It's in the voice of the women that the tone of this convention is heard.
Oklahoma delegate Glenda Mattoon didn't want Gerald Ford, didn't want George Bush, actively disliked Betty Ford. Mattoon was a petite, ash-blond walking advertisement for her causes: straw Reagan/Kemp boater. The "precious feet fetus "pro-life" button on her pastel pink dress.Her "I'm mad too, Eddie" pin. This was in support of the "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" right-wing causist Eddie Chiles from Texas. And her "Give 'Em Helms, Jesse" sign.
"If you took a vote at this convention, I'd probably win as the most radical female. I was the bitch on the Human Resources Committee," said Mattoon, 34, a tough operative who helped hammer her views into the plank. "I'm happiest about the "prolife and anti-ERA thing," she shouted over the klaxon horns and popping balloons that sounded like a thousand firecrackers going off in the convention hall gone mad.
All Wednesday night, the excitement ricocheted from one jammed aisle to another. Ford had it! No? Bush? And finally there was Mattoon's idol, Ronald Reagan, trying to quiet the screaming mass. Bush would be on the ticket. "He can enthusiastically support the platform across the board," said the GOP's hero. With that, Mattoon, standing on her chair, let on a whoop and clutched Oklahoma congressman Mickey Edwards.
Triumph was heavy in the hall. "The operative words were 'across the board,'" shout Mattoon. That was Bush's trade-off. "I'll hold my nose and work for Bush. I'm hard-line -- but I want to win. Politics is pretty much a business with me. The conservatives control party. It's a victory for conservatives all over this nation!"
A few feet away, a Stop-ERA, "prolife" delegate from Georgia, her hat overflowing with plastic peaches, sobbed till the tears ran down her cheeks. Two other delegates wiped their eyes and patted her back. One spoke to a friend about "that son-of-a-bitch," in reference to a Reagan aide who had earlier promised them it would not be Bush. When a reporter asked if she had anything to say, the woman pushed the reporter. "You people have been bothering us all week." Would she support Bush? Like many of the far right she was deeply disappointed in the choice. Some see Bush as an elitist Easterner who is against everything they stand for and would hurt the ticket. However, with clenched teeth, they overwhelmingly express a loyalty to Reagan, a loyalty that transcends George Bush. She paused and then spat her answer, "Of course I'll support the ticket." The Three Factions
Some of the more pragmatic operatives kept tryng to say all week that the media made too much out of the platform dropping a commitment to the ERA and supporting an amendment to ban abortion, but for many of the delegates, that was in truth what they cared most about. For, in fact, all the discussion was a debate on the future of the "American Family."
Sex. Promiscuity. Divorce. Homosexuality. The ideologues talk about these subjects a lot and fervently. They do not simply espouse their Norman Rockwell would vision of "The Family." They seek to impose it. And they are a considerable faction among the delegates here. One poll of 600 delegates showed that 24 percent of the women consider themselves far right and 59 percent said they were "very conservative."
There were three major factions among the women delegates:
The Reagan pragmatists, who looked almost centrist this time around.Many of them wished the abortion amendment would go away and felt it had nothing to do in the platform, although most favored cutting off federal funding of abortions.
At the left were the moderates, forlorn endangered species. Helen Milliken, wife of Michigan's governor, found a home as she spoke to thousands at an outdoor ERA rally but had no voice inside the hall. "Very worried" about the conservative direction of the party, Milliken said, "They are retreating. ERA would impact on all the existing discriminating laws. They are going to send woman back to back-alley abortions."
Then there were are the far-right ideologues who are called by some of the more pragmatic conservative, "Loose cannons." Delta Delegate
"Abortion promotes promiscuity," said Marilyn Thayer, a Louisiana delegate who helped work out the compromise language on the ERA which headed off a convention floor fight. The sentence merely recognizes "the legitimate efforts of those who support or oppose the Era." But it was enough to stop the pro-ERA forces, who didn't have enough votes to do anything.
But Thayer is uncompromising in some other views. She calls herself a housewife and a "full-time volunteer slave" long involved in politics. Thayer said, "We just don't believe there are any unwanted children." She was asked about the many black children who never get adopted. "Oh, in New Orleans, why their grandmothers and great-grandmothers take care of them." She, like all the pro-life women, feels that abortion is murder. She is also adamant against federal funding for abortions. "Maybe if they think they can't get abortions, they will take the responsibility to not get preganant -- and if they don't, they better be sure the fellows they are fooling around with have the price of an abortion."
They are protecting the rights of the fetus. They speak constantly of "protecting the rights of the unborn child," but they are for cutting off aid to dependent children once they are born.
