You start out in 1954 by saying, “N—–, n—–, n—–.” By 1968 you can’t say “n—–”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N—–, n—–.”
The full audio of Republican operative and Karl Rove mentor Lee Atwater’s infamous 1981 interview has been obtained and published by The Nation.
If you just want to hear the line itself, check out this YouTube video.
From the comments: It is instructive to consider Romney’s conference call yesterday against the backdrop of Atwater’s comments.