Mok, Matt Yglesias, and Ezra Klein debate the question of the sincerity of George Bush’s public opposition to gay rights. Obviously, the first thing to say that the question is pretty much unknowable, so we’re all guessing. But my speculation is that the latter two are right. I think Bush is indifferent to gay rights and probably doesn’t much care about people’s sexuality (and there does seem to be some evidence for both.) There’s the fact that he supported sodomy laws and the governor of Texas but (IIRC) opposed them as President (and wasn’t particularly critical of Lawrence.) If the wingnut base of the GOP wanted constitutional amendments to ban porn, Sunday shopping and eating shellfish but was indifferent about gay rights, I think there’s every reason to believe that Bush’s priorities would shift accordingly. I don’t think he’s any kind of supporter of gay rights, of course, but nor do I think that he’s particularly hostile to the idea, and nor to I think he really cares.
To Bush’s moderate apologists, this is a defense for the way he used the FMA as an election year wedge; the homophobia is just a public display, so what’s the big deal? Where I think Yglesias is exactly correct is that if this take on Bush is true–and I think it is–then it’s even more reprehensible. When George Wallace passed away, many people noted the claims by his biographers that the racism was largely a facade. The trajectory is well known–he started off as a relative moderate, became a remarkable virulent public racist, and then immediately went back to being a moderate when blacks were enfranchised. (See The Politics of Rage or, for the shorter version, The Drive-By Truckers.) To some people, this made Wallace more sympathetic, but I don’t understand that at all. I would have far more sympathy with someone who believed that upholding apartheid was right–despite the gross immorality of their views–than with someone who knew it was terribly wrong pretended to support it to win elections anyway.
And I feel the same way about Bush. The fact that he’s a “closet tolerant” but is willing to mobilize hatred against gay people is a disgrace. I have more respect for a Santorum, who at least believes that the FMA would be good for the country, than with a callow opportunist like Bush, who knows perfectly well that it isn’t but will play along to appeal to the worst elements of his party. Unprincipled bigots are the worst kind.
Update: As JRD justly points out in the comments, I should emphasize that I’m mining Dan Carter’s analysis, not disagreeing with him. Carter definitely does not think that Wallace’s (possible) cynicism is any kind of mitigating factor; quite the opposite.
…and, of course, Patterson Hood is not trying to exonerate him either:
[Scene: set in Hell, September 1998. Told from the Devil’s point of view]
Throw another log on the fire, boys, George Wallace is coming to stay
When he met St. Peter at the pearly gates, I’d like to think that a black man stood in the way.
I know “All should be forgiven”, but he did what he done so well
So throw another log on the fire boys,
George Wallace is a coming…
Now, he said he was the best friend a black man from Alabama ever had,
And I have to admit, compared to Fob James, George Wallace don’t seem that bad
And if it’s true that he wasn’t a racist and he just did all them things for the votes
I guess Hell’s just the place for “kiss ass politicians” who pander to assholes.
So throw another log on the fire, boys, George Wallace is coming to stay
I know, in the end, he got the black people’s votes, but I bet they’d still vote him this way.
And Hell’s just a little bit hotter cuz He played his hand so well
He had what it took to take it so far
Now the Devil’s got a Wallace sticker on the back of his Cadillac.