Can it be? George Wallace is back in politics, running again for governor of Alabama. He first ran in 1958 and lost after he was, in his words, "out-segged." He never was again. He became a national symbol of segregationist politics--proclaiming "segregation forever" in his 1963 inaugural, standing in the schoolhouse door, running for president as an opponent of the "pointy-headed bureaucrats" by the Potomac.
For all the fuss he made, Gov. Wallace was the symbol of a system and a politics that failed. Legal segregation has vanished and will not return. Gov. Wallace himself now says that he regrets his segregationist past and that his goal is that "all black and white Alabamians have opportunities in schools and jobs." Hard as it is may be for everyone to believe, he actually has support from blacks--not just a few officials currying favor with their governor, but genuine support from a broad range of political activists and voters.
Some of the reasons for the Wallace comeback are local: the incumbent governor, Fob James, has been a disappointment, and the state's unemployment rate is far higher than it was during the Wallace years. Gov. Wallace is not certain to win: he has serious opposition in the Democratic primary, and there is a strong Republican candidate.
Still, we think the Wallace candidacy--and the fact that he has biracial support--has a significance that goes beyond his fitness for the post he seeks--a matter on which Alabama's voters are competent (and experienced) judges. When he was first governor, it was unthinkable that a candidate with black support could win a significant number of white votes in the Deep South. By 1970, such candidates --Jimmy Carter, Reubin Askew, John West--were winning state elections, and by 1976, Mr. Carter was able, despite his black support, to win enough white votes to carry the South in the presidential election. That was a major and salutary change in American politics.
Now the circle has been closed. Whatever you may think of him, whether you see him as an opportunist or as a believer in some of the ideas for whose advocacy he has such talent, George Wallace has become a symbol of how far our politics has come.