11/22/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Atwater's Ghost Alive and Well in GOP

Just months before Lee Atwater struggled to take his last breaths, he made a plea for forgiveness. The forgiveness he was looking for needed to come from the decent people whose lives he had ruined in his effort to become known as the king of political filth. But it was also clear in the last words he wrote that Atwater was looking for forgiveness for the damage he knew he had done to the American political process.

Atwater was responsible for writing a GOP playbook that is a step-by-step guide for turning Americans against Americans. He created a science for dividing voters on issues of race, religion, class economics, education levels, and even regional peculiarities.

In a sense, Atwater gave an Alabama football fan permission to immediately distrust and dislike a UCLA football fan because the UCLA fan was from the "left coast" or maybe because NASCAR racing, deer hunting, and tractor pulls were not things that a "big city" west coaster could relate to. There was no issue too insignificant for Atwater's GOP playbook where it came to turning one American against the other for political gain.

A brain tumor ended Atwater's career, but not before he developed several well-trained disciples who also mastered the art of political division.

Karl Rove was a prodigy who trained under Atwater. In fact, Atwater took a special interest in Rove because of the ugly instincts Rove showed early in his career. One of the dozens of Rove's early political filth scams was when he hand-delivered a special invitational flyer to hundreds of homeless people inviting them to his opponent's political fund-raising rally. In that flyer, he told those mostly minority, mostly penniless, no doubt hungry folks that they would be given free food, drinks and entertainment when they showed up at the rally. Can't you just see the joy in Rove's empty eyes when his sick little scheme actually worked?

When Rove found his new home on Fox TV, he temporarily turned filth politics over to Steve Schmidt, who in just a matter of months has transformed McCain's "straight talk" express into a train wreck. Schmidt ignored an Atwater fundamental. He failed to go negative soon enough. Developing anger and division takes time and patience, and Schmidt should have known that. For years, his job description was to dig up or manufacture ugly stories about people who opposed the political policies of "W."

Schmidt learned from masters like Atwater and Rove who created rancor-filled narratives about Willie Horton, welfare queens and any other wedge topic that could rally Americans around fear and hate. But GOP insiders complain that Schmidt lacks the instincts and smarts to be a truly great political filth peddler. Time will tell.

So when you get your automated robocall that suggests to you that Obama hates America and Obama is secretly a terrorist plant trained by terrorist Bill Ayers, you will in a sense be not only hearing Rove and Schmidt speaking to you. You will be listening to the voice of a dead man who is still perpetuating hate politics even from the grave... a man who is no doubt, still unforgiven.