Charlie Black, John McCain’s senior adviser, made news earlier this week when Fortune Magazine editor David Whitford reported that Black told him “with startling candor” when asked how a terrorist attack inside the United States would affect the campaign,”Certainly it would be a big advantage to [McCain].”
“He’s very folksy, but he’s tough. Charlie will pat you on the back one moment, stab you in the back the next.”
— An anonymous friend of Charlie Black
Keith Olbermann has been reporting on this story all week on his MSNBC news hour, in part to make that point that if a Democrat had made a similar gaffe, the Beltway punditocracy would have been in high dudgeon, demanding the adviser’s head on a pike and lambasting the candidate for associating himself with such scum.
Longtime political junkies know that Charlie Black was among a handful of angry young rightwingers who remade the Republican Party after the debacle of Richard Nixon’s resignation. Along with Roger Stone, Terry Dolan, Lee Atwater, Karl Rove and George Bush Jr., he is one of the inventors of today’s GOP attack machine, a style of media-driven slash and burn politics that can be traced to the establishment by Black, Stone and Dolan in 1975 of a political action committee that raised millions from conservatives using deceptive direct-mail advertising and spent the money on TV ads that slimed Democrats.
Black, one of the most successful lobbyists and political strategists of the Reagan and Bush eras, has backed his share of losers over the years, too. But even when he has bet on the wrong horse, he has always landed on his feet — which may explain why John McCain needs Charlie Black this year much more than Black needs McCain.
Here are 10 things to know about Charlie Black:
1. He’s a Tar Heel: Charles R. Black Jr. was born on Oct. 11, 1947, in the North Carolina seaport city of Wilmington.
2. A Goldwater Boy: He told the New York Times that he fell in love in politics when he worked on the presidential campaign of Republican Barry Goldwater as a high school student in 1964. Goldwater lost to Pres. Lyndon Johnson in a rout.
3. A Jesse Helms Man: In 1972, at age 25, Black served as political director for the first senatorial campaign of Jesse Helms, the North Carolina crypto-racist and uber-homophobe. In 1996, he told the New York Times, at the beginning of the race “everybody knew he was too conservative, he’d never run for office, and couldn’t win. But it was a good conservative cause, so I went down and worked on his campaign for the last six months. And lo and behold, we did win.”
4. Smear Group Founder: In 1975, with Terry Dolan and Roger Stone, Charlie Black was a founder of the National National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC), which used deceptively written direct mail solicitations to bankroll television ads smearing Democrats in congressional campaigns in the Reagan era.
Roger Stone has to be one of the sleaziest Republican operatives of all time. Earlier this year, he warned Florida Gov. Charlie Crist that in order to be considered as John McCain’s vice president, Crist, a 49-year-old longtime bachelor, would have to get married — incorrectly stating that “bachelors don’t get elected vice president.” In fact, Franklin Pierce’s vice president, William Rufus de Vane King, was a confiirmed bachelor. Known as “Aunt Fancy” and one Alabama’s first two senators, King shared digs in Washington for 25 years with fellow bachelor James Buchanan, Pierce’s successor in the presidency.
Earlier this year, Stone launched an anti-Hillary Clinton organization he called Citizens United Not Timid, which he promoted online by using its acronym. In 1996, he had to resign from a volunteer position on the Dole presidential campaign after an ad in a swingers’ magazine surfaced that featured a photo of Stone and his wife.
Black and Stone moved on from NCPAC soon after it was established, parting ways with Terry Dolan. In 1979 and 1980, NCPAC spent over the then-unheard of figure of $7 million on spurious TV ads against Democrats. Dolan once called NCPAC a ”gut-cutting organization.” The macho rhetoric is notable because Dolan, along with the McCarthyite Roy Cohn and Sen. “Tailgunner” Joe McCarthy himself, was a classic self-hating gay Republican homophobe. While he worked tirelessly to slime liberals and their causes by day, at night Dolan was rumored to frequent leather bars where he picked up rough trade. He died from HIV disease in 1986 at the age of 36. (Additional source: New York Times, May 31, 1981)
5. Fired By Reagan: In 1980, Charlie Black worked as field director for Ronald Reagan’s second presidential campaign. After advising Reagan to ignore the Iowa caucuses — advice that almost cost Reagan the nomination — he was among the senior staff Reagan fired after he lost the New Hampshire primary.
