On May 15, 1972, I was a nine-year-old Little Leaguer determined to become the next Johnny Bench. As I headed home from the playground after baseball practice, our neighbor, Willie Kines, waved me over to his car. I remember thinking it odd that he would be picking me up, given that I lived only three blocks away. As I got in the first thing he said to me was, “Don’t worry, your mother is going to be all right.” Well, of course she was; I mean, why shouldn’t she be?

Then, he told me why. My mother, Dora, had been shot that afternoon and was now in Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland. Fear and confusion seized me until several hours later when I was taken to her room, where she personally reassured me that despite having a broken leg—which required her to spend 29 weeks in a cast—she would be fine.

Events that day, 25 years ago, occurred while I was at school and later at baseball practice. My mother, who was a campaign volunteer for Democratic presidential contender and then-Alabama Governor George C. Wallace, had attended the candidate’s last campaign rally before the next day’s primary. Wallace first spoke in Wheaton then traveled to a Laurel shopping center for another appearance. After a 50-minute speech, he descended the podium stairs—whereupon my mother greeted him with a hug and a kiss on the cheek—and headed toward the crowd to shake hands.

One member of the crowd waiting anxiously to meet Wallace was a 21-year-old unemployed janitor from Milwaukee named Arthur Bremer. As Wallace greeted his enthusiastic supporters, Bremer yelled at the candidate that he wanted to shake hands with him. When Wallace turned toward the voice, Bremer emptied his snub-nose .38 revolver into Wallace’s body.

Wallace was hit in the abdomen, arm, and rib cage. The bullet to the ribs hit his spine and left him paralyzed from the waist down for life. In addition to the governor, the wounded included Willace’s bodyguard, Alabama State Trooper E.G. Dothard, Secret Service Agent Nicholas Zarvos, and my mother. Prince George’s County police officers literally saved Bremer’s life by wrestling him away from the suddenly murderous crowd. Upon being taken to jail, Bremer made one remark heard much too often from society’s scum today. “Do you think they’ll want to buy my book?” he queried.

May 15, 1997, marked the 25th anniversary of the Wallace shooting, which few probably remembered. Nevertheless, I recall it now for a distinctly personal reason. Last October, my mother passed away. Her breast cancer, first diagnosed in January 1995, had metastasized to her abdomen, leaving her barely able to eat solid foods as she neared death. To the end, my mother remained an unrepentant daughter from the “Heart of Dixie,” despite having lived in the District of Columbia’s suburbs for roughly 40 years. She cherished all things that reminded her of the place she always referred to as “home”—the numerous mementos of her Savior which exhibited her Pentecostal faith, her love of country and gospel music, and her shameless partisanship for Alabama’s pride and joy, the Crimson Tide football team. And except for family pictures, the most proudly and prominently displayed visual reminders of “home” were two pictures: one of George Wallace, personally autographed to her, and a post-shooting one of Wallace with our family.

Like the candidate she once worked to elect, she was a fighter and never lost faith in, or backpedaled from, those things she believed to be right. About three weeks after she died, America reelected Bill Clinton, simultaneously sending Bob Dole “home” as well—to the pasture of punditry and tacky appearances in commercials and sitcoms. Once the campaign ended, I was reminded more than ever of one of George Wallace’s truisms; there really isn’t “a dime’s worth of difference” between Democrats and Republicans, no matter how much our national media want us to believe there is.

Wallace drove this point home in 1968, when he ran a strong campaign as the American Independent Party candidate. He never ceased to refer to the two major political parties as “Tweedledee and Tweedledum.” He scared one academic so bad, according to Stephan Lesher, a Newsweek reporter and Wallace biographer, that the pathetic wretch even suggested Lyndon Johnson and Nelson Rockefeller form a coalition ticket to save America from Wallace.

In his book on Wallace, historian Dan Carter pointed out how close Wallace came in 1968 to his goal of forcing the House of Representatives to decide the election. Wallace solidly dominated the Deep South, except for North Carolina and Tennessee, which. Carter writes, “slipped away to Nixon by statistically insignificant margins.” But, he adds, “had Wallace carried either of these states, a shift of less than one percent of the vote in New Jersey or Ohio from Nixon to Humphrey would have thrown the election into the House of Representatives.”

