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A Long Shadow

June 2024
1min read

George Wallace American Populist

by Stephan Lesher, AddisonWesley, 587 pages.

In the late 1960s George Wallace toured the country calling for death to draft dodgers and a return to unfettered States’ Rights, whipping up working-class anger. Stephan Lesher covered him for Newsweek, and in this fascinating biography he describes how the infamoi firebrand from Alabama became one of the most influential national political figures of his time. His five million votes made Wallace the spoiler in the 1968 presidential election, but his greatest importance is measured in the number of outsider candidates since who’ve adopted much of his program in softer tones. Lesher contends that every successful presidential candidate from Nixon to Clinton has borrowed from Wallace’s playbook: Jimmy Carter’s anti-Establishment run for the White House in 1976, for instance, or Reagan’s call for downsizing and local control. The disaffection that powered Ross Perot’s expensive third-party candidacy was identified by the Wallace operation some twenty-five years before, when the governor tapped “a new, xenophobic political consensus among Americans who chauvinistically venerated their nation while fearing and resenting the institutions governing it.”

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