Gerald Ford was a respected if somewhat boring (in a good way) member of the U.S. Congress, where he represented the ultra-conservative Grand Rapids area until a political earthquake elevated him into first the vice-presidency and then the presidency. He remains the only person to hold both of those offices without being elected to either one.
As a congressman, Ford was once described by a colleague as the type of guy who would give the coat off his back to a homeless person and then go into the Capitol and vote against an appropriation for the poor.
I was going to use Ford as a jumping off point for a column about how even the most decent Republicans can be blind to human rights issues unless they come face-to-face with the problem. My examples were going to be a U.S. senator who did a complete turnabout on gay marriage after he learned his son was gay; and a Michigan lieutenant governor who, as the father of an autistic child, successfully ushered in legislation that forced insurance companies to expand their coverage for autism.
They were worthy positions, I was poised to say, but it’s too bad they can’t come to these conclusions when their family isn’t involved.
Then I did some research, proving that “the less you know” isn’t always the best course of action.
The first example still stands. Rob Portman would accurately be described as a moderate Republican from Ohio. Nonetheless, while in the U.S. House in the mid-1990s he co-sponsored the Defense of Marriage Act that banned federal recognition of same-sex marriage. A few years later he voted to prohibit same-sex couples in Washington, D.C. from adopting children.
Then 14 years later he announced that he had changed his position and became the first Republican U.S. senator to support the legalization of same-sex marriage.
His reversal came shortly after his son, who was then in college, came out as gay. Portman the father uttered stirring and surely sincere words about how wonderful his son was and how much he loved him.
All well and good. But it’s fair to wonder how long Portman would have held on to his politically-safeanti-gay position had his son been straight. What about the young men and women who he didn’t know who were gay? What would it take for Portman to realize that these young people were also wonderful and loved by their parents and deserving of the same rights as straight people? The same rights he know recognized were due to his son.
If Republicans have to have blood relatives in order to support basic rights, then do we have to wait for the police to shoot unarmed children of Republican lawmakers before they acknowledge that Black Lives Matter?
So you see where I was going with this. Next stop was going to be Brian Calley. His support of insurance reform seemingly runs counter to Republican orthodoxy that government should keep its meddling hands out of the pockets and business of private business. Surely, his position was motivated by the love of his daughter.
Except for one thing. It turns out that Calley’s strong support of insurance reform for autistic children dated back to his days as a state lawmaker, which was before he learned that his daughter was autistic.
The sound you just heard was me dismounting from my high horse. Portman’s evolving position was late but still welcome. Calley was on the right track from the start.