I HAVE IN MY POSSESSION a tape recording of a speech. I came into possession of this tape recording through devious means. Well, sort of devious. I'm told at least one person in the chain of connection shouldn't be mentioned. The other people involved are associated with the Homemakers for Equal Rights Association, a national organization of women who have chosen homemaking as a career and who support the equal rights amendment.
They want to make the point that you don't have to be a radical lesbian feminist career woman to support ERA. Somehow they heard aboutt a speech given by a leading conservative earlier this summer in California, and they got a tape of it. This was no secret speech, no closed meeting or anything like that. Some 7,000 people heard it. But it's the kind of speech that doesn't usually get covered in the effet, liberal, Eastern, establishment press. (Did I get all the words?)
To be specific, the speech was given by Howard Phillips, national director of the Conservative Caucus, who used to be President Nixon's War on Poverty director and now lobbies for conservative causes in Washington. The speech was given in Long Beach, Calif., at a "pro-family" rally sponsored by the "Citizens for Biblical Morality," the California branch of the Moral Majority.
Now I have a confession to make before I go on about the speech. The confession has to do with the fact that I have apparently been niave. I thought that when the New Right and all those wonderful folks who are bringing morals back to America talked about the traditional American values that they meant some of the traditinal values we had before the Sexual Revolution. I didn't realize they were harking back to the American Revolution. Borrowing a page from that old subversive-baiter Sen. Joe McCarthy, let us listen in to what Howard Phillips told his audience about what has happened to the American family since the good old days:
"A second major result of policies that have been antifamily, that have begun not just in this decade or even in this century, but have extended for many years, has been the liberation of the wife from the leadership of the husband," said Phillips. "It has been a conscious policy of government to liberate the wife from the leadership of the husband and thus break up the family as a unit of government." First, he said, in the 1800s, legislation was passed that gave women property rights. "Second, we saw how women were liberated from the leadership of their husbands politically. You know, it used to be that in recognition of the family as a basic unit of society, we had one family, one vote. And we have seen the trend instead toward one person, one vote. The ultimate extension of this philosophy has been the sexual liberation of the woman from her husband," said Phillips, and hence, he said, we got adultery, promiscuity and so forth.
The "pro-family" movement has been out front, all along, in its opposition to the equal rights amendment and abortion, but it appears that's not all the movement is against. At first, it might seem amusing to discover that in 1980 someone is bemoaning in a public forum the fact that women got the vote. But if you consider that the forum was packed, that the people attending it represent a force that is strong enough to threaten the reelection of people such as Sen. George McGovern, Sen. John Culver and Sen. Birch Bayh, then it becomes a matter not to be taken so lightly.
The tendency among people who disagree with the Moral Majority folks has been to dismiss them as a bible-waving coalition of zealots who are guilty of the sin of mixing religion and politics, which some say is not the American way. Now I do not particularly like the idea of people voting the Bible any more than I like them voting the Koran, but that hardly makes them un-American. What does bother me about the New Right and the "pro-family" folks is that they seem to have much more on their minds about the role of women in American society than they are advertising.
To hear Phyllis Schlafly tell it, you would think that she is trying to rescue women from themselves.
The women's movement, she tells her audiences, "wants a rigid unisex mandate with total federal control." Her pitch is that the pro-family movement is the one that will preserve the traditional role of women as homemakers and will protect them by keeping them out of the Army and unisex johns. Certainly women can have careers, if they want, as long as they don't neglect their families, she says. Certainly they can be appointed to important jobs. If they're competent.
That doesn't sound unreasonable. But it seems there's more to the New Right and the Moral Majority than meets the eye. Phyllis Schlafly is saying one thing, Howard Phillips quite another. In the name of the family, he is criticizing government policies that have given women the vote and the right to own property. If such antifamily policies have liberated women from the leadership of their husbands, presumably "pro-family" policies would put her right back where she was when Paul Revere got up on his horse -- living in families in which the man was the absolute head, the only one who could vote, the only one who owned property, the only one who really counted.
If that's the New Right, then give me the old chauvinism. At least then I still had the vote.