THE WHITE HOUSE Conference on Families, scheduled for 1979, has been postponed until 1981. The reason was a family fight in the administration. Patsy Fleming, who works for HEW Secretary Joseph Califano, resigned as chairperson because some people objected to the fact that she was divorced and had three children. Califano, who denied he was bowing to pressure, said he would appoint a Catholic father from an intact family as co-chairperson to balance the program. This didn't sit too well with happily married Protestant and Jewish people who felt they should have as much to say as Catholics about the role of the family in American society.
The only reason the conference was scheduled in the first place is that President Carter, in a rash campaign promise, vowed to hold one if elected.
I suspect President Carter would like to forget the whole thing, but he's stuck with it. I have a solution to the president's problem that would cost the taxpayers nothing and keep the conference from turning into a religious, ethnic and sociological brawl.
Every day, lined up around the White House, at least a thousand tourists are waiting to get in. They include a cross-section of Americans from every state - middle-class people, poor people, white people, black people, Chicanos, Indians and Orientals. Some are families with mother and father in attendance others are divorced people with their children: still others are grandparents. Everyone in line has a family of some sort or they wouldn't be there.
On a rainy day, which would not be announced in advance, the line, instead of moving through the public rooms and then being shuffled out into the street again, would be escorted into the East Room of the White House. There they would be given badges by Hamilton Jordan and seated in gilt chairs.
Califano would announce he was swearing them in as delegates to the White House Conference on Families. He would ask for suggestions on how the government could improve the health, education and welfare of the family.
The tourists could all have their say. A divorced person might ask for more alimony; a brother might ask the government to do away with sisters; a middle-class family might ask for larger tax credits for education; an unmarried couple with children could ask for a presidential pardon.
The session would be transcribed by an HEW secretary.
After an hour Califano would adjourn the meeting, thanking everybody for their time, and announce that as a surprise treat Amy Carter and her class would do a clog dance for them.
Then they would all be given a tiny bottle of Amaretto by Jordan as a sourvenir, as they were quickly shown out to Pennsylvania Avenue.
Califano would have the transcript typed up and printed. The first copy would be presented to President Carter on television, and he would hold it up to show that no matter what obstacles he faced he once again kept one of his most important campaign promises.
With the White House Conference on Families out of the way, everyone in the administration could devote their full energies once again to figuring out how to get the Cubans out of Angola.