1968–Wallace Cartoon–Gavin McGuire
Third party or independent candidates are often remembered as inconsequential or having done little to affect the results of the general election and because of this their rhetoric and campaign communication are rarely the topic of research and investigation. That is not the case with the 1968 presidential election that saw George C. Wallace of Alabama win forty-six Electoral College votes and 14% of the popular vote as an Independent candidate running against Republican, Richard Nixon and Democrat, Hubert Humphrey. Most today would characterize Wallace as a racist and ardent segregationist, which may be true, but what is also true is that during his 1968 campaign Wallace certainly couldn’t make those views the most important parts of his campaign if he had any hopes of becoming President or effecting the election in a meaningful way. So while the majority of people today only see Wallace as a “one trick pony”, his one trick being segregation (now, tomorrow and forever), to look at his 1968 campaign would reveal a candidate who didn’t run on one single issue necessarily but it would also show a public that viewed him in much the same way we do today, despite Wallace’s efforts.
Wallace was the least known of the candidates so one of the most important aspects of his campaign, especially early on, was to get his face and messages to the masses. Now, this isn’t to say that no one across the country knew who George Wallace was. George Wallace was at the forefront of one of the most famous Civil Rights standoffs in the country’s history. In June of 1963 Wallace, then the governor of Alabama, attempted to stop the federally mandated integration of the University of Alabama by personally standing in the way of students trying to enter. We all recognize the images of this event and the man that was behind this was none other that George Wallace, who five years later would be running for President. Wallace also gained notoriety for what is now a famous sound byte, saying, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” which became the rallying cry of segregationists across the country. So to say that Wallace was an “unknown” independent candidate would be a stretch, however the majority of the country outside of the Deep South certainly had some preconceived notions of what Wallace stood for based on his time as governor of Alabama.
How Wallace was perceived by the majority of the country is illustrated beautifully in a cartoon by Herb Block, political cartoonist for The Washington Post. This cartoon titled, “We’ll let the overcoat out all the way, and the robe will hardly show at all” was printed on February 11, 1968 in the early stages of Wallaces campaign. In the cartoon, a tailor is fitting Wallace for an overcoat and top hat but underneath the overcoat there is a Ku Klux Klan robe that is clearly visible despite the tailors’ best efforts. What makes this cartoon political is that on the overcoat and hat attempting to cover Wallace’s Ku Klux Klan robe are the campaign terms, “States Rights”, “3rd Party”, and “Law and Order Talk” which were some of the key issues Wallace ran on and as if the symbolism of the Ku Klux Klan robe wasn’t obvious enough, the word racism is printed on the robe. What this cartoon is essentially saying is that all of the things Wallace was saying and campaigning on were an attempt to cover up the fact that he had less than favorable, which may be an understatement, views on race and that during his time as governor of Alabama he made decisions which many viewed as overtly racist in nature. The print date and newspaper that printed the cartoon are important because the fact that the cartoon was printed in the early stages of Wallaces campaign would indicate that the people up North, where the cartoon was printed, were not listening to Wallace’s campaign rhetoric and messages but just saw a racist whose messages were merely a way to cover up his true intentions.
This cartoon highlights the fact that sometimes no matter how well conceived or well delivered a campaign message might be, it may not always be enough to overcome a candidates past. When watching Wallace campaign ads or reading a brochure, Wallace doesn’t appear to be a racist monster hell bent on destroying the Civil Rights Movement. He comes across as a somewhat viable candidate with a clear, albeit out of the ordinary, campaign message. However, the timing and location of the printing of this cartoon would seem to indicate that none of the campaigning Wallace did was ever going to be enough to erase the stigma attached to his past as the governor of Alabama.