Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general who'll probably (alas) be the next governor, is defending the state's ban on gay marriage against a suit that, as it turns out, was filed by a gay friend from law school:
When Greg Abbott was paralyzed by a fallen tree in 1984, Mark Phariss flew 500 miles to his friend's bedside. They were law school pals who swapped stories over dinner, job leads and airport rides, and they still exchange Christmas cards today.Phariss wasn't openly gay when they were at Vanderbilt Law School together, though they argued about other political issues. They're opponents in this suit, but they seem to bear no ill will toward each other:
Their friendship is now at an extraordinary junction: Phariss, who is gay, filed the Texas lawsuit that a federal judge used this week to strike down the state's ban on same-sex marriage, which Abbott, Texas' attorney general, has vowed to defend all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Both chalk it up as a remarkable coincidence. Abbott, a Republican who is running for Texas governor, said Friday he still considers Phariss a friend, even though they've lost touch in the past decade....
Abbott said Friday he only realized Phariss was gay when his name appeared on the lawsuit, and said Phariss' sexuality doesn't change his opinion of him.I suppose I should be heartened by this. I'm not. I lived through busing in Boston in the 1970s, and I'm reminded of white classmates who were angry opponents of desegregation and seemed to loathe blacks, but who made an exception for blacks they knew personally -- for instance, football teammates. Oh, my friend's all right, but those people... I don't want to hear that.
"It shows that on some of the hot-button issues of the day, we can have a civil discourse without harsh rhetoric," Abbott said....
Phariss said that while he and Abbott never discussed gay rights, he never detected hatred from his friend -- who is now one of Texas' most conservative political leaders.
"I don't perceive from him any animus toward gay people," Phariss said. "I do remember, either in law school or after, (talking) about someone we thought might have been gay -- we just kind of speculated whether a certain person might be gay. He didn't seem to have an issue with that."
I'm also reminded of politicians from the past who pursued divisive crusades because doing so was shrewd politics. Ron Fournier recently noted that Orval Faubus, the segregationist governor of Arkansas who fought Dwight Eisenhower over the desegregation of Little Rock's Central High School in 1957,
began his career as a progressive Democrat who desegregated state buses and public transportation and considered the possibility of introducing multi-race schools after his 1954 election. A challenge from his right prompted Faubus to adopt a segregationist stance....The same was true of George Wallace, who early in his political career was a relative moderate on racial issues by Alabama standards:
... Wallace attempted in 1958 to become his party's candidate for governor of Alabama. His main rival, John Patterson, Alabama's Attorney General, was an outspoken segregationist who had become a popular hero with white racists by using the state courts to declare the NAACP in Alabama an illegal organization. Patterson was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan and easily defeated Wallace.I'm also thinking of Joe McCarthy, about whom one journalist said, "He didn't give a damn about Communism or anything else. It was all a game with Joe." Richard Rovere, in his biography of McCarthy, wrote:
After the election Patterson admitted that: "The primary reason I beat him (Wallace) was because he was considered soft on the race question." Wallace agreed and decided to drop his support for integration and was quoted as saying: "no other son-of-a-bitch will ever out-nigger me again".
I know of nothing to suggest that he ever for a moment really thought the government was riddled with Communists; had he really believed this, had he really cared, he would not have abandoned investigations merely from ennui or because of their failure to produce the headlines he had expected. He was a political speculator, a prospector who drilled Communism and saw it come up a gusher. He liked his gusher, but he would have liked any other just as well.To what extent is the right's culture war similarly cynical? Abbott won't let himself get out-gayed (or out-abortioned, for that matter), but he feels no animosity toward his gay friend. His base probably regards the friendship as "hating the sin but loving the sinner" -- but does even hate the sin? Does he care about it at all, except as a way to win votes?