6. Formed Mega-Lobbying Group: Soon after being fired by Reagan, Black and Stone, with Paul Manafort, formed Black, Manafort and Stone, a political consulting firm. The firm’s lobbying clients have included Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Ltd. and the investment firm of Salomon Brothers, as well as foreign politicians, including Mohamed Siad Barre of Somalia, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, and Jonas Savimbi of Angola.
More recently, Black was an early supporter of Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi conman who helped Dick Cheney and his cabal of neocons float false intelligence that laid the groundwork for Bush-Cheney’s disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003. Black’s firm helped open doors for Chalabi’s front group, the Iraqi National Congress (INC), with U.S. corporations, including AT&T, Cummins Engine and Fluor. In 2003, Black said, “Due to our past representation of the INC, we know and have worked with a lot of people who will be in the provisional government. We have a number of clients who are interested in doing business in Iraq.” Black adds that his firm is “strongly considering” opening an office in Baghdad. It is unclear whether Black’s firm ever opened a branch office in Iraq.
7. Lee Atwater: In 1985, Lee Atwater, the man who taught Karl Rove and George Bush Jr. everything they know about political hatchet work and the dark art of manipulating the masses, joined Black’s lobbying firm within months after serving as deputy campaign manager in the 1984 Reagan-Bush campaign. Black and Atwater went way back. In 1973, Atwater managed the campaign of Karl Rove to become president of the College Republicans, defeating his opponent, Terry Dolan, whose campaign had been managed by Charlie Black, Roger Stone and Paul Manafort.
In March 1990, Lee Atwater was serving as chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor (which many people believed developed because of his constant use of a then new-tech cordless telephone). Atwater named Charlie Black as his “mouthpiece” at the RNC while he dealt with his illness. As the disease progressed, Atwater came to see the error of his ways and made rounds of phone calls seeking forgiveness from Democrats and others whose reputations and careers he had destroyed. There has never been any evidence that Black, Rove, Bush Jr. and the others learned anything from Atwater’s end-of-life come-to-Jesus.
8. Ailes on Black: About Black, Roger Ailes, then (as now) a Republican media consultant (only now he masks his party operative role behind the legit-sounding title of president of Fox News), said ”Charlie’s the kind of guy who if he came home and found somebody making out with his wife on a rainy day, he’d break the guy’s umbrella and ask him to leave, then have him killed a year later. [Lee Atwater] would blow the house up.” (New York Times, July 21, 1990)
9. Homophobic Remarks: In March 1993, when the gays in the military issue was in the headlines, Charlie Black and Iran-Contra scandal figure Oliver North made headlines when they chimed in with homophobic remarks at a banquet in Northern Virginia for retired Republican Rep. Rep. Stan Parris. According to the New York Times (March 19, 1993), before Black and North spoke, Virginia state Senator Warren E. Barry began his keynote comments by referring to “‘the Clinton fags-in-the-foxhole’ policy and then joked about how Mr. Parris, when he was in Congress, seemed to be constantly at odds with the officials of the District of Columbia, who are mostly black. He recalled that Mr. Parris had once called a bridge leading from Washington to Virginia ‘the longest bridge in the world because it connects Virginia to Africa.’ He went on, with a laugh, to say Mr. Parris sought to rename the bridge ‘Soul Brothers Causeway.'”
When it was Black’s turn, he joked that Clinton was going to change the words of the Marine Corps hymn to “Don we now our gay apparel.” (ROTFL.) When it was time for Ollie North’s comedic turn, the Times reported that he “included a line about how he had repeatedly tried to place a telephone call to Mr. Clinton but could not get through until he lisped to the operator, ‘Excuse me!'”
10. Friends Like These: In a New York Times profile of Black in February 1996, one anonymous “friend” said of Charlie, “He’s very folksy, but he’s tough. Charlie will pat you on the back one moment, stab you in the back the next.”
John Buckley, an admirer, said, “Charlie would never stab you in the back. You would be gutted from the front. You just wouldn’t know it until you’re dead.”