REVIEWSrnReal Plain Speakingrnby Clyde WilsonrnGeorge Wallace: American Populistrnby Stephan LesherrnReading, Massachusetts:rnAddison-Wesley;rn320 pp., $29.95rnIn a healthy society people live with arnwide time frame. They know andrnmake use of the experience of their forebears.rnThey build houses and plant treesrnthat will be enjoyed by their descendants.rnAmong the many things whichrnour Founding Fathers took for grantedrnbut which we have lost was a social fabricrnin which people knew the character,rnat least the public character, of theirrnleaders in depth. Public esteem was a rewardrnof real, remembered services to therncommonwealth, not of media celebrityrnor promises of payoffs.rnThus, in a healthy society, peoplernwould know that George Bush, runningrnfor the Senate in Texas in 1964, claimedrnto oppose the Civil Rights Act of thatrnyear, although this stance belied his constantrnsupport for “civil rights” bills bothrnbefore and after. People would have understoodrnthat Bush was in the habit of lyingrnon the hustings to obtain office, andrnno one over the age of 13 would have believedrnhim in 1988 when he promisedrnnot to raise taxes and to bear down onrnthugs. Had we anything but the shortestrnmemory, we would have known thatrnhe would likely do the opposite—raiserntaxes and persecute policemen for violatingrnthe “rights” of thugs.rnOf course, it was not in the interest ofrncither his opponents or the media tornpoint out the lie, because as mutualrnmembers of the ruling class they wererneven more committed than Bush was tornraising taxes and coddling criminals. Indeed,rnthe)’ attacked Bush not for makingrnfalse promises to the American peoplernbut for dividing the common front ofrnthe Establishment by even discussingrnforbidden policy alternatives. The peoplernhad little choice but to take the lesserrnevil. Routinely, we accept the mostrnpreposterous claims by public figures becausernthe frame of reference of our publicrndiscourse is so short.rnThe other side of the unconsciousnessrnof history is the neglect of posterity:rnAmerican public discourse, which suffersrnfrom terminal infantilism, is carriedrnon as if posterity did not exist. It doesrnnot matter if we pile up an unpayablerndebt (which our descendants will havernevery moral right and practical incentivernto repudiate), nor do we even considerrnwhether it will really be a goodrnthing if those descendants have to live inrna society dominated by Mexicans andrnGhinese.rnThese reflections are prompted by thernfirst full-scale biography of George Wallace,rnas well as by a recognition of howrncompletely Wallace has dropped fromrnpublic consciousness. The biography is arngood one, not sympathetic but balancedrnand knowledgeable. Lesher is a liberal—rnbut also an experienced and honest reporterrnwho has covered Wallace closelyrnfor much of the past 35 years. He hasrnnot relied solely on his own observations,rnhowever, but has done solid historicalrnresearch as well, making his book as thoroughrna biography as we are likely to have.rnNot the least of its virtues is a documented,rnblow-by-blow account of therncivil rights upheavals of the 1960’s, arnsubject that so far has been recountedrnonly as mythology and that badly needsrndetached historical examination. Thernauthor has a feel for Wallace’s Scotch-rnIrish forebears, Reconstruction, and thernbeleaguered rural life of the South inrnthe late 19th and early 20th centuries.rnHe is therefore in a position to appreciaternthe roots of American populism andrnGeorge Wallace himself as its representative.rnLesher makes large and, 1 believe,rnwell-founded claims for Wallace’s importance.rn”Wallace is the most influentialrnloser in modern American politics.rn. .. Every President from Nixon to Clintonrnbased his successful campaign onrnsome key elements from the Wallace politicalrncanon. , . . From 1968 to 1992 nornperson was elected President withoutrnclearly embracing and articulatingrn(though not necessarily implementing)rnthe Wallace issues.” Accepting this argumentrnrequires an effective memory ofrnthe tepidness of Republican discoursernprior to the feisty little governor of Alabama’srndashing foray into the northernrnprimaries in 1964. In that day, no Republicanrnwould touch the “populist” issuesrnof crime, busing, welfare, “familyrnvalues”—since doing so was regarded asrntreasonous consorting with the enemy.rn(Wallace’s other issues, including thernover-concentration of wealth and thernexcessive power of foreign capital, arernjust beginning to be addressed.)rnPrior to Wallace’s dramatic appearance,rnso far as the national publicrndiscourse was concerned, the racialrnproblems of the United States were confinedrnto the South. The public understandingrnwas limited to a view of noblernDemocratic and Republican statesmenrnpassing legislation intended to force thernSouth into rising to the impeccable standardrnof social justice enjoyed by the restrnof the country. Wallace’s campaigns,rnalong with the Watts riots, revealed thatrnhypocrisy. It was the Wallace Democratsrnwho made Ronald Reagan President andrnwho sent George Bush back to Texas.rnLest we forget the importance of GeorgernWallace at the apex of his career (andrnstudents entering college now were bornrnafter he was shot and after the McGovernrncampaign), it is necessary to recallrnsome figures from the Democraticrnprimaries in 1972: Michigan—Wallacern51 percent, McGovern 27 percent,rnHumphrey 16 percent; Maryland—Wallacern39 percent, Humphrey 27 percent,rnMcGovern 22 percent.rnWallace’s impact is not surprising. Itrntakes a heroic and intelligent outsiderrnto change the public discourse and bringrnfocus to real issues, always. Ruling-classrnpoliticians say only what it is alreadyrnknown to be safe to say. Such is “therngenius of American politics.” The interestrnof Establishment politicians is neverrnin the truth, never in effective policy; itrnis, first, in maintaining their own power,rnand, second, in looking after the undiscussedrninterests of those who keep thernbrown bags full of cash.rnNot only liberals but also Republicanrnconservatives conducted one of the nastiestrncampaigns in American historyrnagainst Wallace. He was, for instance,rnthe victim of Nixon’s dirty tricks as muchrnas or more than those of McGovern. Irnwell remember how National Reviewrnpulled out all the stops to prevent defectionrnfrom Republicans to Wallace. Wallacernwas a conservative only on social issues,rnwrote that perspicative journal; hernwas a populist and socialist on eco-rnJULY 1994/31rnrnrn