The text of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment was published here recently to wit:
"Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."
I added the comment, "If there has ever been a proposed amendment to the Constitution about which so much misinformation was circulated, it does not come readily to mind."
Two women wrote to say they were pleased to read that column. A third asked, "What happened, male chauvinist? Did Mrs. Graham order you to write that column?" But so many men denounced me that I lost count.
For the record: Nobody at The Washington Post has ever told me what to write. Many colleagues have told me what not to write.
Of those who told me what not to write, all have been copy editors who had my education and best interests at heart. They saved me from many a blunder, and I am grateful to them.
I suspect that readers who ask whether I was ordered to write something know full well that the question is insulting. They just want to see how I react when I become angry.
Here's your answer, dear hearts: Regardless of The Washington Post's editorial position on an issue, those of us who write interpretive or "opinion" articles are free to express our own views. Straight news is written by reporters who know they must attempt to be unopinionated recorders of fact. It is assumed that all of us will act with maturity and will be guided by a decent respect for the opinions of others.
Now let me tell you how John J. Aubuchon of Rockville responded to my ERA column. He wrote:
"Sir: Your ERA article is one of the purest examples of simple-minded crap that it has been my misfortune to read. If you have an open mind, may I be permitted to refresh it somewhat?
"About five years before I was born, an amendment to the Constitution was ratified. The complete official text was, 'The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.' That is it; COMPLETE.
"You may find enough misinformation, lies and unadulterated (expletive deleted) about the 16th Amendment to make a pile large enough to put your collection of 'misinformation' about the ERA to shame.
"While I was growing up, I lived in a neighborhood blessed with a large number of old people who were friends of my grandfather. I used to listen to his conversations with his friends about the 16th Amendment.
"Those old people were saying what they had been saying since the amendment was first proposed in 1909. Their so-called misinformation is now reality, viz., the lowering of the base income to which the tax applies and the increase of the percentage rate of the tax. (Check out the initial base and percentage.)
"They predicted many dire consequences that would flow from that ill-conceived amendment. Those consequences, and many more unforeseen by those old people, are now reality.
"If your research resources are unable to supply you with the 'misinformation' spread by people prior to the ratification of the 16th Amendment, consult the Internal Revenue Service's library, which is full of rules, regulations, exemptions, exclusions, opinions, rulings, etc., etc., and etc. A whole mass of corruption flowed from the 30 words of that simple little amendment, and it has not stopped yet. After the writers of the rules, regulations, opinions and rulings get through with implementing and interpreting ERA, you may be required to bear children."
John, don't waste time trying to convince me that Congress can make an incomprehensible mess of even a good idea. I'm already on your side.
The word fubar was coined with Congress in mind. After snafu came to mean "situation normal, all fouled up," tarfu was invented to mean "things are really fouled up." The last line in the series was fubar, which means, "fouled up beyond all recognition."
My best recollection is that these words originated on Capitol Hill and at the Pentagon almost simultaneously.
However, despite the fact that Congress sometimes goes to absurd extremes, there is continuing need for new legislation -- in this case, to ensure that men and women will have equal rights. Inasmuch as our only national legislature is the Congress, we must permit it to function. And we must complain loudly when it malfunctions.
We need the amendment to enable Congress to end abuses that have persisted in spite of all the existing guarantees in the Constitution.
If Congress does its job well, we will all benefit. If Congress does its job poorly, we can vote the rascals out. And if we fail to vote out rascals who pass foolish laws, we deserve whatever they do to us.