Pollak: Barack Obama Had the George Wallace Story Backwards

Barack Obama (Alyssa Pointer / Pool / Getty)
Alyssa Pointer / Pool / Getty

Former President Barack Obama compared President Donald Trump to George Wallace at John Lewis’s funeral last week, likening the president to one of the more notorious villains of the Jim Crow era.

Wallace was a Democrat — though he is often falsely portrayed as a Republican — who infamously stood “in the schoolhouse door” to protest the desegregation of the University of Alabama (an event portrayed in Forrest Gump, with Tom Hanks’s character inserted into the footage).

Obama recalled the march on which Lewis was famously beaten by state troopers in Selma at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. “He was warned that Governor Wallace had ordered troopers to use violence,” Obama recalled.

Later, without mentioning President Trump by name, Obama said: “George Wallace may be gone. But we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators.” (He was referring to the riots in Portland.)

Obama was wrong, of course, about “peaceful demonstrators” in Portland. But he was also wrong about Wallace, at least regarding federal troops.

The facts: a federal judge ordered that the state universities be desegregated. When Wallace threatened to stop them personally, President John F. Kennedy sent federal troops — or, more precisely, he federalized the Alabama National Guard — to ensure that the federal court’s orders were followed. Force had to be used to enforce the court’s authority.

In the present riots, Democrats are again defying the authority of the federal courts. Violent leftists have targeted the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland, Oregon, as a symbol of the federal government — and Democrats, including Obama, have supported them, including by falsely portraying a mob’s vandalism, arson, and assault as “peaceful protest.”

Until very recently, state and local authorities sided with the protesters, and so federal law enforcement had to intervene.

So Obama had the story backwards.

Adding to the irony, former Vice President Joe Biden has repeatedly praised George Wallace. In 1975, for example, the first-term senator said: “I think the Democratic Party could stand a liberal George Wallace — someone who’s not afraid to stand up and offend people, someone who wouldn’t pander but would say what the American people know in their gut is right.” Biden also frequently used Wallace’s name to appeal to Southern voters.

The Wallace story itself is somewhat more complicated. In 1972, while addressing a presidential campaign rally, Wallace was shot; he would be partially paralyzed for the rest of his life. In the 1980s, he changed his views on race and reached out to black leaders — including Lewis — to ask for their forgiveness. He won election as governor again in 1983 with overwhelming black support.

That kind of reconciliation is something in which Obama, and Democrats, seem to have little interest today.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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