THE REPUBLICANS MAKE A MAJOR ISSUE OF MORAL STANDARDS-AND CELEBRITIES PROVIDE SOME EXAMPLES
THE‘FAMILY VALUES’ THING
THE REPUBLICANS MAKE A MAJOR ISSUE OF MORAL STANDARDS-AND CELEBRITIES PROVIDE SOME EXAMPLES
Those who would treat politics and morality apart will never understand the one or the other.
Viscount Morley of Blackburn, 1876
Once upon a time in America, most people cherished their spouses, doted on obedient children and worshipped God. They honored their parents, helped their neighbors, took pride in hard work, obeyed the law and venerated the flag. It is a legend, preserved as truth among white, mostly Protestant, middle-class Americans, about wholesomeness and duty, ice-cream sodas and hayrides, apple pie, Christmastime and shyly holding hands. That relatively untroubled life in the relatively understandable postwar world was all but destroyed by the Cold War and assassinations; by legions of marching protesters and the madness of
urban crime; by public prurience and political immorality. But the very forces that stripped away the old-fashioned American dream have created a longing among millions for its return, even among many of those too young to have experienced it. Last week, the Republican Party, having tested the wind and detected an exploitable issue, declared George Bush and Dan Quayle the champions of family values and dispatched the president and vice-president to a November showdown with the Democrats.
Emboldened: Bush arrived at the convention far behind Democratic rival William Clinton in the polls, having reneged on his 1988 campaign promise not to raise taxes and seemingly adrift as the American economy worsened. He left obviously emboldened by four days of adulation and with some polls indicating that he had closed the gap. And he was armed with a strategy that not only plays heavily on nostalgia but draws a bead on Clinton, who has been dogged by allegations of marital infidelity. Another Republican target is Clinton’s lawyer wife, Hillary, who stands accused by some Republicans of putting her career ahead of her daughter. But it is also a strategy not unlike a sword that cuts both ways. Any public scandal in the Bush camp between now and election day would be disastrous. And devotion to family values offers no remedies for stubbornly high unemployment, problems in the public school system, worsening urban crime and other difficulties.
As it happened, it was not a great week for examples of enduring family values from prominent international personalities. Republican delegates returning to their Houston hotel rooms were treated to lurid television accounts from London about the Duchess of York cavorting topless beside a St-Tropez swimming pool— and in the presence of her young children—with John Bryan, a 37-year-old Texas millionaire described as her financial adviser (page 36). And movie director Woody Allen delivered another devastating body blow to those traditional values when he acknowledged that he was having an affair with the young adopted daughter of his former companion, Mia Farrow, and her exhusband, German-born conductor André Previn. The shocking disclosure played out against Allen’s custody battle with Farrow in the courts for three other children now living with her. Then police officials in Connecticut said that they were investigating reports that Farrow’s seven-year-old adopted daughter, Dylan, may have been a victim of sexual abuse, and that Allen was involved in the investigation. Allen angrily denied any suggestion of sexual abuse (page 34).
But in the air-conditioned cocoon of the Houston Astrodome, its grumbling National League baseball Astros banished for the duration of the Republican convention, speaker after speaker zeroed in on the GOP’s commitment to the old values. The 2,210 delegates were from the right wing of American politics.
They endorsed a party platform and cheered speakers who gave voice to their resentment towards welfare abuses, their opposition to gay rights and to abortion, and their unease at the changing role of women and the decline of the traditional family. They had come not for a lecture but for reassurance. At Wednesday’s “family-values night,” they got it as nominating speakers cast the 68-year-old Bush in the role of guardian of traditional values— and heaped scorn on Clinton. And they cheered lustily as Bush stood on the podium with his 67-year-old wife, Barbara, and all five children and 12 grandchildren.
One after the other, members of Bush’s family eulogized the President with a lavish fulsomeness that might well have made a TV soap-opera producer blush. They urged Americans to re-elect the man they characterized as an old-fashioned father devoted to God, family and country. The oldest grandchild, 16-year-old George P. Bush, said that the President, “despite the enormous pressures of his job, always has time for his grandkids. The family is what makes my grandfather tick.” While her listeners cheered and wiped away tears, Barbara Bush said
that the parents she and Bush had met in their travels around the country “are determined to teach their children integrity, strength, responsibility, courage, sharing, love of God, and pride in being an American.” And she spoke of her admiration for strong, traditional, God-fearing families and deplored the fact that they are beset by “more drugs, more violence, more promiscuity than when our children were growing up.”
For hundreds of delegates, the rhetoric affirmed their conviction that American society had become disordered and immoral, rewarding the indolent for not working and indulging the purveyors of lewd art, salacious literature and intolerably graphic sexual education in the schools. But that view was not unanimous, even among the Republicans gathered in Houston. Some said that family values could not be legislated, but had to be taught, within the family and by the example of people prominent in politics, the arts, business and entertainment.
Others said that they were concerned about the politics of appearing to exclude single parents, common-law couples and gays from the Republican mainstream.
But for the most part, the conventioneers revelled in the celebration of old values—and in their potential as a political weapon. Shortly after the New York Post tabloid revealed details of Woody Allen’s custody fight with Mia Farrow and his affair with her adopted daughter, delegate Kevin Sabo of Fairfax, Va., appeared on the convention floor holding up a sign which read: “Woody Allen is Clinton’s family-values adviser.” It was a boorish display, but Kevin Sabo may have caught the spirit of the Republican campaign to come. Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson articulated a variation on the theme at the convention when he said S that the conservation-minded Clinton “is running on a I platform that calls for saving the spotted owl, but never mentions the name of God.” Bush’s vision for America, Robertson said, “is one of faith in God, strong families, freedom, individual initiative and free enterprise.”
Invocation: Not everyone assailed Clinton. At an ecumenical prayer breakfast on Thursday, Susan Baker, the wife of Secretary of State James Baker, delivered an invocation that may have startled some members of the presidential party. As the President and Quayle bowed their heads, Mrs. Baker prayed that “as we prepare to participate in the presidential election, please help us to be our best selves, to remember that our opponents are human beings.” Quayle was even more magnanimous in prayer. “Lord, help us to follow you so that we may better lead others,” he intoned at the prayer breakfast. “In the hard campaign ahead, help us to never boast, nor to be uncharitable and above all help us keep that truly precious gift, our sense of humor.”
Quayle, in fact, may enjoy a form of vindication in the Republican party’s decision to embrace family values. Often dismissed by his opponents as a political lightweight, Quayle on May 19, in a speech to the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco, lashed out at the producers of the CBS sitcom Murphy Brown, whose fictional heroine had a baby out of wedlock. The reference consisted of only two sentences in the speech, but it quickly ignited a debate in America about the place of family values in culture and politics. Predictably, his critics questioned his judgment and accused him of abusing single mothers. But conservative middle America applauded him, and he kept up his campaign. In the weeks that followed, he widened his attack to include the “cultural elite” of Hollywood and other targets. Now Quayle will have to wait until after the presidential election on Nov. 3 to find out whether he gets the credit or absorbs the blame as the elusive and potentially explosive issue that he created has become a centrepiece in the Republican drive for the presidency.
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