BOSTON -- I was the last in the crowd to snicker when Rev. Pat Robertson forgot his anniversary date. After all, Pat and Dede were not the only couple in America to carry something new down the aisle along with their borrowed and blue. If they wanted to backdate the marriage to prior to conception, that was their business.
In any case, what the good reverend tried to hide from the public seemed less significant to me than what he bragged about to the public: the drama of the second pregnancy. When Dede Robertson was in her eighth month, Pat Robertson took off for an isolated island in Canada. She was left to care for their toddler, her pregnancy and their move to a new house. He went to commune with God. When she begged him to return, he replied: ''This is God who's commanding me.''
But I would let even this lie if it were not for the fact that the genial, charming minister-candidate is now traveling about the country saying that Americans are having too few babies. Or to be more accurate -- that married middle-class Americans are having too few babies.
He has taken arguments about the ''birth dearth'' and used them in precisely the distorted way that could be expected from The Reverend Van Winkle of the Republican Party. The man who, by the way, won nothing but unctuous welcomes from his opponents in the debate last week.
For the sake of the economy, Rev. Robertson says, we need to breed children who will become workers and taxpayers: ''How will a shrinking work force take care of the elderly? We must have more children to expand the work force.'' For the sake of foreign policy we need to breed children, lest we see a worldwide population decline in our ''our culture and our values.''
Rev. Robertson seems to regard the uterus as a national resource. This is a point of view not necessarily shared by those who harbor this part of the anatomy.
His entrepreneurial ideas about increasing American productivity in the human department are predictably chilling. One of the management tools he favors is a ban on abortion. Another plan would make birth control less available. As he said in Vermont last week, he'd veto any budget that gave ''even one penny'' to Planned Parenthood, an organization whose mainstay is offering contraception. This is one way to become a founding father.
The Robertson birth policy is even more retrograde in planning for the mothers who will actually produce the tiny taxpayers. The reverend is opposed to one class of women at home with children: those on welfare. He is, however, happy to pay any middle-class married women a tax-deductible reward to stay home with them.
Someone might tell Rev. Robertson that among those Western, democratic values that he is afraid will wither on an infertile vine are the values of individual choice. We don't have children for the Fatherland or the work force but for the love of family. Another Western, democratic value is equality.
Surely one of the reasons for the low birth rate is that women carry the larger burden of caring for children. Rev. Robertson is not the only man of traditional stripe who ever left at a crucial time. Today, this candidate's family policy is about as remote from the real world of pregnancy and child-raising as that isolated island in Canada.