Cover Story

Wheeling onto the national stage

"Wheeling onto the national stage" Continued...

Issue: "The GOP’s Greg Abbott," May 31, 2014

Some conservative Christians will find Abbott disappointing, though, on educational matters. He spoke of improving schools through competition and “giving parents real choices,” but did not call for true school choice via vouchers or education tax credits. That’s politically dangerous among suburbanites who like their neighborhood schools and small town Texans who worry about undermining high-school football teams.

Asked whether it’s unfair to force some parents to pay twice for education—through taxes and through tuition at religious schools—Abbott countered, “Is it unfair for childless families or seniors to pay for schools?” He said the public purpose of using taxpayer dollars to pay for education is to have a more productive state: “It costs more to incarcerate than to educate.” Since property taxes largely fund Texas schools, businesses and families with costly homes pay more, and kindergarten-kid parents (usually younger and less affluent) pay less. 

Pushed about this, and asked whether the naked classroom shortchanges children—and the future of Texas—by graduating students who may be able to read and write but don’t know what’s right, Abbott spoke about “character education.” But is “character education” without reference to God a donut education with nothing in the center? Abbott grinned and said he had to “live with the hand dealt to us by the Supreme Court.” And yet, vouchers and tax credits that empower parents to make educational choices do not face the same constitutional questions that “religion in the public schools” engenders. 

ABBOTT PRIZES ANALYTICAL rather than speculative thinking. Asked if he ever considers what his life would be like had the tree not fallen on him, he said, “I never have played the game of what if. … It’s a useless exercise.” Some who went through rehab with him focused their hope on walking again: “I never have.” When pressed on the emphatic nevers, I expected Abbott to offer the Gilbert and Sullivan answer: “Hardly ever.” But he insisted: “Never.” Asked how his policy positions might be different if he were an atheist, he responded, “I can’t even comprehend how an atheist would approach an issue.”

It’s hard to know if that’s really the case or if, knowing the gubernatorial race is his to lose by gaffe, Abbott is running a cautious campaign. But his decision-making mode is consistent with his legal and judicial career: Read, study, listen to strong arguments, be decisive. He reads nonfiction rather than fiction and makes practical applications: On April 29, partway through a new biography of Alexander Hamilton, he commented that Hamilton, with his centralizing tendencies, “would be a dangerous man today.” Abbott used to go almost every weekend to movies with his daughter, whom he and his wife adopted at birth, but she’s turned 17, he’s campaigning, and that’s less frequent now: The last one they saw together was Frozen. The analytical mind is less evident when he talks of her birth: Present at the delivery, “I was the very first person to hold her.” 

Why did the tree fall on Abbott? In our conversation he did not speculate, but said, “My life is better for it.” He stressed again the empathy he gained, and added a vertical dimension as well: “This transformative event brought me closer to God.”

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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