"I've got to tell you, I was poor as a child," said Thayer, now the wife of an architect. She wouldn't work today because, she said, it would only put them in a higher tax bracket. She looks stern when she speaks of welfare. "Poor today is trying to keep up with everything everybody else has as if it were a right. Your 'right' to have a car. Your 'right' to have air conditioning. That's not poor."
Glenda Mattoon became a conservative when she was 14 years and "read" '1984' and it scared me half to death." She is very active in the Republican party and is an accountant in Norman, Okla. Mattoon feels that the single-issue voters are a strong political force even though they are a small percentage, because their target voting makes a difference in close elections. She is married with an adopted daughter and says that by seeking to ban abortions and deny women a choice, "We're not meddling in other people's lives." She does not see that a platform that pushes presidents to screen federal judges for only those with "pro-life" positions as government meddling. "there is a lack of basic morality. Why, homsexuality is taught in public schools as an acceptable lifestyle!"
Another said, "I think we've upset the balance of nature with the millions of babies already aborted." She looked indignant. "I read where a woman is suing a foundation that will not artificially inseminate her. She's divorced and single now, and wants to have a child if ERA gets in, I'm sure this would be allowed. ERA should be stopped. I'm all for the family unit."
Her view of the family unit is in sharp contrast to the national reality. Now only one household in five contains a "traditional family" -- with a working father supporting a mother and one or more children. The other four include broken families, two-wage-earner families, roommates and people living alone. The Republicans at this convention want to sweep back that tide. They would like the rest of world to conform to their world. In one poll, 80 percent of the women delegates were married and living with their husbands, and another 7 percent were widowed. And many of them can afford not to work. Sixty-two percent of them came from households of more than $30,000 and another 31 percent came from families with incomes between $30,000 and $50,000. Born Againers
An impromptu conversation starts up with a clutch of Republican women milling in the Plaza Hotel on their way to several parties. "ERA would make government the dictator. We'd lose all our rights, even the simple things like having doors opened for you," said Jeanette Zummo, a Michigan precinct delegate who came to the convention even though she did not make it to the floor.
I'll tell you where this 'freedom of choice' business comes in. Your freedom of choice is in whether to have sex. If you choose to have sex, you are also making yourself willing to have a baby. The choice lies there," said Betsy Dettloff.
Another precinct delegate, Dettloff had a Bible-based show (on how to lose weight) on one of the Michigan religious networks. She said "Praise the Lord" a lot. A "New Testament Christian" active in politics, Dettloff said all four delegates from her precinct were born again. Dettloff believes that with birth-control methods "we have disrupted God's original plan for child-birth. He could control it." She practices no birth control and trusts God more than pills.Dettloff, who is 28, said the reason she and her husband only have two children is that they are "committed to the Lord. He knows my ability to handle the children I can afford.I often speak to the Lord about it. I'm 20 pounds overweight, and I'd like to lose that before I had a baby." If she became pregnant again, she said, "I will be willing to accept it. The Lord is my father and he knows what is best."
Vehemently against Carter -- "He hasn't pushed 'pro-life' or voluntary prayer in school" -- Dettloff plans to work "very hard for Reagan." Outside the Arena
Politicans were predicting that ERA and other women's issues will not be crucial in November's election, that economics will overshadow all else. But Ellie Smeal, president of National Organization for Women (NOW), protested with a worried look on her face. "Can't they see that this is an economic issue? As time get worse, more women will have to go to work and they are still getting 59 cents on the dollar that men make." Smeal blasted the Republicans, who contend their two pages on women's issues in the platform are meaningful. "That's doubletalk. They say they are for equal rights but not the amendment. They are trying to trick the people. They want us to take 200 more years going statute by statute to improve all the affected by the ERA."
She was at this week's ERA rally where men and women by the thousands chant ERA songs and listen to politicians like New York Sen. Jacob Javits, the liberals disenchanted from the GOP convention a few blocks down the street. John Miller, a UAW representative, wears a blue T-shirt with the ERA amendment printed on the front and a "Buy American Cars" bumper sticker pasted to the back. "A lot of secretaries in auto plants aren't paid equitably, even though they often do the work of many of their bosses. The ERA is symbolically important. I think a lot of people would have trouble supporting Reagan. People have got to realize that ERA isn't just for women. I'm divorced and I've got three children. I represent a lot of guys who have to hire babysitters. Thee are single parents all over the place."
The people at the rally were a few blocks but a world away from those at the Republican convention.
"That's not the real world," said one woman in an ERA T-shirt at the rally. Her voice was a little plaintive. "Doesn't the Republican Party know we're out here?"