour. I would talk until she started to cry because it was very painful for her to go through some of these details. I recorded the conversation, use--conversations, used them as the beginning of a book proposal that I pulled together.
I called Mary Matalin in Washington. She was in the phone book at the time, not quite as--as famous then as she is these days. And I asked her if I could talk about Lee. She said she hadn't been able to talk about him and that she was reluctant to do so, but she might give me 10 or 15 minutes. About an hour and a half later we were still talking. And it became apparent that people who'd been around Atwater over the years and who had watched him rise and then be struck down by this tumor were still not quite over the shock of his death and what it had done to them and certainly to the Republican Party and to camp--cam--campaigns subsequent to the '88 campaign.
And it's just--it was a fascinating story. It had almost--elements, almost, of a Shakespearean tragedy: a guy who came out of nowhere, who had no--no particular political calling except for what he made--what he made on his own, and who at the age of 29 was in the Reagan White House and at the age of 38 was chairman of the Republican National Committee.
I probably, if--if I were to meet Lee Atwater in person, probably would not be his friend. I don't think that he was particularly likable, that is for journalists. I think if I worked for him I would find him fascinating and maybe hate him and love him at the same time. But as a subject for a biography, he was fascinating. I ended up talking with over--almost 400 people; about 150 are mentioned in the book. Many would only talk to me on the basis of confidentiality or for--off the record. Many of them are in politics or--or are still doing business today.
And I will only say that it took about four years to do this book. I started it in 1992 as that campaign wound down. It's now in--in print after the '96 campaign. Along the way I went through a divorce, and my ex-wife, who's a good sport and she and I are on very good terms--but at one point she said to me as we were heading for the mediator, `You know, if I were to name a source of difficulty for this--this whole thing, it would be Lee Atwater.' It was as though I invited him into my life and into the house, and he just consumed four years of my writing life, certainly.
LAMB: Where is home right now?
Mr. BRADY: Home is Boston--north of Boston.
LAMB: And what do you do for a living?
Mr. BRADY: Well, I'm a magazine consultant. I work with magazines that are having some difficulty. I'm a former magazine editor. I've edited Boston Magazine, Writer's Digest. I'm a founding editor of the Artist's Magazine. And so I have a consulting firm that works along those lines. I also teach. I recently spent a semester at the University of Missouri as the Hearst visiting professor in the journalism department. And I write books.
LAMB: The mention of Mary Matalin brings to mind this picture right down here. What was their relationship?
Mr. BRADY: Well, it started out as a...
LAMB: That's the two of them there. Where? Do you know?
Mr. BRADY: Right. Oh, where? That is at the--the--one of the--the--one of the inaugural balls that Lee put together, and it was called the Festival for Young Americans. And it was, for the most part, a blues celebration, and they are dancing in the aisles while the--the party went on. It was a--the--the relationship began actually during the '88 campaign. And Lee knew Mary, but he knew her mostly through Rich Bond. And Rich Bond was not his friend; they were, in fact, political enemies.
LAMB: Rich Bond went on to be Republican National Committee chairman...
Mr. BRADY: Right. After Atwater.
LAMB: ..after Atwater.
Mr. BRADY: After Atwater's death, actually. Mary came up and was there for sort of a Bond person or a Bondite. And Lee hired her, begrudgingly, to assist with the Iowa campaign in the primaries of the '88 campaign for George Bush. Things were not going well in Iowa, and George Bush ended coming in third in Iowa behind Dole and--I'm--I'm drawing a blank on the...
LAMB: Was it Pat Robertson?
Mr. BRADY: Pat Robertson--came out of nowhere and somehow won that--that primary. And in a moment of--of anger, Lee went out to Iowa on Air Force Two and ceremoniously fired Mary Matalin from her duties as field director. She sort of hid out and ended up in Michigan running another campaign for the Republican cause. She worked her way back into his favor. But they started out as--I won't say enemies, but he did not think much of her.
She worked her way up the Republican structure, and by the time--after the '88 campaign when Lee was putting his staff together, he hired her as his chief of staff. And they were very close. They were--she, in effect, ran the office while Lee was on the road. As you probably know, the--the role of Republican National Committee chairman requires a lot of road work, a lot of fund-raising. And someone has to run the office, and that was Mary's job. They were--they were a--a good team, in that after a while Mary was really on his wavelength; she could anticipate things. She knew what he was thinking, and they worked well together.
