George Wallace and the New Left
A study in mirror images
The new-leftist hecklers at George Wallace's speeches, the furious fights that break out between Wallace's supporters and detractors, and the often vicious denunciations slung back and forth in the news, have persuaded many that there must be some fundamental conflict-in-philosophy between the Alabama American Independent and the worshippers of Che Guevara. The conviction that Wallace is the Right, and SDS the Left, and that never the twain shall meet, has been nourished by the press, which has taken violent disagreement between the two groups on specific issues as a sign of a deep rift all around.
The schema is deceptively simple, and eminently tailored to certain political uses. Wallace is the far right, Nixon moderate right, Humphrey moderate left, and the Faceless Horde far left. Beautiful. Nixon, accordingly, is really a moderate Wallaceite, ("We wouldn't want to say that Richard Nixon is a racist or anything, God knows, he isn't, but…but…he appeals to that Wallace element, doesn't he?") And the Faceless Horde really isn't so bad, since it's just bringing out the "hypocrisy of liberals." One of the ways in which it accomplishes this noble purpose, it is said, is through its ringing opposition to George Wallace and the Right.
The contemporary American press, supposed enemy of superstition and naivete, has let itself be led down the idyllic Wallace-to-New-Left path like lambs to the proverbial slaughter. When confronted with the abundant evidence of basic similarities—of philosophical cohabitation—of the two "extremes," the press becomes an oddly Puritan witness, which will neither see, hear, nor report the liaison to the innocent.
To visualize the common bond of the Wallace movement and the New Left, one might imagine two murderous Underworld figures facing each other in a lethal showdown. Although they may be in desperate dispute over some specific issue (such as who gets the loot, and who controls the gang), they agree on violence as the standard method of settling disagreements.
Despite the sloppy attempts of the press to project Wallace as a "rightist" (REVOLT OF THE RIGHT: WALLACE AND LEMAY, October 18, cover of Time), the label will not stick. That Wallace is no rightist (one who advocates capitalism and freedom), can easily be documented. As he himself has said, "I'm not against spending (other, people's) money—I'm not against spending for roads and bridges, harbors and docks, hospitals and schools," "…At heart," said Representative John M. Ashbrook (R Ohio), recently, "(Wallace) is a populist with strong tendencies in the direction of the collectivist welfare state."
What apparently confuses the press and much of his own following is Wallace's repeated equation of freedom with "local control" For instance, a little old lady who attended his Boston campaign speech is reported to have said that she supported him because of his stand on "states' rights…the principle the Founding Fathers built this country on."
But, as Wallace has demonstrated in Alabama, "states' rights" are not the same as individual rights. Alabama's blatant infringements of rights—such as segregation in public schools and hospitals, six percent sales-tax, and unusually extensive applications of "eminent domain"—make clear that Wallace conceives of federal power not primarily as a threat to the security of individual citizens, but as a challenge to his regional hegemony.
The affinity between this "rightist" and the New Left is apparent in the appeal of both to racism, "local control," anti-intellectualism the common man, and brute force. Wallace's racism runs rampant through his past speeches ("Segregation today— Segregation tomorrow—and Segregation forever"—inaugural address, January 14, 1963)—and past actions (his "stand in the schoolhouse door" at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa in 1963 to prevent the admission of two Negroes.) It also permeates the position of the New Left, as exemplified in its active support of "blacks only" dormitories (Northwestern University), "pro-black" prejudice in admissions policies, "black history" courses, seminars in tribal African culture, and its support of "black power" and "black pride" in general.
Wallace's pleas for "local control" mirror with startling precision the New Left's drive for "decentralization." Both seem directed—a pain against the Establishment—and both seek, not to destroy it, but to fragment it, to parcel out its power to local school boards or local workers' committees. A hill may be smaller than a mountain, but it's easier to climb; better king of the hill, than king of nothing at all.
With respect to anti-intellectualism, if it were not for the accents It would be difficult to tell the American Independents and the New leftists apart. "I'm not," says Wallace, "like all those pseudoliberals who think that their mind is the greatest thing on earth." "Action now, talk later," echoes the New Left, thoughtfully.
The synchronism between Wallace's appeal to the "common man," and the New Left's solicitation of "working class" support hardly requires elaboration. Both are paeans to society's pharisaic indolent-of-spirit.
Both Wallace and the New Left offer, as the answer to every social problem, the indiscriminate use of brute force. Are you disturbed by looting and rioting? Mow down a few unarmed looters; that'll solve the problem. Are you "uptight" about the Masters of War? Storm the headquarters of the local university; that'll solve that problem. In their mutual dream-world, all the "anarchists" that Wallace failed to run down in his automobile, would be out seizing the nearest available property. Both groups could vent their passions, build their armies, and destroy each other, without the obstructions of civilization. Perhaps it is this vision which accounts for the grudgingly approving look and tone of the new leftist who says, "Well, Wallace may be a bastard, but he's better than those others. At least he doesn't fool around!"
Political commentators often use Wallace's nationalism and the Left's internationalism as evidence of their political antagonism. But instead of proving their antagonism, Wallace's flag-waving and the New Left's flag-burning suggest deep ideological brotherhood.
Wallace's patriotism represents a blind ("America, right or wrong") collectivist concept of the nation, just as the New Left's love of collectivist doctrine drives it to support the most totalitarian nations on earth. In this as in almost every other instance of apparent hostility between Wallace and the New Left, close examination reveals amazing affinity instead. Like the pistons in an internal combustion engine which, although they fire at different times and move at different angles, meet at the crankshaft to drive a car, Wallace and the New Left would, despite their surface differences, head us towards a single political dead-end: dictatorship.
Note: I would like to thank William Van Doren, editor of the Diode at Johns Hopkins University, for extensive assistance in writing this article. However, I am solely responsible for its content. Our regular readers will remember our September recommendation of Mr. Van Doren's publication. They will recall that we said of the Diode: "(It) analyses current events and campus issues with consistently good logic and clarity, relating the issues to the underlying principles and premises in an exceptionally intelligent and perceptive manner." The three issues published since that recommendation have not altered our opinion. Of particular significance, is Mr. Van Boren's analysis of a recent political event in Boston, last month's Young Americans for Freedom take-over of the Resistance (a New Left organization) office, which appeared under "news-and-comment" in the Diode's November issue. He calls forth some rather harrowing historical parallels from the era of the Weimar Republic to round out an extremely well-argued condemnation of the YAF trespass. Samples of that issue are available for 25¢ each. A one year subscription of 10 issues is $2. The Diode, Box 2130, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md. 21218.