Carter believes it was this election which prompted Richard Nixon to develop his “Southern strategy.” At the time, Carter writes, political reporters claimed Nixon’s “strategy” was simply a continuation of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 appeal to cantankerous Southern whites—a charge Nixon called “bulls–t.” Still, according to Carter, Nixon ran as a hawk on Vietnam, supported limited government and economic growth, and discreetly played the race card by citing urban unrest as a reason for more law and order. Nixon survived, barely, and came quite close to losing because he underestimated the vibrant appeal of Wallace’s platform and failed to capture the governor’s genuine faith in the ideas he appropriated.

Wallace returned in 1972, running under the campaign slogan of “Send Them a Message,” “them” being the “exotic few” who taxed and bullied the middle class into supporting their Utopian, welfare-state schemes. Incorrigible as ever, the former Golden Gloves champ ran a staunchly populist platform based on fighting busing, crime, taxes, welfare to deadbeats—foreign and domestic—and what he considered the gravest enemy to states’ rights and the American working man, Big Government.

By May 1972, Wallace had shocked “them” by whipping “their” candidates, most prominently Senator Hubert Humphrey and Senator George McGovern, in the primaries. Prior to the shooting, Wallace had racked up wins in Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, and Tennessee—while running strong seconds in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The day after he was shot, he added victories in Maryland and Michigan. Lesher points out that by mid-May, Wallace had totaled more than 3.3 million votes—”700,000 more than Humphrey and over a million more than McGovern.” Thus, the man most hated by Big Government and Big Media, as well as by many in his own party, was emerging as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination—and was shaping up as the biggest threat to Richard Nixon.

Arthur Bremer, however, changed all of that in an instant. At the convention, Wallace was still courted by the remaining candidates, who wanted his delegates’ support. But Wallace was effectively finished. Although he ran again in 1976—my mother ran as one of his Maryland delegates that year—his handicap left him with little chance in national politics. He did manage, however, to serve another two terms as Alabama’s governor after his wounding.

Nixon set the tone, Lesher argues, for every successful presidential candidate since 1968. Their success was due to coopting Wallace’s populist principles—a point Wallace understood well and trumpeted, even after he left politics. “Indeed, every successful presidential campaign from 1968 to 1992 (1996 may be an exception given the absolute paucity of original ideas and Dole’s unwillingness to address legitimate issues) was founded on popular issues and rhetoric first identified and articulated by Wallace,” Lesher writes. He adds:

He can by no means be dismissed as a transient rabble-rouser who hollered “nigger” and then faded away as the nation returned to the mainstream. The reality is that Wallace became the mainstream, moving national campaign rhetoric (and, to a large extent, presidential governance) sharply to the right for the rest of the twentieth century and perhaps beyond. His brilliant 1972 campaign slogan was Send Them a Message—and he became the lightning rod for Americans to shout their “message” . . . loudly enough to be heard for the first time in decades. . . . Accepting George Wallace as America’s political guru of the final quarter of the twentieth century requires a validation of his assertions. But most of those who set the nation’s intellectual and informational agenda have been unwilling even to consider that possibility.

Unfortunately for Middle America, which has been duped by pseudo-populist charlatans of both parties for the past three decades, Wallace’s prescience has meant that, with few exceptions, the two major political parties are now nearly indistinguishable on issues and equally unresponsive to Middle America’s needs, as illustrated by this past election. The likeliest cause for this is the manifest lack of what is easily the most touted—but emptiest—word in American politics: courage.

Wallace always let people know where he was coming from, even if, as Lesher writes, he could never escape his segregationist past. But surely Newt Gingrich—and certainly Pat Buchanan—can sympathize with what critics were saying about Wallace and his supporters back in 1968. “It would become an article of faith among national journalists, Northern Democrats, and liberal Republicans that anyone criticizing growing federal government involvement in housing and business, ballooning welfare costs, or increasing crime rates was, by definition, a closet racist,” Lesher writes.

My mother and her family were cotton sharecroppers in south Alabama when she was a child. During adulthood, she worked as a grocery store clerk and later became a bartender after her divorce, holding both jobs to make ends meet. George Wallace knew she was part of his following, which also included “a taxi driver, a little businessman, or a beautician, or a barber, or a farmer.” Pat Buchanan understands them as well, but these folks are well beyond the understanding of the compassion fascists, multiculturalists, and one-worlders who control Washington as the millennium approaches.

George Wallace, for one, knew exactly how to handle the managerial class—the “pointy-headed pseudo-intellectual” who “can’t park his bicycle straight” and the “briefcase-totin’ bearded bureaucrat”—that tyrannizes Middle America. He would have thrown them all into the Potomac.