LAMB: I want to play for you just a minute of a clip. She appeared on a program here and was asked about this book, and here's what she said about it.
Mr. BRADY: Sure.
Ms. MARY MATALIN (CBS Radio; Talk Show Host): (Excerpt from C-SPAN program) I loathe the expert in the--excerpt in The Washington Post which--not surprising to me, because it was The Washington Post--pulled out the most heinous of the chapters. It's other--otherwise a not very well-done biography of an--of an incredible man. The Washington Post ran a--the--the last weeks of his life when he was--and did not--and the--this is why the book is not that well-done: It--this author did not make it clear--and there's some really tragic and horrible and psychotic events taking place at the end of Lee Atwater's life when he was dying from a brain tumor, and this author did not make it clear that the biological organic effects of a brain tumor, whether--which were--was what was causing this irrational behavior, not that Lee was irrational or those caretakers around him were irrational. But he literally--his brain was literally being disintegrated. And I thought it was ugly for The Washington Post to put only that part in their excerpts, and I think the book is otherwise not a very well-chronicled biography of a--an extraordinary man.
Mr. BRADY: Oh, I beg to disagree. I think that there--there are two parts to Mary's answer. One, The Washington Post expert--excerpt is a condensation of the last chapter. And because The Post did take some rather lurid events and crunch them together using a little bit of seamwork between them, there--there is a--a quality--almost a--a sensational quality to The Washington Post excerpt. And it also had an in-your-face style of design. That is, the pictures and photos that were used by The Washington Post were a little more tabloid like. And...
LAMB: They weren't the ones in the book.
Mr. BRADY: They were--no, they--they were--they took one photo from the book--or from the photographer who provided a photo, and they just used, like, a tight cropping of the face of--of Brooke Vosberg. And there just was a--more of a tabloid style to The Washington Post because that's a weekly magazine. I think the--the book itself, the biography, shows clearly the effects of medic--of medication and of the--and--and the gradual decline and the physical debilitation of this man. The--the book, I think I'll--I'll--I'll stand on it--on its own merits. I don't think that Mary made that c--that point clear, that--that the book does point out, for example, that Lee had spent, by the end of his first year, 160 days in the hospital. And I chronicle all of the side effects that the--that the medicine--medication clearly had.
LAMB: Do you have any sense of why she s--feels so strongly about the book, though? I mean, did you know this?
Mr. BRADY: No, I don't. No. I--I can't imagine. She was a source for--for some information in the book. But, of course, I spoke, as I said, with hundreds of people, and I--I'll stand by the book. So far I've--I've not had anyone tell me that I got anything wrong in it.
LAMB: Let me give you an--a reaction of people that live in this town because I want to get to this part of the book...
Mr. BRADY: Sure.
LAMB: ...when they opened up their Washington Post on that Sunday morning a couple weeks ago. And I've heard this from more than one person: They looked at it and they said, `I--I don't want to read any more about Lee Atwater,' because his story had been told, and they began to read it and then they began to say, `I--could you believe that, and how painful it was?' And then we've--I--I found a lot more people, you know, had read it than you would expect to because of--his death was a number of years ago.
Mr. BRADY: Yeah.
LAMB: Are you surprised at that, that somebody would have that reaction to that Washington Post excerpt?
Mr. BRADY: The reaction being--I...
LAMB: Being a strong reaction, that they couldn't believe what they were reading.
Mr. BRADY: They couldn't believe what they were reading. Well...
LAMB: Not that they couldn't believe that you were right. They just couldn't believe how painful it was.
Mr. BRADY: Well, it's...
LAMB: I mean, I--I guess I'm asking for you to characterize that last 50 pages. I mean, was it hard to write?
