Have you ever experienced a conversion? I mean, a real change of heart on a crucial matter? Laying aside the decade-long move from my radical (near-Communist) days at Yale to my acceptance of the conservative and then parts of the libertarian credo, my first great shift of view concerned abortion, for which I had long been an outspoken champion, and against which I turned some six or seven years ago when guided by loving friends to intelligent literature on the subject and then to many agonizing weeks of private reflection. The wrongness of my previous view at last worked its way into my consciousness, and recent years have found me as close to the right-to-lifers as is possible for someone not formally connected to any organized religious group.
The second conversion is much more recent, and probably less important, but real nonetheless. I had for long stood, virtually alone among my brethren on the Right, as a supporter of the so-called Equal Rights Amendment, admittedly a stance at odds with my general libertarian approach to governmental tinkering, but justified in my mind as an appropriate way to wipe out the remaining vestiges of unnecessary discriminations against the gentler sex.
I was struck one day recently by the idiocy of two edicts handed down, one in Washington from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and one in, I believe, Oregon. The first forbade father-son and mother-daughter breakfasts, banquets, and the like; President Ford wiped that out by wise presidential edict. The second forbade all-boy choirs, a practice employed here and there to get the little prepubescent lads into the singing mood during their girl-hating years, the better to integrate them later into the mixed choirs that predominate in the high schools when, presumably, your normal kids can bear the sight of the opposite sex.
As William F. Buckley would put it, a thought germinated within: if this nonsense can happen even without an ERA, can happen owing to the misguided zeal for equality exemplified by bureaucrats in Washington and the provinces, what madness are we in for when (if) an ERA edges its way into the Constitution? I had assumed, and assume still, that alarmist talk by the Phyllis Schlaflys about co-ed toilets and the like was not a serious danger against which to base an anti-ERA campaign. But I wondered, even as Mrs. Schlafly herself debated the issue with me on my radio program, whether her alarm about the loony proclivities of various judges and civil servants and other tinkerers might, just might, be justified.
But it required those two incidents mentioned above to jar me into sudden awareness. I will not cheapen the Paulist experience by calling that moment my road to Damascus, but it did suddenly open to me a new perspective. And there I was, and am, still committed firmly to equality of opportunity for everyone, but now hostile to the ERA, both the national ERA still some handful of states short of passage, and the variety in existence in 16 states and coming soon to a ballot decision in my own state.
The other day various females and their allies observed Women's Equality Day, and handed to the doubter even more ammunition for his (or her) doubts. In Boston the resolutely vulgar Flo Kennedy did her thing, which is to give the Bronx cheer to anyone so retrograde as to challenge the unimaginable wonders of the ERA; Betty Friedan, den mama of the feminist movement in modern times, came on to warn darkly that failure of Massachusetts to pass its version of the Equal Rights Amendment would be unspeakable treachery; Senator Brooke, who wishes that at least one lady would vanish entirely, informed the throng by telegram that only his body was missing, his "spirit and principle and committed allegiance" right up there with Flo's and Betty's.
My radio program that evening entertained a local and quite charming pro-ERA spokesman (sorry, I can't get my typewriter to peck out "spokeswoman") who blithely dismissed any concern about the long and ugly hand of Uncle Sam intruding into virtually every facet of our lives, given the ammunition of that blank check for tomfoolery called the ERA. They do not care to ponder the Pandora's box they would have us open. They would soothe us with reassurances about "reasonable" interpretation by the courts, but have you watched the courts nowadays? Would you put anything past the courts these days?
I am with you, dear ladies, in your quest for equal rights. But permit a friend to opt out of the pro-ERA crusade. ERA seems a can of worms, and we'd best not squirm.
David Brudnoy is a syndicated columnist, television commentator and lecturer. Dr. Brudnoy's Viewpoint appears in this column every third month, alternating with those of Murray Rothbard and Tibor Machan.