It was the summer of 1982, and I was in Jasper, Ala., a gritty mining community northwest of Birmingham.
George Wallace was on the campaign stump, working successfully to become Alabama's governor for the fourth time. He was paralyzed -- wheelchair-bound thanks to Arthur Bremer's failed assassination attempt a decade earlier.
As Wallace was about to storm the stage in the heart of Wallace Country, Tammy Wynette was warming up the working-class crowd. She was on her fifth marriage, but it didn’t stop her from belting out her signature hit -- “Stand by Your Man.”
Ah, what a moment.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I was a college senior doing my internship in the Wallace campaign. But at that moment, I became a political skeptic.
Here was Wallace -- the man who stood in the schoolhouse door to keep blacks out of the University of Alabama -- running a campaign that would not be successful without overwhelming black support.
And here was this marriage-impaired country songbird lending her voice to Wallace’s political resurrection.
You try to forget the hypocrisy of it all, but you can’t.
As I watch the current Republican presidential primary play out, I’ve been thinking about Wallace.
A friend recently summed up what has been gnawing at me.
“You know, Gingrich reminds me of George Wallace,” he said.
But it is not the 1982 version -- what I call the remorseful Wallace -- that Newt Gingrich resembles.
He’s the younger Wallace. I am not accusing him of being the racist Wallace. My comparison is more about style.
But he clearly resembles the angry Wallace -- the banty-rooster politician who assaulted the “liberal media,” federal judges, intellectuals and anyone else who got in his way.
Gingrich -- a career politician in his own right -- is waging such a populist run.
It hit home for me Thursday night when Gingrich took apart CNN anchor John King during a debate in South Carolina. Gingrich was in full control as he slashed King for having the audacity to question him about a marital issue broached by one of Gingrich’s ex-wives.
Gingrich knew debate rules prohibit a moderator from fighting back. He knew the audience would feed off an attack of the perceived liberal media.
Wallace did the same time and again from the courthouse steps in Clayton, Ala., to Meet the Press.
As you watch Gingrich swing through Florida on his way back to Georgia for the March 6 primary, listen to what he’s saying.
And if you’re old enough, close your eyes. You would swear he’s channeling George Wallace.
Too bad Tammy Wynette is not around. She could sing “Stand by Your Man.”
Chuck Williams, metro editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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