Mr. BRADY: I--I will tell you this. The first draft of this book was 1,600 pages long; that's half a million words. When the publisher saw that, he said, `There's no way we can do this--this book.' I said, `How about two or three volumes on Lee Atwater?' And I was joking, of course. He said, `Well,' my edit--editor said, `If we can get this down to 400 or 500 pages, we'll have a book.' So I crunched half a million words down to about 140,000 or 150,000 words. Everything that is in the book is--as Hemingway once said, is like the tip of the iceberg. There's a lot more that isn't in the book so that everything in the book is, I think, accurate and--and carefully documented. And it is a--I think, a pretty sound piece of journalism. The events are often shocking.
What Lee did, how he did things, the backstage story--these are things that have never been told because Lee controlled the message. Mary was part of the business of controlling the message. And--and I will say that I spoke with a lot of sources that were still spinning the same old Lee Atwater tales. `Oh, Lee--Lee read two books a week.' `Oh, Lee this.' `Oh, Lee that.' And I would listen politely, almost naively, which is interviewers' technique, and you get more information that way. And then you go back and you--you check for the accuracy of this source, as opposed to other people who were in the room and who really--who knew what was really going on. That is, Lee wasn't reading books; Lee was getting summary of books fed to him by his research staff, and he would get an index card summarizing exactly what the book was about. And he could memorize what the gist of the story was, could go into a conversation. And he had tremendous conversational skills, tremendous interpersonal skills. And you would swear that he had read the book. He hadn't. Didn't have to. Didn't have time to do it. And as he got bigger and bigger, it became more apparent that Lee was dependent upon others to do things in his spirit and in his manner. That created some problems, too.
LAMB: Let me show you three pictures you've seen--the audience probably hasn't--of--it looks like the same scene. Let's look at the first one. And tell us who these people are.
Mr. BRADY: OK. This is Lee Atwater with Brooke Vosberg, and it's part of the series of photographs taken by Lynn Johnson for the Life magazine piece. And this was not a published photograph. I saw the entire file at Life magazine, nearly 2,000 photographs. And this is a picture of--of Lee with Sally, his wife, in the back the limousine.
LAMB: The first one was a limousine, too, wasn't it?
Mr. BRADY: Yeah. These are all taken in the same limo, I believe.
LAMB: This is his wife. That's Sally.
Mr. BRADY: Right.
LAMB: And then who's this?
Mr. BRADY: And this is Linda Reed O'Meara and Lee, and this is in front of the White House, which you can see in the background there; same limo, a day of driving around Washington. Linda Reed O'Meara was an old friend of Lee's who had--who he knew from South Carolina who had helped him on and off over the years in various political functions and who spent the last six months of her life in the Atwater home cooking, helping Lee out, reading the Bible to him, being a personal assistant and helping ease the pain as he--as he dwindled and died.
LAMB: Let's go back to the picture of Brooke Vosberg because she plays a role in the last 50 pages that, I think--that's what everybody's talking about around after this was published.
Mr. BRADY: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Who is she and what was her role in the last year of his life?
Mr. BRADY: Brooke Vosberg is a--is--was Lee's personal assistant. She came to that job just before--or at--at the beginning of his--his term as chairman of the Republican National Committee. Previous to that, she'd been in the White House. She had been Donald Regan's personal assistant. She had assisted Regan in his year of writing his book. And she'd worked for various other politicians in the--on the Washington scene.
And she became a--an intimate of--of Lee's so much so that he pretty much turned a lot of his personal life over to her in the last year of his life. And there was a certain amount of confusion in the household as a result of that, and it's--it's something that I--I chronicle in the--in the context of that last year.
LAMB: But what kind of--I mean, explain what you're talking about, confusion in the household.
Mr. BRADY: Well, Lee had, of course, a longstanding marriage with Sally and they had three children, three little girls. In fact, Sally was pregnant with their third child when Lee was struck with a--a brain seizure in March of 1990. And the--the marriage, while it was longstanding, was not--not without some difficulties along the way.
The--the marriage was a difficult one in that Lee was married, I'd say, to his job more than to his--his wife and to his family. He was not around for a lot of things that dads are usually around for. Sally was very tolerant. I think that she at one point acknowledged to a friend that she perhaps was--was not strong enough--was not strong enough with Lee and that he--he got away with--with a lot of misbehavior.
The--the--what I--I'm talking about in the last year has to do with the fact that Lee took his office and--after the seizure, he had to move it into his home. His home became not only a home, but a base of operations for everything that he was doing; therefore, his staff--his personal staff took some precedence over his family in his home. And you have this upstairs, downstairs kind of arrangement.
