Mush from the 'family' candidates

July 06, 1996|By Andrew Ratner

A TRAGEDY WAS averted in Harford County recently: A family of five and two young houseguests were nearly overcome by carbon monoxide that had seeped into the house where they were sleeping. Had nausea not awakened family members, ''who knows what could have happened,'' a rescue worker was quoted in the Bel Air Aegis.

I found the incident especially disturbing, because I know the family. The father, Adolfo Negron, is involved in youth recreation in Harford's Emmorton area. He helps direct a basketball program that serves 640 children, and coaches two and three teams a season. I've seen him arrive at events fresh from the airport after a business flight. So many parents seek him out for their sons that last year he had more individual requests than any other coach.

The carbon-monoxide story made me think of him.

But even before that, reports about the presidential race between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, and their battle to become the ''family values'' candidate, made me think of people like him.

Messrs. Clinton and Dole continue to do this nation a disservice in their pandering to win the allegiance of middle-class families.

Their motivation is understandable. Middle-Americans constitute a huge swing vote. These folks were once inclined to vote Democratic, but pocketbook concerns have led them to vote Republican. Deep down, they don't know whom to trust in public life anymore. In raising children, they feel particularly vulnerable to corporate downsizing, violence in the schools and the media, to drug and alcohol abuse.

The candidates and their strategists understand this. Each party wants to be the warm shoulder anxious families turn to.

Your kids are unruly? We'll have a V-chip soon to fix that. Having trouble keeping abreast of their schoolwork? We have a bill to ensure that you can take work time off to talk to the teacher, RTC since the lack of one must be what's standing between you and your kid's education. Not enough time for the kids? Your employer should let you take compensatory time instead of overtime pay; we'll mandate that, too.

A speech you won't hear

Perhaps once before November, Mr. Clinton or Mr. Dole might slam a lectern and admonish families to stop putting children second.

One of them might explain that balancing work and children and living standards is never easy, but that it's all about choices. One might point to a recent Wall Street Journal column about three men, including the president's own domestic-policy adviser, who quit powerful jobs to gain family time. One of them might acknowledge that raising children would not ''take a village'' if fewer parents were so oblivious to their kids' needs.

I'm not holding my breath for straight-talk, though.

Hillary communing with Eleanor Roosevelt isn't half as bizarre as her husband and his opponent vying over which is the one more Americans would ask to watch their kids: Would that be Mr. Clinton, whose infidelity is so matter-of-factly assumed it's not even a character issue? Or Mr. Dole, who was so consumed with politics one year that he dined with his former wife and daughter only twice, on Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to a story by The Sun's Susan Baer.

Even before the oh-so-busy '90s, there were always two types of parents: Those for whom raising children is central to their lives and those for whom it is not.

I know plenty of Adolfo Negrons, who seem to work hard to juggle bread-winning and child-rearing. Unfortunately, the ''family'' presidential candidates have been giving too much comfort to the second group.

Andrew Ratner is director of zoned editorials for The Sun.

Pub Date: 7/06/96

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