Thursday, November 12, 2015

I Apologize, John Henry

In early 1983 I was a 23 years old law school student. My brother, Lee, who was then a sophomore at Sam Houston State University called in January of that year saying he had scored an interview with John Henry Faulk for a political science research paper he was writing.

He asked if I wanted to come along for the interview. Of course I said yes.

Many reading this may not recognize the name John Henry Faulk, but in the mid to late 20th century, he was a sort of legend, particularly among liberals of a certain age and stripe. Hard as it may be to imagine, think along the lines of a southern, liberal, Bill O'Rielly.

I had been negatively editorializing to my brother about Faulk for years. Faulk bothered my conservative, younger self because he would seem to materialize out of thin air on network television. It always seemed to be CBS. When they needed sardonic comment on conservative economic or social policy, Faulk seemed always there to oblige.

Faulk had been blacklisted from, ironically, CBS, in the 1950s, later writing a book about the experience, and his lawsuit for being libeled, titled appropriately, Fear on Trial. The book had been a bestseller in the 1960s, but I thought it strange that someone appearing as a regular on the 1970s parody-of-itself television show Hew Haw would be giving serious commentary to policy matters, especially anything Ronald Reagan. Most of all, I disliked his one foot on a stool, kick back, folksy delivery.

Faulk had decided in early 1983, almost out of nowhere, to run for Congress against Phil Gramm. Gramm, who had run and had been elected to Congress as a Democrat, had been repudiated by the party for his conservative voting record. He resigned his 6th Congressional seat, which before it was gerrymandered out, included Bryan/College Station, to run as a Republican in a special election. .

I was all about Phil Gramm in those days. I admired his free market approach to just about everything. From my myopic white, upper middle class point of view racial and social problems were better dealt with by markets than through government intervention and regulation. Gramm fed into my then world view. I loved that Gramm had a Ph.D. in Economics, yet spoke in a Georgia drawl. At the time I thought he could, and should, someday be President.

Well, John Henry, I was wrong. Real wrong. About Phil Gramm, about you, about most everything.

My brother called Gramm, and been told by some minion's minion that Gramm could not see him, but to my bother's surprise, Faulk said yes. Hence the call to me. I cut class and drove to Bryan for the interview. Ironic that I now have practiced law there for almost 30 years.

My brother took out a bulky tape recorder, pushed record, and we started. We peppered Faulk with  supply side economic questions he deftly parried.  I asked him about Joseph McCarthy (he hated him) and at length whether as a matter of policy he thought the Great Society programs of Lyndon Johnson a failure (he did not).

I would give almost anything for my brother to have kept that cassette.

Faulk thought Gramm an opportunist. Through the haze of time, I think Faulk ran because he knew Gramm would never had resigned and a special election called unless Gramm knew he would most certainly win. I think he knew Gramm had sights much higher than the 6th Congressional. I believe Faulk knew even without his entry in the race the two other Democrats on the ballot, Chet Edwards and Dan Kubiak, would split the Democratic vote. Faulk ran because he wanted to call Gramm out in a way he knew neither Kubiak or Edwards could.

John Henry Faulk was a well educated man. A protege of J. Frank Dobie, a friend of Edward R. Murrow and Louis Nizer. A man who knew the evils of the Jim Crow segregation laws and spoke up against it at a time when there was real danger in doing so. A man who stood up to a world class bully like Roy Cohn when, again, there was real danger, and won. I think back and wonder how he must have felt with the boy I was asking him about things of which he knew so much and about which I knew so little.

John Henry Faulk's New York Times obituary is here. Although it contains much of the information linked above, the respect The Gray Lady shows him is palpable.

After about an hour, we finished and I drove back to Houston convinced I knew it all.

Well, I guess some things do not change.

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