Thursday, November 18, 2010

Demagoguery, Then and Now

Comparisons of Sarah Palin and George Wallace are not new. The similarities exist, and so it's natural for journalists to look backward. But reading Hunter S. Thompson's description of Wallace, at the height of his powers, makes the similarity even more apparent and frightening:

[T]he typical Wallace voter, especially in the North and Midwest, was far less committed to Wallace himself than to his thundering, gut-level appeal to rise up and smash all the "pointy-headed" bureaucrats in Washington" who'd been fucking them over for so long.

The root of the Wallace magic was a cynical, showbiz instinct for knowing exactly which issues would whip a hall full of beer-drinking factory workers into a frenzy--and then doing exactly that, by howling down from the podium that he had an instant, overnight cure for all their worst afflictions: Taxes? Nigras? Army worms killing the turnip crop? Whatever it was, Wallace assured his supporters that the solution was actually real simple, and that the only reason they had any hassle with the government at all was because those greedy bloodsuckers in Washington didn't want the problems solved, so they wouldn't be put out of work.

The ugly truth is that Wallace had never even bothered to understand the problems--much less come up with any honest solutions--but "the Fighting Little Judge" has never lost much sleep from guilt feelings about his personal credibility gap.

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