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The Wallace Vote and Other Imponderables

Politics

By E.j. Dionne

GEORGE WALLACE'S huge vote in Florida surprised a lot of people. Everybody realized he was going to win, but no one expected him to take 41 per cent. Candidate Muskie said, and many agree, that the Wallace vote is "a threat to the unity of the country." The Wallace vote obviously is symptomatic of a deep malaise on the part of many (perhaps most) Americans. George McGovern said he couldn't believe that the Wallace vote was entirely a hate vote, and prefered to label it "a vote against things as they are."

McGovern is closer to the mark than is Muskie. But what remains unclear is what exactly do the Wallace people want? Do they want to return to segregation? Certainly some of the voters in Florida would like that--especially the people in the pinewoods area of the pan handle who backed Wallace in 1968. However, that wasn't the main support for the Wallace candidacy this time. He talked a lot about busing, but not about race. Is busing just a code word for racism? It's not that simple. The busing issue is not only about race, but also about neighborhood control, and the right to send your child to the school you want.

Without a doubt, Wallace (like Nixon) has exploited the issue of busing for his own purposes. In many cases, new busing plans for integration cause far less inconvenience than old busing plans which voters supported to keep the schools segregated. It is fine (and perfectly correct) to say that socially, racially and economically integrated neighborhoods are the real answer to the problem of segregation; however this is to beg the busing question, since (1.) such neighborhoods are not being built very quickly, and (2.) some kind of solution must be found for now to break down the various barriers that our society has built up. Beyond all this, busing is still not just a question of race (Only 21 per cent of Tuesday's Florida voters advocated a return to a dual school system. This means that at least 210,000 Floridians voted both against strict segregation and for Wallace.) It truly involves "the distance of the government from the people" of which Wallace spoke so often. Like so many other social techniques, busing is a way of passing on to the lower-middle class the costs of fixing the society. The lower-middle class is mad about this, and rightly so.

If the Wallace vote was not strictly a racist vote, what was it? Some on the Left have suggested that the people who backed Wallace are angry citizens frustrated by their powerlessness. This theory suggests that some day "these people will be with us." There is some evidence to support this notion. Wallace did, after all, attack the liberal power structure and the bureaucrats, and also the people who make big money and pay low taxes--and the institutions which pay none at all.

Sadly, this theory explains only part of the Wallace vote. Many Wallace votes clearly had a great deal to do with class interests. More 1968 Wallace voters identified themselves as working class than did those of Nixon or Humphrey. But Wallace didn't campaign in Florida only on the issues of powerlessness, busing and the need to tax the monied interests. He also spoke out against "welfare chizzlers" and "communists" and those who would "sell us down the river in Vietnam." Many of those who backed Wallace on powerlessness and busing also supported him on these counts as well.

Wallace served not only as a means through which people could express their discontents; he was also supporting "solutions" which in fact would work to the disadvantage of everybody--and especially poor people. Wallace set up as the "enemy" not only the liberal-bureaucratic-wealthy-power-structure which radicals attack, but also poor people on welfare and precisely those people on the Left who may revel over his victory.

Our centrist political structure has normally excluded solutions to public problems which would significantly alter the distribution of power. But the mere act of shaking up that structure is not sufficient. Not every form of polarization is desirable. Wallace's victory is something neither to rejoice about, nor even cynically to snicker at.

ASESSING THE practical political questions raised by the results in Florida and New Hampshire is easier than assessing the cosmic issues raised by the Wallace vote. Muskie's disappointing showing in New Hampshire, and his disastrous nine per cent in Florida, indicates that he is no longer the front-runner in the Democratic race. The winner, other than George Wallace, appears to be Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey got twice the vote of Muskie and received heavy support from those groups which have been good to him before including old people, blacks, and Jews.

Muskie's failures in New Hampshire and Florida are probably attributable precisely to his interpretation of what it means to be a front runner. In New Hampshire and Florida, he refrained from taking strong stands on specific issues, and avoided attacks on his opponents. As the New Hampshire primary drew to a close, he appeared to sense his problem, and issued several ill-tempered and unfair attacks on George McGovern. In addition, Muskie appeared completely worn out even before he left for Florida.

On the Left, meanwhile, George McGovern appears to have gained a great deal in these first two weeks. While his chances of taking the nomination are still dim, McGovern is now the leading candidate on the left side of the Democratic spectrum. Ignoring Florida, McGovern devoted almost all of his time to New Hampshire, achieving his impressive 37 per cent there. John Lindsay spent all of his time in Florida in hopes of the big vote which would launch his candidacy. He failed. Despite all the money he spent (estimates range upward from $300,000) he took 6 per cent, only narrowly outpolling McGovern. Lindsay, McGovern and all the other candidates will be in Wisconsin for the April 4 Primary, and it appears now that McGovern has the edge over Lindsay and maybe the rest of the pack as well.

Henry Jackson's 14 per cent showing in Florida was neither very good nor very bad. Wallace's entry hurt him, but it's not clear how much of the latter's vote would have gone to "the Senator from Boeing." Neither Jackson nor Shirley Chisholm (who took 4 per cent in Florida) has much of a chance.

The next round takes place Tuesday in Illinois. Only two Presidential candidates are on the ballot. Muskie and Eugene McCarthy. Muskie is likely to win in the non-binding Presidential Preference Primary, but McCarthy's backers are hoping to add anti-Muskie votes to Clean Gene's base of support. Perhaps a strong McCarthy showing in Illinois will thrust him back into the thick of things, but probably not.

Illinois convention delegates are also at stake. In Chicago's Congressional districts, Mayor Daley's uncommitted slates will certainly win. But in the other 13 districts, McGovern delegates, and some McCarthy delegates, are in contests with Muskie backers and uncommitted slates.

THE DEMOCRATIC race is a shambles, When Democrats gather in Miami, there could very well be no candidate with a majority. The party could turn away from those fighting now to seek a "new" face--perhaps that belonging to Edward Kennedy. Meanwhile, George Wallace could pile up votes in Northern states like Indiana and Iowa--and perhaps even win. Can any of the Democrats win over the angry and alienated Americans who have been cheering George Wallace for eight years, and now appear to be cheering louder than ever? And more important, can they do so without appealing to racism and fear?

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