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The Wallace Appeal: Primary Impressions

By Phil Patton

(Editor's note--The following article was written before Wallace was shot yesterday afternoon.)

IN RALEIGH, N.C., the Wallace for President Headquarters is in a little prefab shed lost in the sprawl beside hot, roaring highway 401 South, in front of a gas station, next to "The Pork Palace"--"Old-fashioned pit-cooked barbeque"--and just down the road from the Purina Feeds elevators. The sickly, rural smell of the feeds mixes with the pork smell and the hydrocarbons and the hot dust that blow into the one-room headquarters. Inside, there is a five-foot high, very grainy litho of Wallace with about half a smile, and on a card-table there are the usual bumper stickers, buttons, pamphlets--plus a big pickle jar full of bills and change: Wallace supporters pay for this material.

On this oppressively average day, hot for early April, the gentleman at the desk is heavy, sweaty, and uneasy in his neat suit with the shiny blue tie spelling his man's name in silver letters down his chest--all too predictable. He gives me literature, but has little to say.

The pamphlets talk about rededicating ourselves to faith in America and in God, and claim that Wallace is the only candidate to sense the real feeling of the people: "He truly cares. He is truly concerned. He is real." I pick up Impact 72: A Newspaper for Young Americans and scan the inside topic, "Right On, by George C. Wallace;" "Charisma! Charisma! Charisma!"; "The Wisdom of Wallace: The Magic of Dreams, The Fabric of Freedom..."; "No Generation Gap in the Wallace Family." Other themes are just as predictable--the old values made new, George Wallace standing up boldly, honestly, for an America of free enterprise, religion, and the family.

"Send 'em a Message" runs one of the big slogans--a message mainly about two symbolic issues: "the busin'" and "the welfare." Government has withdrawn to the snug offices of a distant Washington bureaucracy which subjugates practical men to the dictates of "pointy-heads." They are destroying our schools for the sake of the minorities, they are taking our money and giving it away.

The man with that tie warms up when I mention Wallace's strong finish in the Wisconsin primary the day before. "Yes," he drawls with a smile, "and that was their home country too."

II

RALEIGH IS THE state capital, 120,000 and growing rapidly with burgeoning state government and an influx of northern corporations. Durham, twenty-five miles away, seems less a city than an over-grown small town. After the Civil War, a man named Duke made the tobacco factories and they in turn made the city. Now the factories fill Durham with their distinctive odor. When shifts change, thousands of black and white khakied workers leave the big buildings to go pretty much their own separate ways.

Just to the west of the factories, the money from Mr. Duke's enterprise created one of the finest Southern universities. Still further west lies the most recent of Durham's big institutions, the black-owned North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, in a tall modern building which is by far the most impressive structure in the city.

North Carolina Mutual has created a couple of black millionaires and numerous black executives in the city, and serves as the symbolic focus for one of the most progressive and best organized black communities in the South. Downtown in Durham, Chisholm buttons are frequent; even now, a month before the primary, the New York Congresswoman has made several appearances in the state.

But Edmund Muskie, his campaign faltering, has already decided not to campaign here, which leaves Wallace, Chisholm, and Durham's own candidate, Duke University President Terry Sanford.

Sanford had been North Carolina's Kennedy-era governor, pushing bigger education budgets, what was then a moderate racial policy, and an early state anti-poverty program. After leaving office in 1965, he headed a Ford Foundation study on the role of the states which produced the book Storm Over the States--a soundly liberal reformulation of a favorite Wallace focus. In 1968, Sanford passed up a shot at Sen. Sam J. Ervin in the Democratic primary, got on several lists of potential Democratic vice-presidential nominees, and ended up heading Citizens for Humphrey-Muskie. His political career seemed at least temporarily thwarted, so he took the Duke presidency in 1970.

Now, at 54, he had used Duke and the University of North Carolina students as a base to get 25,000 names on petitions for a spot on the Presidential primary ballot. He hopes to emerge as a dark-horse choice in a dead-locked convention, or, at least, as a vice-presidential possibility with proven power to keep Southern Democrats away from Wallace.

