SHE WAS INTRODUCED as the First Lady of the pro-family movement and by end of her opening joke -- "I want to thank my husband Fred for letting me come today [laughter] -- I like to say that because somehow that irritates the Pro-ERAers more than anything else" -- Phyllis Schlafly had them eating out of her hand. This was her territory, this gathering of 500 conservatives at the Shoreham-Americana, and when someone asked her if Ronald Reagan has asked her for biographical information, she just stood there at the microphone and grinned from ear to ear, basking in the waves of applause.
Schlafly came to town this week to address the American Family Forum, a sort of counter-conference to the White House Conference on Families. She gave her audience the kind of anti-big government, anti-inflation, anti-women's liberation, anti-ERA speech they had come to hear. And she made a powerful pitch to the mostly female audience to use the campaigning, lobbying and voting clout of homemakers to create a national policy that will protect American families.
"When homemakers are aroused to fight for their families, they can be more powerful than any politician," she declared.
Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the Eagle Forum, chairman of the Stop ERA movement, wife, mother of six, lawyer, TV commentator, author (nine books, one that sold three million copies) is a genunie, 24-caret gold star of the New Right. "We need the homemakers of this land in the fight to save America," she exhorts her fans. "Freedom isn't free. If we believe in self-government we need to participate."
She tells them to pick their issues, find the candidates they like and get out and ring those doorbells and register those unregistered voters. "We need to speak up or we are not going to have the kind of society you and your children want to live in," she warns. "And it isn't going to be over in 1980," she tells another questioner. "We need you in the pro-family movement to help make the policies for our dear land."
There you have it. The pro-family movement is going to save America or at least make it a better place to live than it is now. But in case you haven't been listening to the rhetoric, so is the women's movement that the pro-family movement loves to hate.
For the past year or so, both movements have engaged in a passionate debate over which is more "pro-family." The term has been used to justify everything from abortion to a constitutional amendment banning it. But for all the pro-family talk, and all the bright, charismatic leaders such as Schlafly and Eleanor Smeal of the National Organization for Women, neither side has gotten $99[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
Which leads me to a fantasy. What would happen of all these people who are making careers out of being pro-family actually got together and worked for one piece of legislation that would help American families? What would happen if Phyllis Schlafly and her Eagles joined up with organizers from NOW on behalf of one issue important to both sides?
Sure, it's farfetched, but the conservatives and the moderates and the liberals were able to find points of agreement at the second White House Conference on Families in Minneapolis. The number one recommendation that came out of that conference, which passed 20 to 1, was that government policies by systematically analyzed for their impact on families.
The delegates overwhelmingly voted for more programs on alcohol and drug abuse. They voted to raise the drinking age to 21. They want unions and businesses to revise personnel policies to take into account the family responsibilities of employes. They want Medicaid changed to enable people to take care of their elderly relatives at home.
They want tax laws changed so that the wife who spends 40 years working on the family farm doesn't have to pay inheritance taxes when her husband dies. They want the income tax penalty on two-income married couples removed.
They want a rating system for television, like movie ratings, so parents have a clue about what their children want to watch. "it's something conservatives have expressed a lot of concern about, but it received a lot of support," says conference staff director John Carr. "It passed by a margin of 15 to 1. Some of these things don't fit the labels. It is conservative or liberal to oppose the marriage tax? I'm not sure, but I'm sure the delegates are opposed to it."
Think of the impact of Eleanor Smeal and Phyllis Schlafly both testifying for changes in Medicaid and tax laws and TV ratings. What could be done if women's leaders on both sides were united on behalf of pro-family legislation instead of being perpetually pitted against each other on stalemated issues such as ERA and abortion?
So, okay, it's a fantasy, but today's the Fourth of July and we're all allowed to stop being cynical for the day and to think about our country and how we can preserve and improve what we have. My fantasy is that some day all those well-meaning, patriotic pro-family folks on both sides will see their way past abortion and ERA and will find ways of working together toward improving the lives of American families.