News media focused much of their coverage of the first White House Conference on Families on the walkout by members of a group called the National Pro-Family Coalition who charged the meeting was "rigged" to block their views. The focus tended to obscure the main event.
The salient point is that the vast majority of delegates -- including many conservatives opposed to ERA, abortion, and homosexual rights -- stayed to debate, to argue, to compromise, and to hammer out an array of recommendations for ways to strenghten the American family. Their sensible consensus was that little was to be gained by a polarized political battle and that families could best be served by dealing with issues on which agreement could be reached: such issues as better child care, prevention of drug and alcohol abuse, and reform of laws that tend to undermine marriage and family life.
We will defer comment on the specific proposals until the other two White House family conferences -- in Minnesota and California -- take place. Overall, the proposals lack a balanced economic perspective; if the spending recommendations were implemented, they would bankrupt the government. But our immediate concern is the attention-getting walkout -- a tactic which not only undermines the democratic process but can frustrate the very purposes of those who employ it.
In this instance the boycotters could have defeated one controversial umbrella proposal calling among other things for ratification of the ERA, an end to discrimination based on sexual preference, and guarantee of the right to choose abortion. The vote was 292 for and 291 against -- a win by one vote. The walkout thus proved counterproductive.
One need not agree or disagree with everything the Pro-Family Coalition espouses to believe that theirs is a voice which ought to be represented and heard at forums of this kind.
We hope that their delegates will be on hand at the conferences in Minneapolis and Los Angeles, participating in the give-and-take of democratic action and sticking it out even if they lose. As one antiabortion delegate commented, "Maybe we can't agree on abortion, but there are some things we can agree on to help families. Anyway, what's the use of walking out? My philosophy is to stay and fight."
That kind of spirit helps us all.