Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Wallace was a Trailblazer

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Or so wrote David Broder in 1978.

The late former Alabama governor is perhaps most widely regarded – or should I write “most infamous” – for his “stand in the schoolhouse door,” and formerly, his openly racist attitudes earlier in his political career.

However, there was a man whom no one knew, about whom little has been written… until now.

It is a man whose heart was broken and rendered, whose attitudes changed, who literally became a Christian, repented of his evil ways, apologized for his wrong-doings, and sought the forgiveness of the people he most deeply offended, and formerly hated.

Who was that man?

George Corley Wallace.

The selfsame man. Not the very same man, but the selfsame man. For when Wallace had his Christian conversion experience, from that time forward, he was never the same man.

Governor George Wallace: The Man You Never Knew

Governor George Wallace: The Man You Never Knew

Similarly to F.DR.’s unparalleled three-term presidency, Governor Wallace remains the only governor in Alabama history to ever have been elected four times. Unlike F.D.R., however, he did not serve consecutive terms.

When he ran for the governorship of Alabama, he campaigned in a wheelchair, having earlier been crippled by Arthur Bremer, a would-be assassin’s five bullets, while campaigning in Maryland in 1972.

There has never been another man like him, and likely never will be. In some way, he remains an enigma, stigmatized by the “liberal Eastern press and television” he formerly demonized.

We are quick to remember the bad side of Wallace, as if that was all there was to the man. We never remember that once he experienced a genuine epiphany, he became a changed man. Unexpectedly looking death in the eye will change a man.

His son, George Wallace, Jr., has recently written a book about his father – Governor George Wallace: The Man You Never Knew – and of it, he wrote, “I realized as time passed that there was so much people did not know about my father and I wanted them to know. His life in many ways was a modern day Shakespearean drama as he experienced joy, pain, suffering, regrets, redemption, reconciliation, forgiveness and ultimately salvation. Of all his victories his greatest was his relationship with our Lord. During his last years as I would visit with him late into the evenings, he would tell me, “Son, I used to think politics was the most important thing in the world, but it is not. It is our relationship with the Lord.” He got it right, and he was at peace with it all.

“He is one of the most fascinating politicians of our time, and his skills were unrivaled. Many national columnists and authors have written that he had more influence on shaping the conservative national political landscape than any other public figure in the 20th Century. He was proud of this recognition, because he knew that the success he had nationally was simply people all across our country responding positively to the philosophy and values of the people from whence he came; the people of  Alabama.”

And yet, in some ways, perhaps many ways, the Southern Strategy promulgated by Richard Nixon, has taken hold, and has reversed many advances made. Rather than progress, there has been regress. And it’s not just in the South. It’s anathema in the GOP, having been continuously promoted and pandered by Republicans and their destructive radical right wing element, the TEA Party.

Money is why many people flocked to Herman Cain, who promoted himself as a viable political candidate, despite his painfully obvious lack of experience in any public office, and his blithely ignorant off-the-cuff remarks about national issues and policy. But it wasn’t just the money. He was a black businessman with money who ostensibly fell in line with GOP ideals, and was used by them to begin the anti-Obama race. In other words, he was as used as a subway token. It was as if the GOP merely allowed Cain as a mouthpiece – who still has absolutely no political experience – to parade their ideals for them, as if the mere presence of a black man would demonstrate and somehow prove that their ideals are neither racist nor elitist.

Here is an absolute irony, and it concerns the so-called “elite mainstream media.” In 1996, a Republican – then-South Dakota Senator Larry Pressler – almost single-handedly wrote the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which was also promoted and supported by then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a Republican from Georgia. Among other things, it was essentially a broadcasting deregulation bill, which took great coercing from numerous parties to accede to its terms, which were cast as reforms. In the time since the bill was passed into law – having been signed by then-President Clinton – the FCC has researched and found that rather than encourage competition, it has had the exact opposite effect, and has led to consolidation of media power and ultimately led toward monopolistic practice.

So, here now, Republicans blame the “elite mainstream media” which they created.

Returning, however, to the idea that Wallace was a trailblazer, David Broder wrote that “Wallace became the first full-time, non-stop, self-sufficient, perpetual presidential candidate, showing others the advantage of having a campaign always in readiness. Before Watergate tainted the big-money contributions, he showed how to sustain a movement on thousands of small gifts. His slogan – “Send Them a Message” – capsulized the anti-establishment rhetoric of an alienated age. It was borrowed – but not improved on – by others aiming to advance their own ideological and personal causes. He was, in all these ways and more, a trailblazer.”

The article in its entirety may be read as published in The Tuscaloosa News, May 21, 1978.


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