And he told Sally that--that Brooke was going to be central to this. He also told his--his mother and his father that Brooke was very important to him and that that was the way things were to be. And, by and large, they went along with that arrangement.
LAMB: And then you, in your book, you talk about Vosberg--who--it--where is she now, by they way?
Mr. BRADY: I'm--I'm not able to talk about my sources or their whereabouts.
LAMB: She still in Washington?
Mr. BRADY: No.
LAMB: She's not.
Mr. BRADY: No, she's not.
LAMB: And--and did you talk to her? I mean, do you quote her at all?
Mr. BRADY: Brooke is a source for the book, yes. She's doing very well
LAMB: But it was the first time it was ever published that she was very much in that house every day and she would be upstairs with Lee and it--the wife would be downstairs. I mean, that--that's what--I guess what Mary Matalin was talking about, is that this was the first time that was ever published.
Mr. BRADY: It--it--I--I think that there are a lot of details that are
i--in--that are part of the true story of Lee's life as opposed to this--the
spun version, which was manufactured by Mary, among others.
LAMB: And Sally, Lee's wife, was pregnant at the time during this...
Mr. BRADY: Right.
LAMB: ...his last year of his life?
Mr. BRADY: Right.
LAMB: And ha--I--I think I wrote the--the date down; had a child on April the 16th...
Mr. BRADY: Middle of April, yeah.
Mr. BRADY: '91.
Mr. BRADY: '91.
LAMB: He died in '91?
Mr. BRADY: Excuse me, 1990. You're correct.
LAMB: Yeah, 1990. why did you feel it necessary to tell the whole personal side of this?
Mr. BRADY: It's actually the personal side of Lee's life that interests me. That is--that's the human drama. I think that the political story, which is told as well, is impossible to separate from the personal story because his personality was such a part of his career.
What he was is large--in large measure a reflection of who he was. And it seems that the way that he conducted his life, the way that he used people is very--very much a part of who Lee Atwater ultimately is. I felt that that was my responsibility: to stay with the story, for better and for worse.
LAMB: You--you write on Page 282, `There was great tenderness and intimacy in their relationship,' talking about Brooke.
Mr. BRADY: Yeah.
LAMB: `Brooke bathed Lee, cared for him like a loving spouse, but no one could determine whether they were, in fact, lovers. An aide came into the bedroom one night and found Lee and Brooke fast asleep but saw an innocence to the scene. He tip-toed out and got the third degree from Toddy the next day.' Toddy was in the house?
Mr. BRADY: Yes.
LAMB: Where was she?
Mr. BRADY: That varied. People were sleeping often, you know,
where--wherever they--they might be able to--to find a spot. I'm not sure
that Toddy was in the house that specific night. She may have come over in
the morning from another location.
LAMB: But she was in the house during this whole situation?
Mr. BRADY: Toddy was in and out of the house on a regular basis, yes.
LAMB: But you say during this period that he found God.
Mr. BRADY: Yes.
LAMB: In what way and how did you find that out and how--I mean, that was part of the Life magazine story, too, I guess.
Mr. BRADY: Lee found God, but here, again, there is a certain quality to this religious conversion that I would say is--is subject to a different kind of evaluation. I don't think that he was a born-again Christian. I think that he arrived at a point where he was physically struck down and he was looking for various things that he could use in his battle against this enemy, against this cancer.
He saw religion as a possibility and he traveled that road. He spoke with Billy Graham. He spoke with a Catholic priest; he was baptized by a Catholic priest. And he spoke with a lot of non-denominational religious leaders. He had Buddhist monks visit.
There is a--a quality of desperation in this religious search. It has, to me, the--more the aura of someone who is looking for religion not out of fervor, but out of fear. I also came across some tape recordings that he made on his death bed of his prayers.
LAMB: Where'd you find those, by the way?
Mr. BRADY: I cannot tell you. I have--I have a lot of things that were given to me by individuals, and--and they're--they're for my use, but not for attribution.
LAMB: And--and--but you tell us in the book that he recorded them by himself in his--on his death bed.
