It strikes me that if the Republicans and Democrats don't knock it off soon in their family values feud, they're in grave danger of giving family values a bad name. In fact it's reached the point where some of us are having nightmares about it:
George Bush: My party's family values are better than your party's family values.
Bill Clinton: Are not.
Major Dad: Are too.
Murphy Brown: Are not
Dan Quayle: Are two.
Actually, I'm not the only one who's questioning the wisdom of a campaign based on trickle-down family values. According to the newest reports out of Washington, it seems to have become a hot potato -- issues-wise -- among Republican strategists as well.
"Some of us are getting pretty sick of this family values," Tommy Hartnett, a Republican Senate candidate from South Carolina, told the New York Times recently.
He was seconded by Republican consultant Michael Deaver: "We've got real day-to-day life and death problems that are facing people every morning. You try to lecture them about family values and they're going to say, 'Don't tell me about God. Tell me about how I'm going to eat. Tell me about how I'm going to pay the rent.' "
Even senior Bush strategist Charles Black predicted that in the future the central focus of Bush's campaign would be the economy, not family values.
Which strikes me as a darn smart move since, sooner or later, someone out there was bound to come up with the following, zTC very embarrassing question: Since when have politicians been the role models we look to for family values?
Or to put it another way: You show me the politician who's made his own family a top priority, and I'll show you a man out of office.
(Note to the gender police: I do not include women in this assessment as they are still too new to politics to be judged. Yet.)
To prove my point, let us review briefly the attention paid by George Bush to his wife and children in the early years of their marriage. From a Vanity Fair profile of Barbara Bush comes this description of the young family:
"In almost every account of their first years together in Texas, George Bush is out doing and being -- starting his own company, raising money back East, enjoying what he would always describe nostalgically as a great adventure. And Barbara is living a parallel life of grinding hard work. . . . For long periods Barbara managed the family alone, while George traveled. 'I remember Mom saying she spent so many lonely, lonely hours with us kids,' the Bushes' daughter Doro [said]. She did it all. She brought us up.' "
And what of Top Family Values Man Dan Quayle? Since he entered politics in 1976, has he put his family first? For an answer to that question, let's go to Marilyn Quayle. In 1980 she admitted that the traveling required of her husband often left her feeling like a "single parent."
And, no, I'm not going to bring up Dan Quayle's remark in the 1988 campaign, apropos families, that Republicans "understand the importance of bondage between parent and child." I could. But it would be wrong.
The fact is that Democratic politicians are no different from Republicans when it comes to the single-minded pursuit of political ambition. George Bush may have been the most recent politician to say, "I'll do anything to win," but he's certainly not alone in that philosophy. He simply wasn't shrewd enough to keep his quest for power to himself.
Power. The Holy Grail of politics. Or, as that great philosopher Henry Kissinger put it: "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac."
Which brings us nicely, I think, to the family-values-related issue of: Womanizing.
While it is fashionable to regard the Democrats as less faithful in their marriages than the Republicans -- a partial list of alleged Democratic strayers would include Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson -- the truth is that political groupies are attracted to powerful politicians of either party.
Let's not forget, for instance, Republican President Warren G. Harding, who carried on "stand-up affairs" -- in a closet, while his wife pounded on the door.
To sum up: Where do politicians get off lecturing to us about family values? Shall we admire John Kennedy's flagrant and dangerous womanizing? Should we look to the dysfunctional family of Ronald Reagan for guidance in family values? I think not.
So let's bag the family values sermonizing from both political parties. Unless, of course, it addresses the link between family values and the economy. Or the connection between family values and a family leave policy or a universal health service.
In other words, when it comes to family values, it's time for each of the candidates
to put his money where his mouth is.