George Wallace: American Populist


By Stephan Lesher, Published in 1994

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In this substantial biography, written with Wallace’s cooperation, Lesher’s portrayal of the four-term Alabama governor as “the dominant and most important issue maker of his time,” shifting national campaign rhetoric to the right, is convincing, if overstated. The author, a former Newsweek correspondent, traces the origins and development of Wallace’s powers of hucksterism and his need for an audience, laying out his “extraordinary racial schizophrenia”: because of his political ambition, Wallace allowed his populist support for bills that often benefited blacks to be overshadowed by his racist political positioning. Thus Lesher recounts the twists and turns of Wallace’s many campaigns, including his epochal third-party presidential bid in 1968 and his defense of segregation. Lesher points out that Wallace’s populism, unlike that of Reaganite Republicans, took on the rich, and tells how Wallace, crippled in a 1972 assassination attempt, recovered a humanity that led him to make public apologies for his racism.

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