First off, let me admit that the essay below is shamelessly stolen. It was copied and used without permission. So if you like the essay, go out and buy Susie Bright's books (see the review of her book Susie Bright's Sexwise, where this, and many other fine essays, appeared). Susie Bright and her publisher certainly deserve the money. So I hope that my stretching "fair use" copyright law can be forgiven and that this Web page will only increase Ms. Bright's book sales. You can also call the Good Vibrations mail order company at 1-800 BUY VIBE to order Susie Bright's books. Any errors found below are my typos.
Once again we are entering an election year and once again we are hearing a lot about "family values". We are hearing about how this country was founded as "one nation, under god" (something that was conceived in the 1950s) and about how everything would be so much better if we could return to the morals of the Eisenhower era. Your right to read this, and the book review that accompanies it, is being threatened by the "Communications Decency Act", which was passed with the argument that it would "protect children". I do not expect Jesse Helms to champion free expression. But among those voting for the CDA were liberal Democrats Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Pat Schroeder. After being confronted afterwards they all mentioned the need to "protect the children". So I think that this essay is just as timely now as it was four years ago. It is time that we remembered that free expression is what makes America a great country. It is time that we remembered that freedom of religion also means freedom from religion, if we so desire.
Ian Kaplan, April 13, 1996
In late summer of 1992, incumbent President George Bush and the Republican Party held a convention in Texas to proclaim their agenda for beating Clinton's Democratic ticket.
The Houston GOP get-together will be remembered forever for its Family Values Night, a Wednesday evening dedicated to insulting virtually everyone in America who didn't look like those attending the convention.
My local daily paper asked me to cover Family Values Night. They were too cheap to fly me to Houston, advising me instead to park my butt in front of C-SPAN for the evening. I'm forever grateful for their penny-pinching, since the ensuing evening of televised prejudice left me gasping on my knees in my own living room. Thankfully, I was safely home in Sodom-by-the-Sea.
I don't know where the Republican Party would be without "The Children." You know "The Children" are the whole reason that family values were even given one minute of Republican convention air time. "The Children" are the centerpiece of the Republican platform to turn this country around. As Governor John Ashcroft of Missouri said, if our children are not instilled with a moral purpose, "they will turn to selfish gratification of drugs, promiscuity, rioting... and even mindless TV."
I closed my eyes for a moment to imagine such gluttony and realized that the hedonists passing across my mind's eye were not tiny tots or even petulant teenagers, but great big grown-ups.
When it comes to drugs, sex and violence, and even passing out cold in front of the television set, you can't beat the over-eighteen crowd. Adults -- the kind who have had parents and grandparents (and even a public school teacher or two) to instill the basic Judeo-Christian work ethic from day one -- are the people who are falling through the thousands of black holes that separate George Bush's Points of Light. All the GOP ticket had to say about them was that they obviously weren't raised right.
The Christian Right is at a loss to explain how millions of people who can recite Bible stories just as well as Pat Robertson are disaffected, degraded, or just plain down and out. Some of them had bootstraps, gave a good tug on them, and the straps broke. Others were born with beautiful boots, but preferring to feel the grass under their feet, threw them out.
It's a fact -- when politicians don't have a clue about what's wrong with grown-ups in America, rich or poor, they turn to the subject of children: children's innocence, their malleability, their unmistakable victimhood.
Go ahead, get out the handkerchiefs, but before your eyes get red with anger or misty with sentiment, get a grip on this new code phrase. "The children" doesn't mean the little ones who have to be in bed by nine -- it means us, the big guys.
In the GOP family values tent, George and Babs are Mon and Dad, the Reagans are doting grandparents, and we voters are the babies. William Bennett, former drug czar and Education Secretary, spelled this out Wednesday night. "There are things children simply should not see," he said. But Bennett's not talking about your baby niece, he's talking about you, adult citizen.
Bush, after all, is the former chief of the CIA, an agency founded on the notion that there are many, many things the American public should not see. When we do catch a glimpse of a savings and loan scandal, or an opportunistic oil war, or a black man beaten into the ground by four white cops, we the people get the Simi Valley treatment: it's not us, it can't happen here, and it's business as usual.
In his nominating speech for Dan Quayle, Bennett wanted to be precise about his difference with Democrats. He declared, as happy as a biscuit, "We do not believe in handing out condoms to children."
Well, gee, Bill, what's your stand on handing out condoms to adulterous men over forty? How about housewives over twenty-five who put their careers on hold and their cookies in the oven? Should they have condoms? Should any American of voting age get disease prevention or birth control information?
The GOP is loathe to answer adult-size questions like these. In their view, The Children are the great unwashed of all ages -- anyone from eight to eighty who can't buy his or her way out of a difficult situation. After all, giving out anything for free, let alone condoms, is gosh-darned communistic.
The most moving message of Family values Night in Houston came from an unheralded speaker, Mary Fisher, the daughter of presidential adviser and philanthropist Max Fisher. She is a personal friend of the Bushes. She is upper-middle-class and the blond mother of two preschoolers; she is also HIV-positive and president of the Family AIDS Network.
She wore a red ribbon on her lapel, a striking symbol of the Hollywood liberal elite, and she attacked ignorance and bigotry. She challenged the Republicans to get on the stick. She said she identified with poor black women and lonely gay men who were suffering from the same diagnosis as she. She scored a direct hit on the family values motif when she said, "We cannot praise the family and then ignore the virus that destroys it."
Fisher talked about her expectation that her children will be orphans. The TV camera panned the arena, picking up scores of bewildered, tear-stained faces, all women. She begged the party to put aside politics and make a sound policy.
That's when the atmosphere became all childlike again. Fisher never articulated what a sound policy might be. She pressed for parents to be "effective" educators of their children about AIDS, but how are mons and dads supposed to be "effective"? Would she advise her sons about condoms when they came of age? Would she go to their state-run school (that's the new post-Cold War euphemism for public schools) and deliver the same prime-time messages she gave the GOP?
Fisher seemed to be hinting at a great deal of what conservatives abhor. Her lines owed more to gay activism than to partisan politics. She must surely know that the right wing has no intention of creating an AIDS policy that doesn't put the blame on an "alternative lifestyle" for a disease that they repeatedly frame in moral terms: "What have you done to deserve this?"
Governor Pete Wilson of California appeared at the conference via satellite. We were told he'd been working day and night to solve our California budget crisis. I'm surprised he could find a moment to comb his hair for the camera. But he did, and his message was that Republicans are "compassionate conservatives." Dutiful paternalism struck again. Pete said that when a family has a budget problem, they sit down at the kitchen table and figure out which things are nonessential -- like a new car or a refrigerator -- versus what things are essential -- like providing money for the kids' schooling.
I don't knw that families Wilson is talking about, but my ancient refrigerator has been leaking for the past year, and my ten-year-old care is running on a prayer. At the moment, my toddler's day care costs as much as a one-bedroom apartment. I was kind of hoping I could send my daughter to a "state-run" school for free when she's old enough because I thought that was where my taxes were going!
Pete and George and Danny are like a lot of daddies that kids complain about these days -- they just don't get it. Speaking for my generation, which is already old enough to know better, here's a message that any president, Democrat or Republican, should pay attention to: When it comes to hypocritical family values, as the GOP is so fond of saying, this will not stand.
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