Mr. BRADY: He had a little micro-cassette recorder. And Lee had another habit during his life; he would often record people who were unaware of the fact that they were being recorded. He would conduct--give interviews to journalists and they would have their recorders, but he would have a recorder somewhere else to make a copy of it so that he could check their quotes, get back to them later if they had misquoted him. And he would have t--evidence.
I found some long interviews that he did. He recorded a lot of the conversations he had with the writer who did the Life magazine piece towards the end of Lee's life. A lot of these things came my way in the process of making my rounds with various sources. And I felt that I got as close to Lee Atwater's psyche as you can get in listening to these private recordings, where there's no one but Lee talking to himself. And these were recordings that often had other things on them as well, some household business and things that you might put on a tape recorder if you used it as a little bit of a memory device, because he couldn't write. And he was--he was somewhat incapacitated. He couldn't even take notes.
These prayers are all pretty much of the quality that, `Dear God, if you will help me through this, if you will make me better, if you will give me a victory in this, I will be the best foot soldier you could ever want in your army.' There's usually a quid pro quo in Lee's prayers, and I think that he was trying to make a deal with God, much as you'd make a deal with someone in order to get a political victory. I think that was Lee's nature. I think that was the essence of Lee to the end: trying to manipulate, trying to manage people, trying to have his way with them, trying to serve some inner need, something that was within himself, that was almost insatiable.
So I found myself dealing with someone who was, in some ways, not particularly admirable. But there was a price that he paid for it as well. In the public arena he became someone who was known as a--a trigger man, someone who could pull the trigger, a cold-blooded political killer; therefore--and he--he often encouraged this. He liked to take credit for things that were bad, campaigns that were nasty, mean, had some elements of dirty tricks in them. He liked to take credit for that because it was good for business. Being a bad boy in politics, well, there's a market for that. A lot of politicians like that in their managers.
The downside of it was that Lee was easy to accuse of things. And he would often--he couldn't deny the things, even though he perhaps had nothing to do with them because he lacked a certain amount of credibility. This occurred most tellingly after the '88 election. During the 1988 election perhaps the most famous ad was the so-called `Willie Horton ad.'
Well, there are two Willie Horton ads. There is an ad that was done by the Republican National Committee--excuse me, by the Bush-Quayle campaign. It's an ad that does not mention Willie Horton's name. It's an ad that does not use Willie Horton's image. It's called the revolving door. And in the ad there are prisoners going through this revolving door out in a desertlike setting. And there's commentary on the furlough--the prison furlough system in Massachusetts and how Governor Michael Dukakis was allowing convicted murderers who were not eligible for parole--these murderers were allowed out on the street on weekend furloughs unsupervised.
And as a result of that Willie Horton, a murderer who was in a Massachusetts prison in Concord, escaped to Maryland where he terrorized a--a couple. He tied them up, he raped the woman twice, he slashed the stomach of the guy 22 times, threatening to kill them at any moment. And eventually he was captured by the Maryland police. But what the--what this case did was it showed how questionable the the Dukakis style of crime control in Massachusetts was.
And Atwater decided to use this case and to help create this ad. But the ad did not mention Willie Horton by name and did not use his--his image. It showed prisoners going through this revolving door. I've read articles even by pretty well-known journalists in which they say most of the prisoners going through this door are black and it's a racist ad. Well, it's not. Of the 19 prisoners who go through the revolving door, 16 are white, two are black, one is what might be called Mexican or Mexican-American.
The problem is that there was another ad which was done by an independent group, the National Security Political Action Committee.
LAMB: Floyd Brown?
Mr. BRADY: Floyd Brown. And Larry McCarthy was the guy who did the actual ad. This group came out with an ad at about the same time. We're talking about late September and early October of 1988. And this featured an image of Michael Dukakis and an image of Willie Horton and mentions this case that I've just outlined. And this was for a group called Americans for Bush, a very ambiguous effort to raise money for the independent expenditure group, and it created a lot--a lot of confusion.
The confusion was so complete that people to this day blame Lee Atwater for the so-called Willie Horton ad. It was mentioned in--in--I've seen it in a review of my book that misunderstood completely who did what. And when Atwater died in 1991 when his obituary was the lead item on the three network shows, two of the three, CBS and ABC, got it wrong. As an image on screen while they were talking about Lee Atwater, they ran excerpts from the Willie Horton ad that Lee had nothing to do with.
