Monthly Archives: January 2015

Myths About George Wallace

As dead segregationists go, former Alabama Governor and presidential candidate, George Wallace, has been getting a lot of attention lately. Wallace was a primary antagonist in the excellent movie Selma, and his son, George Wallace, Jr., wrote an article complaining that the movie portrayed his father unfairly. There are a lot of myths out there about Wallace promoted both by well intentioned people who trusted him when he told a redemption narrative later on and by people who have never understood or wanted to understand why civil rights activists protested segregation so strongly. Some people who rightly condemn Wallace have nonetheless subscribed to myths about him that associate Wallace far too closely with modern day libertarians and Tea Partiers. Hence, I thought it would be worth doing a blog post tackling some misconceptions about the man.

Myth #1: Wallace did not take racist policy positions early in his career and only became a segregationist after losing to segregationist candidate, John Patterson, in 1958.
Truth: There is an unfortunate tendency to overstate the number of white Southern politicians in the Jim Crow era who favored civil rights. Claude Pepper and Huey Long are prime example of segregationists who have often been portrayed as Southern accented Hubert Humphpreys because they were a bit less racist than the Theodore Bilbos and James Eastlands and didn’t go out of their way to disqualify blacks from every New Deal program. George Wallace early in his political career falls into the same category. It is certainly true that George Wallace was willing to make some concessions to African Americans and that Governor John Patterson was more extreme than Wallace in the 1958 Alabama Democratic Gubernatorial primary. But to claim that Wallace supported civil rights in this era is false. In 1948, he represented Alabama as a delegate at the Democratic Party National Convention and opposed President Harry Truman’s civil rights proposals. While he may have spoken respectfully to black lawyers as a judge in the 1950s, he also issued an injunction to prevent segregation signs at railroad terminals from being removed. In the 1958 Democratic Party primaries, he promised to maintain segregation. Wallace did become more bombastic in his rhetoric on segregation in the early 1960s, but the changes were much more style than substance. And even then, he continued his old practice of defending racist policies while putting forth a genteel veneer on race (he once played the “some of my best friends” card) and sending the message that he would give blacks concessions within the confines of “separate but equal.” In the 1960s, he boasted of his work to make sure that when black children in Alabama went to segregated schools, the schools were of excellent material quality. When people promote the idea that Wallace started out as a civil rights supporter, they underestimate his insidiousness and his consistent attempts to sanctimoniously justify unjust treatment of African Americans.

Myth #2: Wallace eventually repented of his past racism.
Truth: It is true that after the Civil Rights Movement, Wallace eventually apologized for his past support for segregation and presented himself as a liberal on race. However, the “repentant” Wallace still had a certain self justifying attitude toward his old statements on civil rights. According to PBS, Wallace said not long before his death, “I don’t hate blacks. The day I said ‘segregation forever,’ I never said a thing that would upset a black person unless it was segregation. I never made fun of ’em about inequality and all that kind of stuff. But my vehemence was against the federal government folks. I didn’t make people get mad against black people. I made ’em get mad against the courts.” Does this sound like a man who truly understood how horribly immoral his past support for segregation was? Or does it sound like a man who still wouldn’t acknowledge why people were so outraged by his statements and actions in the 1960s? The claim that, “I never said a thing that would upset a black person unless it was segregation” is a bit like claiming to have never said something that would upset a Jewish person except for the eight or nine times you denied the Holocaust ever happening. Furthermore, it is vital to understand that when Wallace was in politics in the 1970s and 1980s, he was operating under very different political realities than he had been operating under in the 1950s and 1960s. The Voting Rights Act had helped astronomically increase black participation in elections in the South. Alabama has a large black population, and far more of them were able to vote late in Walalce’s career than had been when he started out. These black voters had become a very important constituency in the Democratic Party, which Wallace began and ended his political tenure as a member of. The overwhelming white Alabaman support for the Democratic Party was slipping by 1982 (the year of Wallace’s final electoral victory). When Wallace was first elected governor of Alabama, the state had voted Democrat in 28 out of the last 29 presidential elections; they had gone once for Strom Thurmond’s segregationist third party run and never for a Republican. When Wallace was elected in 1982, the state had voted Republican in three of the last five presidential elections, once for Wallace’s 1968 racist third party candidacy, and only once for a Democrat. Indeed, after Wallace left office for the final time in 1987, he was succeeded by Alabama’s first ever Republican governor. As a Democrat, Wallace had no choice but to sound like a liberal on racial issues if he wanted to maximize his chance of getting large amounts of black voters. And he knew that if he failed to get heavy black support, he now risked losing. It is important to note that Wallace did not become a civil rights supporter when battles against Jim Crow laws were still being waged and taking such a stand could easily end one’s political career. While racism was still a serious problem in the 1970s and 1980s and remains one today, the legal struggle for equal rights had already been won when Wallace “saw the light.” When being a segregationist benefited his political career, he was a segregationist. When being an integrationist benefited his political career, he claimed to be an integrationist.

