Lee Atwater (February 27, 1951 – March 29, 1991) was an American political consultant and Republican party strategist. He was an advisor of 40th U.S. President Ronald Reagan, the campaign manager for 41st U.S. President George H. W. Bush, and Chairman of the Republican National Committee.
- You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can't say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
- Interview with Alexander P. Lamis (8 July 1981), as quoted in The Two-Party South (1984) by Alexander P. Lamis; originally published as an interview with an anonymous insider, Atwater was not revealed to be the person interviewed until the 1990 edition; also quoted in "Impossible, Ridiculous, Repugnant" by Bob Herbert in The New York Times (6 October 2005)
- 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.
- Interview in Life (January 1991)