I've gone through all the files, all of the correspondence between this NSPAC group and the Bush-Quayle campaign. There's no evidence to indicate any connection between the two. There's only suspicion. And there's--and because you have Lee Atwater there, there's a tendency to think the worst. Susan Estrich took advantage of this. In December of '88 after the campaign was over at Harvard, there's...
LAMB: She used to--she ran the Dukakis campaign?
Mr. BRADY: Two--Susan--Dukakis--ran the Dukakis campaign. Some would say that she probably did a very poor job of running that campaign, could not keep the candidate on message. And actually the Democrats ran a racist ad in California. It's an ad that features a Mexican-American murderer, a man who killed his wife in front of their two children. This image--the image of this murderer and George Bush are brought together in an ad that ran in California. And if there ever was a racist ad, it is that in a state that is often defined by its racial content.
But in the aftermath of the '88 campaign during which racism was not a charge, Susan Estrich began to suggest that in using Willie Horton as an example of the Dukakis ineptitude, Lee Atwater had created a racist campaign. And she qualified it, to some degree, in discussions. But later in March--or rather it was in May of--of 1989, The Washington Post magazine ran a cover story called Willie Horton and Me, by Susan Estrich, in which she laid out an even stronger case for it being a racist campaign; equating the crime issue with--with a--with--saying that it was a racist issue.
People equate crime with blacks. That was her logic. I'm not sure that that would play. I don't think that that's a fair statement to say that when people think of crime, they think of blacks. I don't think that that's an accurate assessment of the American intelligence. And yet it reinforced this idea that Atwater and Willie Horton and racism had a lot to do with that campaign. That campaign was a lot of things, but it--the Willie Horton issue was distorted.
LAMB: Now that was in '88 and he ran that campaign...
Mr. BRADY: Yes.
LAMB: ...and they won, and George Bush became president in '89.
Mr. BRADY: Yes.
LAMB: When was he struck--first day, when did he know the first time that he had a brain tumor?
Mr. BRADY: On March 6th of 1990 he had a seizure what--during a fund-raiser for Phil Gramm in Washington. And it occurred in the morning. He'd been feeling ill for several days, but it came out of nowhere. And he had a limp for about six months in his left leg, but they attributed it to his--his heavy schedule of travel and--and normal fatigue, plus the fact that he ran six miles a day.
And he was--he was struck with a seizure in March of 1990. He knew at the end of the next day that it was a--a high-grade tumor. And by the end of that month he was talking with medical specialists who were estimating that he had a year or two to live. Then he decided to go for this interstitial procedure that I mentioned earlier.
LAMB: And they--you actually--somewhere you say that you got some record--all the records at George Washington Hospital?
Mr. BRADY: Yes.
LAMB: Did they just give them o--over to you?
Mr. BRADY: No. No, I had to get permission from Sally and fr--of course, from all the--from Sally basically to--to look at all the--the medical records.
LAMB: How cooperative was Sally with this book and what does she think of it? Do you know?
Mr. BRADY: Sally was very cooperative. And I admire her quite a bit for her openness and candor. I think this is probably a painful read for Sally in part. There are things here that obviously a biographer learns that--that people in the story do not know. And that's probably true for many people who knew Lee Atwater. He was a very complex man who kept everybody in a little box. And they only knew so much about him; enough to be useful for him, enough to serve purpose. But they did not get to know the whole man. And I think that it was John Singer Sargent, the painter, who said that, `Every time I complete a portrait, I make an enemy.'
LAMB: Where's Sally today?
Mr. BRADY: Sally's in Washington raising three children and is somewhat active in Republican political circles.
LAMB: And at the very end of their life together, when he died--by the way, where was he when he died?
Mr. BRADY: He died here at George Washington Hospital.
LAMB: And you say that George--at least Ronald Reagan and his wife visited the hospital, right, in the end?
Mr. BRADY: Yeah. Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan were the last visitors actually. James Baker came in that same night. Maybe he--I think he came in after the--the Reagans.
LAMB: What was Sally and Lee's relationship at the end?