Myth #3: Wallace was a believer in small government.
Wallace certainly talked a great game about supporting small government, but let’s look at the facts. The most hardcore libertarian position on segregation would have been to support federal intervention overturning all government Jim Crow laws while opposing bans on discrimination in the private sector. (For the record, I part company with hardcore libertarianism when it comes to laws against private sector discrimination.) Wallace, however, supported the “right” of state and local governments to forcibly impose Jim Crow on citizens. In Wallace’s Alabama, the state government did not simply allow private citizens to practice segregation. It mandated segregation and forced blacks to pay taxes to support segregated government institutions. One of the most often neglected aspects of American legal history is the way in which governmental authority was frequently used to prop up slavery and segregation, and Wallace was a prime advocate of such persecution. What about on issues other than segregation? A believer in limited government would support a non-interventionist military policy. When running for president, Wallace called for bombing Vietnam back to the Stone Age, despite the fact that Vietnam had not attempted to invade the U.S. I have had difficulty finding his position on the draft, but he did state his belief that young men were obligated to comply if drafted by the State–hardly a position many folks at the Cato Institute would agree with. Rather than letting students pray or not pray as they saw fit without initiation from teachers, he favored teacher-led prayer in government-run schools. (Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. took the opposite position.) He also believed that the government should have the power to take the lives of its citizens by executing them. Being okay with the government having authority to put people to death does not imply a high level of distrust for government. But surely he was a fiscal conservative? Well, not really. As governor, he developed a reputation as a “big spender.” As a presidential candidate, he favored increased Social Security payments, supported labor unions, and called for stringent government price controls to help farmers make a profit. He also supported public works programs which, however beneficial they may be, are not hugely popular with doctrinaire free marketers. True, he struck a conservative chord on welfare. But this was in no way inconsistent with being a New Deal-style Democrat. One of the chief inadequacies many 1930s leftists saw in the New Deal was the general lack of direct welfare payments for the poor. It was FDR himself who said that, “The lessons of history, confirmed by evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence on relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit. It is inimical to the dictates of sound policy. It is a violation of the traditions of America.” In essence, most of Wallace’s policies were actually in line with what FDR had promoted: support for labor unions, public works programs, heavy federal spending on pensions, and government support for farmers, mixed with a hawkish foreign policy, limited welfare, punishments for those who refused to serve in the military, and white supremacy.

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Holly Fisher’s Hypocrisy: When “I’m Sorry I Committed Adultery” Just Doesn’t Cut It

Internet Tea Party activist Holly Fisher is now in the middle of a controversy. It seems that Fisher, who is married, had an affair with fellow Tea Partier Joel Frewa. While it was fellow conservative Charles Johnson who revealed Fisher’s indirection, which she first denied but then confessed to, a lot of conservatives are angry that it was revealed. They have been making comments to the effect that everyone sins and that Johnson should knock it off and leave the matter of the adulterous affair to Fisher, her husband, and God. Something we have learned from this is something that many of us were already beginning to suspect: regardless of what they say, many, perhaps most, conservative Christians don’t care about adultery and divorce nearly as much as they do homosexuality and gay marriage. They may say the Bible is infallible. It may be true that the Bible specifically quotes Jesus as condemning adultery but never quotes him as directly condemning homosexuality. And it may be true that while no more than a dozen Biblical verses can be interpreted as direct prohibitions on homosexuality, there are a vast amount that directly prohibit adultery. But the truth of the matter is that lots of conservative Christians treat adultery as a minor sin and divorce as still more minor, if even a sin at all, while screaming that homosexuality and gay marriage invites the wrath of God. How else can we explain the popularity of Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich among many conservative Christians?