III

THE CORE OF Wallace support is the familiar, almost archetypal poor white southerner, often surprising in the breadth of his populism, often frightening in the intensity of his discontent. His epitome seems to lie somewhere between two men I talked to on a little side street only a few hundred yards from Sanford's university. It's a dead-end street, with about a dozen small white houses with porches and yards tiny enough for playing children to have trodden away all the grass. The tobacco factories are within walking distance, and even closer are streets where black people live; indeed, on one nearby block the two races face each other across the unpaved street.

Mr. Jones: "I can help you a lot" he says when I ask him what people are thinking about the primary. "I've lived a lot of places in this country, my wife's from Pennsylvania, and I think I'm a pretty typical fellow." He seems a hard man, with dark black hair and a dirty t-shirt. He was for Lindsay, he tells me, and waits to enjoy my surprise. "I believe what the country needs is an all-round liberal man, but if Lindsay is dropping out, I'm for Wallace because he's against this forced busin' and he's the only one who is." There's a lot he doesn't like about Wallace though, having lived for a while in Alabama under his high sales tax. He sees through Nixon; that China trip was a stunt, he says, and we are leaving Vietnam without having finished the job--plus getting licked too.

Mr. Graves: Outside his house is parked an old sky-blue school bus bearing the words "Freewill Independent Baptist Church" and, on the back, bumper stickers: "Jesus Saves," "Have You Read Your Bible Today?" Mr. Graves has the gentle, fearful eyes of a ten-year-old but the brown weathered skin of a life-long construction worker. He seems afraid I will scold him for what he tells me. He mumbles a bit when he says he's for Wallace, but his embarrassment is not doubt. Busing comes up quickly: "You can't change a hundred years--or more I guess--in ten." He's afraid his kids will be beaten up if they go to the public schools and for this reason--and "for religion"--he sends them to one of the new white private schools. Freedom of choice--he just can't understand why that isn't enough. You can't change people's hearts by laws: "You can't lead a mule to water, but boy you shore can't make that rascal drink."

At first he touches religion only gingerly, afraid to offend me. But I press him. Does he think religion ought to be carried into politics? He does, and with real emotion he claims that he puts love of Jesus Christ and belief in the truth of the King James version of the Bible above anything else, even his family. He drives the school bus to Sunday school, and guesses that the reason he doesn't like even the word liberal comes from his belief in religion, his faith that the old King James version is the only true one. And when he learns that, no, I am not saved, his comment is straight from Pascal: "Well if I'm right I've gained everything, and if I'm not, well then what have I lost? But you've lost everything either way when you die."

He has no job now, and knows that the men who are hurting are not the skilled union men who get five dollars an hour--he thinks those unions ought to be taken down a notch or two--but the hundred-dollar-a-week men with a family to support. But mainly he's concerned about foreign policy, and keeping up our defenses. "If a man tries to take something from you, you ought to be strong enough to put the hurt on him." Wallace is right on the war: you know we could have won it in sixty days if we hadn't held back.

IV

BACK IN RALEIGH, I wait for an interview at the headquarters, and down a Pepsi--another popular Southern invention. The big man working at the gas station gets gruff when I ask him how many people he's seen going in over there. "I hope nobody does, I hope nobody votes for that son-of-a-bitch. I'm for Humphrey," and he roars with laughter. Should I believe him?

Lewis Purdy, county co-ordinator for the campaign, a tall, gray-haired businessman whom I thought must be a deacon, predicts that Wallace will win with 40-55 per cent of the vote and that Sanford will be forced to fulfill his promise of dropping out if he "couldn't beat George Wallace." Purdy lists his candidate's appeals, focusing on busing and economics. He mentions corporations but more directly "these multi-billion dollar foundations using their money to foment revolution and subsidize these way-out, left things." He raises the familiar, often accurate charge of press hostility and neglect toward Wallace.

