My most admired politician is not Dan Quayle neither is it Robert Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, George McGovern or Ron Paul. My singular political hero is Lee Atwater who died of brain cancer in 1991.
You may or may not remember Atwater, he was an advisor to Ronald Reagan, assistant campaign manager in Reagan's reelection bid in 1984 and the head of the George H.W. Bush presidential win in 1988. He is infamously known as a "dirty tricks" political operative having masterminded the Willie Horton ads against Michael Dukakis in 1988. He also was responsible for earlier attack ads involving real and fabricated leaks against democratic candidates that alleged mental illness, homosexuality and marital infidelity.
So, why do I like the guy?
After his terminal diagnosis he found religion, which I don't much care about but he also apologized to the politicians he had run his vicious campaigns against. In particular he cited his "naked cruelty" in the 1988 campaign against Dukakis.
One would hope that up and coming political attack dogs would take a moment to consider the history of such questionable behavior and see the light earlier than did Lee Atwater. Perhaps then we would have fewer creatures like Karl Rove polluting the political environment with their lies and distortions.
One final note on Atwater and his disease driven conversion. Several close friends and political operatives have written that he did not really come to regret his earlier actions but he was in fact "spinning the story until the very end." This part of the story completes the circle for me because "political hero" really is an oxymoron.