GEORGE WALLACE, SPEECH AT SERB HALL (26 MARCH 1976)
- In his speech at Serb Hall, George Wallace described himself as “a prophet out of my own time” (3). How would you define a prophet? What do you think Wallace meant by calling himself a prophet? Do you think it’s a common or an effective strategy for a presidential candidate to call him or herself a “prophet?” Why or why not?
- Throughout the Serb Hall address, Wallace promised to return the country to “law and order” (see 22, among other places). What does this concept mean to you, and what sorts of issues are involved in appeals to “law and order”? Would an appeal to law and order help persuade you to support a presidential candidate?
- Wallace was a strong supporter of capital punishment. What are your views on this issue? Is this an important issue for you when electing a presidential candidate?
- How would you define the term “demagogue”? As a citizen and a voter, would you vote for a “demagogue” if you agreed with that candidate’s views on the issues?
- The essay by Hogan notes that George Wallace was one of the first presidential candidates to raise campaign funds and appeal to voters through direct mail. What has replaced direct mail in modern campaigns? What do you think are now the most effective ways for candidates to raise money and mobilize supporters?
- Candidate Wallace appealed to patriotism in his campaign speeches. What does patriotism mean to you? How would you identify a patriotic appeal in a campaign speech? Is it important to you that a candidate be patriotic?
- Wallace claimed to defend traditional values throughout his campaign. How would you define traditional values today? Do you agree that it is important to defend traditional values? Would you support a campaign today based on traditional values?
- Rising inflation is one of the issues that Wallace addressed in his speech at Serb Hall (8). Research what the inflation rate was in 1976 and how inflation affected the day-to-day lives of middle-class Americans of that era. Why was inflation such an important issue in the 70s? How does inflation today compare to inflation in 1976, and has inflation been a big issue in more recent presidential campaigns?
- In paragraphs 13 and 14 of his speech at Serb Hall, Wallace criticized the tax breaks given to several family foundations dating back to the 19th century industrial revolution: the Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Mellon foundations. Choose one of these industrialists and research how he achieved his fortune. Why do you think some of these industrialists came to be known as “robber barons?” By invoking their names, do you think Wallace was trying to make some larger point about the concentration of wealth in America? Did the “robber baron” you investigated also make positive contributions to America, like creating jobs or donating to charity? After analyzing the industrialist of your choice, reflect on why you think Wallace might have mentioned this person’s name at all in his speech at Serb Hall.
- The Serb Hall speech was delivered after the Vietnam War ended. What was the Vietnam War about? How many Americans died in the Vietnam war, and how was it different from other wars (e.g., World War II, which is also mentioned in the speech)? Why was the Vietnam War such a divisive issue in American politics? What do you think is the lasting legacy of the Vietnam conflict?
- In his essay on Wallace’s speech, Hogan writes that Wallace “stood squarely in a long tradition of populist demagoguery dating back to the Calamity Howlers of the 1890s.” Who were the Calamity Howlers, and why do you think Hogan labels their speaking “demagoguery?” What issues or causes did the Calamity Howlers support at the end of the 19th century, and did Wallace talk about the same sorts of issues?
- Wallace’s speeches were often rambling and provided little evidence or reasoning. What role should evidence and reasoning play in contemporary political speech? Is it important that candidates get the facts right or always tell the truth? Do you think that so-called “fact-checkers” play an important role in modern campaigns?
- George Wallace defied the rules of civil discourse in his campaign rhetoric, and many have argued that the same is true of President Trump. Watch one of the 2016 Presidential Debates between candidate Trump and Secretary Hillary Clinton. Do you think either candidate was “uncivil” or violated any other important standards of political speech? How would you describe how they responded to the questions, and how did they respond to each other. Did you notice anything about the nonverbal communication of either candidate that contributed to the impression that they were being uncivil or disrespectful?
- Candidate Wallace appealed to the disaffected voters of his day, and many have argued that disaffected voters also played an important role in the 2016 presidential election? Do you think that Wallace appealed to the same disaffected voters that Bernie Sanders or President Trump appealed to in 2016? What demographic traits do you think they shared? What values or policies did these voters support?