How Bush Could Make Use of `The Family Thing'

MOST columnists get a steady stream of reaction from readers, some applauding the writer's stand, some debating it, and some just exasperated because the writer is out of sync with their point of view.

Occasionally, however, a column pushes a button that triggers a small torrent of mail. Such was the case with a column I wrote in June on family values and the outer limits of tastelessness now besetting some of our movies, pop music lyrics, TV shows, and books.

While mindful of Vice President Dan Quayle's political liabilities, the column suggested that Mr. Quayle's message on the importance of religion, family values, and patriotism deserved some attention.

Apparently readers of this column think so too. They have written in surprising numbers to support a return to cleaner, more wholesome standards.

If this is representative, there is a lesson here for President Bush as he moves his campaign for reelection into top gear at the Republican convention in Houston this week.

Mr. Bush has been criticized for a lack of grand design to his presidency, what he calls "The Vision Thing." Actually, he has been very good on "The Foreign Thing," the foreign-policy ventures in which he has had long experience and in which he likes to immerse himself.

He masterminded the war with Iraq; he presided over the end of the cold war and the reduction in nuclear arms; he has vigorously prosecuted peace in the Middle East; he has nudged South Africa to racial accommodation.

While Democrat Bill Clinton might grow in the presidency, he clearly cannot match George Bush's present foreign-policy experience or his worldwide contacts.

It is "The Domestic Thing" that is giving George Bush trouble as he seeks the confidence of the voters for reelection to a second term in the White House.

On the domestic side, "The Economic Thing" is not something he is going to be able to do much about before election day in November.

There is no quick fix to an economy tepid and lackluster. All that Mr. Bush can do is try to convince voters that a new Bush team, and a new Bush program, will after the election provide the kind of economic direction that the public senses has been missing.

But if a troubled and alienated American electorate seems to think that America has lost its economic direction, I detect a large body of opinion that believes it has also lost some of its moral bearings.

Take the single mother of an eight-year-old boy who wrote in response to my column.

She and her son usually listen to a little classical music, a little country, and a little "soft" music from the '60's. Just recently they've been visiting the pool area at her apartment complex where a stereo system blasts music from a local radio station nonstop from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

"I couldn't believe the filth that today's `singers' are allowed to put on the air," she wrote.

"We have children at the pool all day. I sat down and made a tape of the vulgar songs and discussion by the DJ's and played it to management here. They said it's the [city's] most popular station and since I'm the only one who has complained, it stays. End of discussion. Well, that's it for the pool for us. I cannot have my son in that immoral atmosphere. Why don't other parents care?"

The answer, of course, is that many of them do. They may not make the kind of protest that this mother did, but clearly they are concerned about trends in our society that are destructive and detrimental to its moral and spiritual strength.

Is there some kind of silent moral majority out there on this issue? Is there even a significant silent minority?

Here is an important issue on which George Bush can speak out, and a significant segment of the public he can galvanize.

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