An Appeal to Reason

Paul Greenberg
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Posted: Sep 21, 2016 12:01 AM
An Appeal to Reason

This column first appeared in the Pine Bluff Commercial on September 29, 1968.

We would like to address today's editorial column especially to those readers who might be considering casting their ballot for president of the United States in favor of George Wallace.

We would like them to consider the reason for the appeal of Mr. Wallace.

Surely it cannot be any experience that George Wallace brings to the great issues of war and peace, and to the awesome responsibilities that await the next president of the United States. Far from claiming any background in foreign affairs, he seldom ventures into the subject. When he does, it is in a primitive fashion. Like threatening to bring France back in line by demanding payment of her war debt, a debt that no longer exists. Most of George Wallace's comments about foreign affairs, infrequent as they are, are no better grounded than this one. We cannot believe that the basis for supporting George Wallace is any widespread demand that the leadership of the United States and of the Western alliance in world affairs be entrusted to the wisdom of George C. Wallace.

It is, then, his stands on the numerous and complex domestic problems of these times? Surely not, since not many people really know where George Wallace stands on farm policy, taxation, the economy, labor, the cities. And not many really much care. Doesn't it say something alarming about George Wallace's appeal that so many people should be attracted on such narrow grounds? Is his one issue enough? It is enough for a talented demagogue, perhaps, but for a president of the United States?

Even when George Wallace talks about law-and-order, which is an issue for sure, the phrase turns cheap in his mouth. Because he is the same George Wallace who has pleaded guilty to contempt of court, who defied the supreme law of the land and threatened order, who only last week predicted a revolution if his demands were not met. Does this sound like a champion of law and order?

It might -- if by law and order it meant ignoring the laws one doesn't like and ordering around anybody who gets in one's way. That's the kind of law-and-order that demagogues of both Left and Right always have preached, and preach today.

And there may be times when we are all susceptible to a base appeal. Before that first cup of coffee in the morning, one can almost understand the attraction of George Wallace. Or, if one is black, the attraction of some equal but opposite radical of the Negro race. The most likely explanation for the politics of rancor we are seeing today is that the whole, troubled country is in a bad mood.

Some may find it ironic, or anyway futile, to headline an editorial addressed to Wallace people An Appeal to Reason, since it is not reason but feeling, and often bad feeling at that, that accounts for so much of the Wallace boom. But one of the latest polls shows that something like 20 percent of the American electorate is attracted to George Wallace; and we can't believe that one out of five American voters is immune to reason. Or even to second and better thoughts before November 5 is upon us.

Nor can we believe that so many Americans will, for very long, equate George Wallace with the salvation of America. The idea of George Wallace as the man who is going to save the rule of law in America is grotesque; he is not its savior but a symptom of the defiance that threatens it today.

George Wallace doesn't have a program for the country, only oratory. He says a lot, but what would he do? What could George Wallace do as president against Congress, the courts, the laws already on the books, the rights indelible and still developing in the Constitution, the whole tradition of equal justice before the law?

One of the most revealing, and hopeful, aspects of the Wallace vote is that many of those who plan to cast it don't feel very proud about it. At least not proud enough to argue that George Wallace really ought to be the next president of the United States. Instead, they explain their vote for him as a gesture of protest.

We wonder: Is it right to vote for a man you don't really believe is worthy of the office? Haven't we all been taught that a citizen has a solemn responsibility to cast his vote as if it were the deciding one? Is that principle now outmoded? Is the thrill of protest worth clogging up a venerable and suddenly endangered electoral system? Is this the honorable, the responsible, the patriotic course?

And finally, we wonder if a vote for George Wallace really is a meaningful protest against the unsettling trends that beset this country. Have you noticed how similar the extremes of Left and Right tend to be? George Wallace, for example, keeps talking about those left-wing anarchists who threaten American institutions. But isn't he threatening quite a few himself? Like the Supreme Court and the Electoral College and even the very principle that has been the key to maintaining law and order in this country -- that the Constitution and the laws of the United States shall be the supreme law of the land.

Consider that the crucial fight in American politics is not between the extremes of Left and Right but between the middle -- with its sense of proportion and its tolerance of dissent -- and both extremes, with their mutual intolerance for the rights of those they dislike. And so maybe the best way to stand up for America, for a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, for a political system with justice and liberty for all, might be to reject the extremes. And to stick with still another old American institution that George Wallace threatens -- the two-party system. Won't you consider it?