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Family values pick up backers left and right.

WASHINGTON--There may be developing nationally a few basic common denominators that transcend partisan political preferences on the topic of "family values."

Some pressure comes from families and individuals themselves, as revealed in two recent developments: the apparent willingness of manufacturers to voluntary rate video games ahead of a push for mandatory labeling; the U.S. Senate suddenly capitulating over the Brady Bill as Americans called in to say they wanted an end to easy gun purchases.

Other recent contenders for the public ear include the Communitarian Network's Nov. 3 Capitol Hill teach-in, and the Family Research Council's Dec. 7 press conference. Between those were the U.S. Catholic bishops' 5,000 word statement, "Follow the Way of Love," written in such plain language that radio stations have quoted from it. (See NCR editorial Dec. 17.)

The previous month, the right-wing Christian Coalition sounded its particular family values note, and three months before that, in June, the U.S. bishops' domestic policy committee reported on its "Catholic Campaign for Children and Families."

Interspersed with all this are the partisan political statements from Democrats and Republicans. For example, on Dec. 1 Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Sen. Herb Kohl, D- Wis., announced that the video industry must come up with a ratings system or warning labels within 12 months or an independent council will do it for them.

With the senators that day were representatives of major parent and teachers associations plus Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan), all fearful of the national trend to entertainment violence -- truly a common denominator. Many advocacy groups, such as the Children's Defence Fund and Urban League, press the nation throughout the year with their provocative reports and updates. Yet, suddenly, more people seem to be listening.

So, common elements can be spotted in the search for consensus, such as part way down the Dec. 7-released list from the Family Research Council poll, which found that:

* Most Americans value "traditional values" more than tolerance.

* Most believe Dan Quayle was right (on Murphy Brown).

* Consensus is possible on family issues if Americans put children first.

* Nine out of 10 dual-earner couples believe mother at home is better than day care.

* Most workers would trade early retirement tomorrow for family time today.

* Most Americans believe the family is eroding, not just changing.

For sure, the Family Research Council has its own rightist agenda ("By 2 to 1, Americans prefer low taxes to big government; veering left on social issues would hurt the GOP in 1996," and so forth), but a poll is a poll nonetheless.

Compare some of the council's issues with those favored by the 1990-founded Communitarian Network or the U. S. bishops' domestic policy committee.

Communitarians, founded to move family and community issues beyond rugged individualism and party politics, approached their Nov. 3 "Future of the Family" Capitol Hill teach-in by stating that Communitarians believe a key role of the family is "to transmit the values of responsibility, caring and self-respect to children. Public polices and private practice must reflect the role families play in laying the country's moral and civic foundations."

More specifically, the teach-in focused on the need for child tax credits, child support assurance, community family supports, strengthening marriage commitments, prorated fringe benefits for part-time workers, parental involvement in schools, marriage preparation programs and family therapy versus individualistic therapy.

Communitarian founder Amatai Etzioni told the gathering that society's main need "is a change in the 'spirit of the community to realize that we went too far in making families disposable and not recognizing the central role they play in fashioning the next generation.

"When we see kids killing kids without remorse," Etzioni said, "we should think first not about building more jails, but enabling parents to be parents."

How does Communitarianism interface with Catholic episcopal approaches to domestic policy? "Their agenda is our agenda," said John Carr, social development department secretary for the U.S. Catholic bishops at that same meeting. It's all reflected in the bishops' statement, Putting Families and Children First. We're natural allies."

However, there is a divide between centrist positions, such as those of the Catholic bishops' and Communitarians' statements, and the rightist positions of the Family Research Council and the Christian Coalition. It concerns the role of government.

Simply said, the rightists want none of it.

There may be growing national consensus on some family issues, therefore, but not yet on approaches to solutions.
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Title Annotation:national political trends
Author:Jones, Arthur
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 24, 1993
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