I’ve got all sorts of admiration for Rick Perlstein the blogger and Rick Perlstein the author, but I think he strikes the wrong note in his takedown of George Will, where he undertakes to recall and situate George Wallace (link). Will says that Wallace’s role was “giving an aggrieved minority a voice.” Near ballistic, Perlstein responds:
Of course this is nonsense: the people he was giving voice to was an aggrieved majority--e.g., white people.
[I think he means i.e., but I’ll give him that one]. He goes on to offer up a bill of particulars to show that the Wallace campaign was a stew of racist violence
Well, you know what? The Wallace campaign was a stew of racist violence. But its supporters—at least the rank and file—certainly felt that he was “giving an aggrieved minority a voice.”
And, pace Perlstein, a minority the were. Not “white people,” but a particular slice of white people—mostly lower middle class, notably urban, and mostly—and this is vital—deeply insecure, both economically and socially, teetering on the edge of downward mobility. They weren’t always good company—we’re talkin’ Archie Bunker here, or “Married with Children” (Homer Simpson is actually much too nice). Neither Perlstein nor I (nor, I suspect, George Will) want to spend a lot of time in their company. But they’ve got real fears, and they are afraid of real things. Perlstein might want to reread some critical passages of Anatol Lieven:
The 1960s and 1970s saw defeats for the culture of the White South and the Heartland which, put together, were greater than anything experienced since the Civil War. The term “Negro socio-economic revolution,” used by some authors to describe aspects of the 1960s, is overdrawn, but certainly reflects the way many Whites felt then and even to a degree feel today. Civil rights for Blacks, coupled with inner-city rioting and pressure for concessions in education and housing, terrified and infuriated large sections of the White middle classes.
And it’s not just that these people think that bad things are going to happen in society; they think that if they happen, then they are going to bear the cost. And on the evidence, they were right all the way around: heartland whites have been major losers over the last generation. They’ve lost economic security and social prestige. And when their betters have fiddled with the social matrix, it is they who, most often, have borne the cost.
This isn’t to excuse Will. Quite the contrary: It’s Will’s kind of condescension that feeds this insecurity and exploits it to advantage. But the way to cope with him is not to put all the Wallaceites into the hands of the Birchers and the Klansmen (though heaven knows there were enough of both). It’s to recognize them as what they are, deserving of at least as much respect as, probably a lot more than, George Will.
Personal fn.: As a newspaper reporter, I covered bits of the ’68 Wallace campaign—his handlers, as I believe I’ve said before, were about the most civil and courteous among campaign operatives. Wallace himself was a piece of business: he spilled out energy, enterprise, shrewd judgment, and not a little hate. I remember him on the tarmac at Standiford Field in