Was Fisher’s affair her private business? Should we “judge not” and move on? I say we should. After all, Fisher never held up her own marital behavior as superior to other people’s or tried to dictate how other people live their–oh wait. Now that I think about, I seem to recall a Twitter post Fisher made, perhaps after a romp with her extramarital lover, about gay marriage. Let’s see, what did it say? Ah, here it is: “I 100% think gay ppl should be happy, have rights, etc., but as a Christian I also believe 100% it’s my job to protect marriage. #CivilUnion.” Either Fisher or one of her supporters seems to have removed this statement from Twitter, but it is on record for all eternity nonetheless. So what is on display here is yet another individual in a long pantheon of hypocrites and phonies who have accused gays of threatening the institution of marriage and demanded that the government keep gay marriage illegal despite the fact that they themselves have committed adultery, divorced, or both. Gingrich, Limbaugh, Carl Paladino, David Vitter, Mark Sanford, and Bob Dole all come to mind. But Democrats have been guilty of this as well. Bill Clinton crowed in the 1990s that marriage was between one man and one woman, only for the public to find out and that he must have meant to say “one man and one woman, plus a twenty something White House intern.” No offense to liberal supporters of Clinton, but it was rather strange for so many liberals to try and save an anti-gay marriage philanderer from being thrown out of office. As far as I am concerned, Clinton promoted the idea that the government is the arbiter of marital morality and held himself up as holier than gay people, so he deserved to be thrown out of office when his infidelity was revealed. Then there was John Edwards, the Democratic presidential candidate who said his Southern Baptist upbringing led him to oppose gay marriage, only to later reveal that this upbringing must never have covered cheating on your cancer-stricken wife and the mother of your children. When Fisher made the decision to denigrate gay couples as a threat to marriage and called for the government–which social conservatives claim to hate right up until they want it to ban everything they don’t like–to enforce her definition of marriage, she held herself up as a a moral exemplar. At that point, she lost her claim to privacy regarding her cheating. Clint Eastwood’s adulterous affairs are his private business. Why? Because Eastwood doesn’t tell other people how to live their lives. He does his own thing and lets everyone else do their own thing.

Many Fisher-Gingrich apologists will likely claim that gay people continue to have same-sex relations, while heterosexual Christian adulterers like Fisher, Gingrich, or whoever else reads the King James while running around on their spouse, “repent” and stop their behavior. Leaving aside the fact that claims about homosexuality being sinful don’t pass basic logic tests, the fact remains that social conservatives who commit adultery or get divorced would never consent to the same treatment they want to impose on gays. Fisher would balk at the suggestion that her adultery should be illegal the way she wants gay marriage illegal. Likewise, even though the Bible condemns divorce, people like Rush Limbaugh would never consent to having only their first marriages be legally valid. This is not to say that divorce is immoral. However, the same Bible that conservative Christians claim is infallible when they want to ban gay marriage says that unless one has been cheated on, it is a sin to divorce. Furthermore, a marriage is a major commitment, and traditional wedding ceremonies include the phrase “until death.” Therefore, a person who has been married in a church wedding then gets divorced later is breaking a vow they made to their wife and to God. This is their personal decision, and they should not be judged for it if they do not judge others. Sometimes, divorce is necessary. But nobody who has broken a deep commitment they made to their spouse should be sticking their nose into anyone else’s marriage. As a wise LGBT protester once said of anti-gay marriage divorcees, “I just want one wife. You want three.”

If Fisher has any real integrity or self awareness, she will go on Twitter and say something along the lines of this: “In the past, I have cast unwarranted judgment on other people’s personal business. I condemned same-sex couples in stable, monogamous, loving relationships. Meanwhile, I broke my wedding vows by cheating on my husband. I want to apologize to LGBT people for the hypocrisy I have exhibited. I realize now that I am in no position to criticize same-sex relationships and am certainly in no position to demand that the government ban them. From now on, I am going to focus on improving myself.” I won’t hold my breath.

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