Mr. BRADY: At the end they were together at the finish line. They had resolved a lot of their--their problem areas and...
LAMB: You say there was a time that Lee Atwater wanted to go through a marriage ceremony with Brooke Vosberg there at the hospital.
Mr. BRADY: They had a little wedding, a little marriage ceremony in the chapel at the hospital, yeah--somewhat symbolic. And but eventually Lee separated himself from Brooke and she was not at the funeral.
LAMB: In the back you have this picture of the grave site. Where is this, by the way?
Mr. BRADY: That's in Columbia, South Carolina.
LAMB: And you can't see it here in the photograph, but we've transferred it to a picture so that people on the screen can see it. And that's what it looks like there and--1951 to '91, you say he was just a little bit over 40. And you say, `Teacher, leader, husband, father, son,' and then it goes into the Republican creed. And we can put that on the screen so people can read...
Mr. BRADY: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...exactly what it says. where'd you find the Republican creed? Is this his?
Mr. BRADY: The Republican creed is a statement of purpose that is used at certain Republican functions. And the decision to put it on his gravestone was Sally's.
LAMB: Let me read it so folks who are trying to read and listen to you can do one thing at a time.
`I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon. I prefer the challenges of life to guaranteed security, the thrill of fulfillment to the state calm of utopia. I will never cower before any master, save my God.'
And who wrote that? Do you know?
Mr. BRADY: I do not know the author. But the first two lines, `I do not choose to be a common man. I choose to be an uncommon man,' are--are certainly very characteristic of Lee Atwater's credo. It was something he learned in his first summer of politics in August of 1971 as a college student. He was in the office of Strom Thurmond as an intern. And he did mostly, oh, clerical work. He drove the senator around a little bit and then he, Lee was a terrible driver, so I can imagine what those trips must have been.
He did not have good coordination skills. Lee was so--somewhat klutzy. And for most of their married life, Sally did the driving. He said he needed the time to focus on politics. But he had a conversation with Strom Thurmond toward the end of that summer and he came back for another internship the following year. Strom Thurmond was actually a runner during these early years and Lee picked up that habit from him.
He--Strom Thurmond told Lee that, `You have a choice in this world. You can be a common man or you can be an uncommon man.' And Lee took that to heart. At one point Lee had been just a hard-drinking, college guy. His weight went up to 200 pounds one summer. He started running six miles a day. He lost weight. He ca--he was always 155 pounds. He was very disciplined, very orderly. And he could resist many, many things.
He stopped drinking; he was once a pretty very heavy drinker. He stopped smoking, except one day a week and that was Friday. He smoked a pack of cigarettes each Friday. And he used that as an example of self-control. People who smoke cigarettes know how difficult it is to stop smoking cigarettes.
LAMB: Did he really read "The Prince" by Machiavelli 21 times?
Mr. BRADY: No.
LAMB: Did he tell people he did?
Mr. BRADY: Well, the number changed. It was a little bit like Joseph McCarthy's Communists in the--in the government. The number was 10, it was 11, it was 20, 21 and I've heard 23.
LAMB: What's this? And this is--the dots without the lines drawn are--are available earlier in the book. And what's this about?
Mr. BRADY: Yeah. This is that little challenge I think we all have seen, connecting nine dots with four lines without lifting your hand from the paper. This has--this is the solution. And in order to connect the nine dots with four lines and not remove your hand from the pen from the paper, you have to go outside the dots. And that was another metaphor that Atwater used.
Thinking, he said, `When you think of a solution, you have to go outside the dots. You can't stay within the dots to sometimes solve a problem or a puzzle.' And that's how he approached any political puzzle you could throw at him.
LAMB: You said earlier you wrote 500,000 words.
Mr. BRADY: Yes, sir.
LAMB: What are you going to do with the 140,000--no, I guess it would be 260,000 that didn't make it in here--or was it more than that?
Mr. BRADY: I'll...
LAMB: All those that--or how many did you end up in the book with?
Mr. BRADY: It was about 150,000 words.
LAMB: So what--what are you going to do with the other 350,000?
Mr. BRADY: They're in the--the Atwater archives right now at--at my--at my residence. I'm not sure. It's so...
LAMB: Is there something you're doing?