While I'm at the headquarters, several state workers on lunch break come in, take literature and stickers but refuse to sign the register. They are afraid of losing their jobs, they say, and when I talk to others, down near the capitol, they too look wary and refuse to comment on the election.

V

THESE STATE WORKERS, many of them with rural backgrounds, are among those filling the new apartments and shopping centers now replacing the pine forests at the city's edge. All over the state, the new suburbanites represent a crucial segment for this election. The poor whites are frustrated enough to give Wallace firm support. The real contest is for the loyalty of those who, if they vote for Wallace, will be silent about it, who, as Larry O'Brien has said, keep the Wallace vote in their gut.

While the poor whites simply cling to the more comfortable past with a blind desperation, these new suburbanites are painfully split. They see the America which shaped them and taught them to love her receding into the past along with their rural heritage, but the change is partly of their own choice, and that is their dilemma. They have come to the city to become middle-class, to escape the country's simplicity, coarseness, and poverty, but the country still lingers in them, and compels nostalgia. Along with the wealth and sophistication of the city have come new problems which conflict with these people's original simple goals, goals which were conceived in the country. If the rural legacy in them should suddenly emerge, what they have gained in the city will still make them ashamed.

The new middle class, feeling squeezed between institutions on top and the rising minorities below, must justify its accomplishment by a particular social myth. It must idealize the simpler, more in- dividualistic society of the past. It must reject racial equality because it symbolizes the new changes. It must yearn for the real uniformity and closeness of the old society and pretend that they still exist: there would not be such loyalty to the myth of the neighborhood school if the new suburbs really were neighborhoods of the old type.

These people cannot accept busing and welfare because they cannot accept ideas of social determination, differing family backgrounds, or restrictive monopoly, without endangering the basic myth behind their own social mobility and their right to enjoy its rewards. To preserve this myth, they must deny the complexity of contemporary society.

VI

A FEW DAYS LATER, the Raleigh News and Observer, one of those few grand old, staunchly liberal Southern papers, prints a forceful editorial depicting the coming primary as a "Dixie Classic," pitting Terry Sanford versus George Wallace (for now these were the only real choices), and a New South against the Old.

The New York Times reports that the candidates are beginning to stump "the dogwood-dappled state" more in earnest now, although Wallace finds his Northern campaigns more attractive and plans only four or five stops. Tom Wicker, originally of Hamlet, N.C., returns to the state to talk to Sanford, picks up the News and Observer's theme and writes about it in the Times.

And yet both Sanford and the hardly new notion of a New South are more complicated. Much of the current New South is merely new without being Southern: Sanford will find strength in the votes and influence of Yankees who have followed their companies south. Sanford's broadest appeal, however, still remains traditionally Southern. What Wallace lambastes as "pussy-footin' around", Sanford doesn't mind calling "craw-fishing and covering up." Perhaps the most widespread rationale behind his vote will be the need to preserve the respectability of the state, and the desire to see its banner carried into the highest levels of national politics.

VII

Wallace comes to Boston, and the next day gets ten per cent in the Massachusetts primary, twenty-one per cent in Pennsylvania on the basis of only a couple of hours campaigning in each place. I see the South taken for granted as Wallace moves into the South of the North--wooing the hardhat, the migrated hill-billy, the ethnic angry at busing. Under Webster's picture at Fanueil Hall, Wallace takes aim at his favorite targets: the apparently bottomless pit of taxing and spending, taxing and spending; the phony slickness of television, "kowtowing to the exotic and the noisemakers;" the liberals who have gotten us in the no-win war in Vietnam and sent "pointy-heads" to make chaos in our schools. But he can still conclude: "We have the best system in the world, you know that." Directness and reassurance, stridence and personality.

VIII

On Saturday, May 6, after a week which has brought him overwhelming victory against no opposition in Tennessee, and a powerful (41 per cent) showing in Indiana, George Wallace polls just over half the votes cast in North Carolina. Terry Sanford has 37 per cent; Chisholm 8 per cent, Muskie and Jackson are far behind

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