The soccer mom's rant

September 20, 1996|By Ellen Goodman

BOSTON -- My friend has had another attack of the political rants. She comes down with them at least once every four years -- the way a golfer comes down with the shanks. Only her rants tend to fly straight down the middle of the campaign fairway.

Her subject today is what she calls women's terminal gratitude: Too many women regard presidential candidates the way they regard their husbands.

Every time their husband changes a diaper in the middle of the night, they say thank you. Every time a candidate tips his hat in the general direction of work and family issues, they blush with sheer delight at being noticed.

In fact, she says, mixing her images and getting an X-rating to boot, too many have developed round heels for any politician with a promise. You know the real motto of this campaign, she asks? Promise Her Anything but Give Her Arpege. Needless to say, my friend is not an Arpege fan.

The reason for this rant recurrence, she tells me, is the lip-service, speech-service, ad-service paid by both President Clinton and Senator Dole to parents trying to work and take care of kids.

The icon of the 1994 campaign was the ''Angry White Male.'' The icon of the 1996 campaign is the ''Stressed-Out Soccer Mom.'' But the promise of the Republican Party is an uneven and insignificant tax cut. The promise of the Democratic Party is a few more hours of family and medical leave.

Maybe Republicans are counting on reports that women are mathphobes. But even those who quit math before calculus class have figured out that 15 percent of a big income is more than 15 percent of a little income. Any way you run the numbers, this will mean the most to the least economically stressed.

Don't spend it all in one place

The whole Dole tax package will give the median taxpayer $330 a year, or a little over $6 a week. Is it job-quitting time, all you full- and part-time employed soccer moms? As a person with the rants might say: I don't think so!

Suppose that $330 equals one weekly paycheck for a woman in a dual-income family. Suppose she wants to take that extra week off with the kids. There's nothing in the GOP plan, or in the workaday world, that guarantees such flexibility, even in an emergency.

As for the Democrats who are now happily wallowing in a gratitude gap? The Family and Medical Leave Act has been the poster-policy-child of the Clinton campaign. It's featured in heart-warming ads about parents who took time off to be with their dying child. Now the administration has proposed adding another 24 hours a year for routine but important family emergencies.

That's better than nothing. But only half of American workers are eligible -- the half in companies with 50 or more employees -- and the leave is unpaid. As for the additional 24 hours a year? Any soccer mom worth her moniker could use up eight of those hours in one trip to the emergency room.

Paula Rayman, the head of Radcliffe College's Public Policy Institute, offers a pretty fair antidote to my friend's rant-itis. ''Remember,'' she says, ''that for the first time both political parties are paying real homage to the need to do something. They're thinking about the relationship between income and family lives.''

As head of a project called the New Economic Equation, Ms. Rayman is struck by ''the common ground agreement'' between Americans of all incomes, races and locations on the interlocking crisis of the economy, the workplace and the family. This is what forced the candidates to pay attention. Yet she also acknowledges, ''We are waiting for institutions and politicians to catch up. There's a long way to go.''

Remember 1992? In the Year of the Woman, the number of female senators catapulted to a new high: to 6 percent. In 1996 -- the Year of the Soccer Mom, Family Values and the Woman Voter -- will all the hoopla come down to a paltry 24 more hours of family leave? And will we be grateful?

Ms. Rayman muses, ''My mom, who's 82, said, 'In 1970 you told me that you were all going to change the world and how it operates. I'm still waiting.'''

No wonder the rants are running rampant.

Ellen Goodman is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 9/20/96


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