Mr. BRADY: I don't know. There might be a longer treatise someday. It's also filled with tapes--I listened to 18 hours of his recording sessions with B.B. King, Chuck Jackson, Billy Preston and all these great blues artists. It's interesting thing to listen to the--that is, the tape recording of Lee and these blues artists, because he begins as someone just strumming along with B.B. King, trying to learn the tunes. And there's this engaging quality between the two of them.
But after a couple of hours you hear Lee telling the engineer how to handle things. And then by the second session Lee's pretty much telling everybody how to perform their music. He did not--he did not like to be anything less than a leader. And he was a quick learner and could be quite formidable.
LAMB: Before we run out of time, I want to ask you this, then I'll get back to some more of the substance. But on the back, I don't know that I've ever seen this before, you say in order to get the index, you got to go to the World Wide Web. And we've actually plugged into the World Wide Web to show what it looks like, and there it is on the screen right there and I've got a hard copy here. Why didn't the publisher want to put your index in?
Mr. BRADY: Well, the index, while it's--it gives you ease of access to the book, is a little bit at odds with what I was trying to do with this story. I wanted this story to be told as a whole. I wanted--I tried to create a certain narrative flow to it that made it move from page one to the end. Books that I studied in order to put this together included a biography of Elvis Presley, "Last Train to Memphis," by Peter Guralnick or the book by Connie Bruck on Steve Ross, "Master of the Game," and also, "Indecent Exposure," that wonderful biography of David Begelman--the study of David Begelman by David McClintick.
These are great biographies, I think, of contemporary figures that are told with--in the narrative way so that there's a story. And a lot of the books of Washington figures have indexes that make them seem more scholarly and more pedantic than I think that this book is. So there's that.
Secondly, the publisher decided after studying other books that a lot of people in Washington buy a book by reading it backwards. They look at the index, see if they are in the book or someone they know is in the book and then make a purchasing decision. Richard Ben Cramer's book, "What It Takes," has no index. And it was packaged for the same purpose.
Why should there be an index when you should buy the whole thing without wondering who's in it? The paperback version will have an index, I am told. But the goal here is to get someone interested in the book and the index is there if you want to follow through on the instructions at the back end.
LAMB: There are a couple restaurants in this town called Red Hot & Blue...
Mr. BRADY: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...and then in the back--and we--we played some of the music going in, we'll play some of it going out, but here's a--is that the--is that the CD cover?
Mr. BRADY: That's the album cover.
LAMB: Album cover?
Mr. BRADY: And the album, of course, has been replaced by a CD that is now sold--it--the album is rather hard to find. It's a collector's item actually because it has B.B. King and Chuck Thomas and...
LAMB: Chuck Jackson.
Mr. BRADY: Chuck Jackson and David...
LAMB: And Sam Moore...
Mr. BRADY: Sam Moore.
LAMB: ...of Sam and Dave...
Mr. BRADY: You got it.
LAMB: ...and lots of other folks. Yeah.
Mr. BRADY: And Lee Atwater singing "Bad Boy," among other things. He was, as I said earlier, unique in so many ways. One thing that he brought to the--the job of chairman of the Republican National Committee was a sense of showmanship that I don't think will ever be seen again. He put together blues festivals, fund-raisers, he carried a guitar that Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones gave him. On this occasion, this is the inaugural gala that he put together.
He was on stage with George Bush kind of mugging along pretending to be a bluesman. And that Stratocaster that Ron Wood gave Atwater was like a traveling companion for the next year that he was in office. He carried it everywhere. Sad to say, that Stratocaster has disappeared. It's one of the things that was lost in the confusion of his final year. And all the traffic that came and went in his home, which had been turned into an office and then finally into a--a hospital room.
LAMB: We're going to close this--again, we don't normally do this, but we're going to close it with some more from this album. "Bad Boy" is a song--did he write it?
Mr. BRADY: No, he didn't. But he customized the lyrics that he used to fit his unique political career. He added his own touch to it. He was a bad boy from Washington, DC.
LAMB: Well, here's the--as we listen to the music, here's the cover of the book and our guest has been John Brady and the name of the book is "Bad Boy: The Life and Politics of Lee Atwater."
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