Wallace ‘got’ bandwagons

Published 12:43am Wednesday, August 15, 2012

This year’s GOP presidential contest has been one for the record books. There has been a continuous topsy-turvy, up and down, kaleidoscope of frontrunners to be the Republican nominee.

Mitt Romney will be nominated in Tampa next week. However, he has had to fight for the nomination. Going back to last year we have seen a candidate surge to the top of the pack and then after a few weeks in the spotlight they faltered and fell. In fact, they fell so fast and hard that they folded and exited the race.

Leading the flavor of the month club pack was first Michelle Bachman. Then she was followed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who looked like the real McCoy, but faltered right out of the gate. Then pizza mogul Herman Cain had his day in the sun and his sunset. Then Newt Gingrich soared for a few weeks but was swept away by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

All these stars that have now burned out were catapulted into the temporary limelight by what is called the “Big Mo” in politics. That is short for momentum. In bygone days and also in proper political vernacular it is referred to as the bandwagon effect.

George Wallace, who was the master of Alabama politics, understood the bandwagon effect. He knew that people like to vote for the winner. He would often tell me that he would rather have someone say that he was going to win rather than say that they were going to vote for him. He continued, “If they hear someone say they’re going to vote for me, they figure they might have a selfish motive, but say he’s going to win invites everyone to get on the train to victory and vote for the winner.” Some country people would describe it as saying, “I don’t want to lose my vote voting for so-and-so, he can’t win.”

Wallace used a unique political practice to exploit this bandwagon effect. He would employ what I call runners. These well-trained runners would only number a handful of men because they had to be perfect for the job. They had to be believable, genuine and look the part. These men would circulate throughout the state during an election year. They would pose as traveling salesmen. The state was full of country stores in those days. These country stores were where politics was talked. They were at the country branch heads. They were the grapevine for the rural community. The barber shops in the county seat were the other stage. Wallace himself would campaign in the barber shops.

Wallace’s man would stop at a country store in North Alabama several times, first to talk about the weather and the crops. On his next stop he would talk about football. Finally, after he had won the confidence of the locals in the country store, he would go into politics. These folks would ask their well-traveled friend how did the governor’s race look throughout the state. He would look them in the eye and say, “It ain’t no race, George Wallace is going to clean up. He’s going to get all the votes in South Alabama.” The North Alabamians would want to get on the bandwagon. The Wallace runner or traveling salesman would do the same thing in South Alabama.

George Wallace’s political prowess for remembering people’s names was legendary. However, he was better at adults than children. A story often told on Wallace occurred in his first run for governor. After a speech, Wallace was speaking to folks and a little boy came up to Wallace to shake his hand. Wallace in a perfunctory manner said to the little boy, “How’s your daddy?” The boy responded, “My daddy’s dead.” Wallace responded, “I’m sorry,” and went on visiting with the crowd and shaking hands. The little boy meandered on and later inadvertently bumped into Wallace again. Wallace looked at the boy and asked him, “How’s your daddy?” The boy responded, “He’s still dead.”

 

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