I was being pressed by the bright and persistent students at Grove City College last year. They wanted to know what President Reagan thought about the question of men marrying men. I had been invited to be a guest lecturer at the Center for Vision and Values annual conference honoring the achievements of our fortieth president.
I was prepared to talk about my hero's courageous stance against an Evil Empire and its 27,000 nuclear missiles, all targeted on us. So, the students' fixation on the marriage issue took me aback. I was tempted to answer with wisecrack: President Reagan didn't have to think about that -- lucky guy. But as earnest as these young people were, I realized it would not do to be flippant.
Then, I remembered Mrs. Phyllis Schlafly's heroic stand against the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- and the fact that Ronald Reagan became the first Republican candidate for president since 1928 to publicly oppose the ERA. He had been admirably briefed by Mrs. Phyllis Schlafly.
Mrs. Schlafly was a Harvard-educated and Washington University Law School-trained attorney. She had done her homework about the ERA. She led a spirited campaign of American women to resist the siren song of the ERA. In the 1970s, many of the mostly male Members of Congress and male state lawmakers were afraid to stand up to strident feminists. They feared crossing self-proclaimed women's spokespersons who threatened: "We'll remember in November."
Not Mrs. Schlafly. She feared God and no one else. She waded into the controversy. She exposed the hidden agendas of radical feminists who had crafted the ERA. It would mean abortion on demand. It would force all of us as Americans to pay for this slaughter of innocents with our tax dollars. It would result in women being drafted and ordered into combat if America ever had to resort to the military draft. And, yes, it would doubtless force all jurisdictions in the country to recognize as marriages of the coupling of persons of the same sex.
All of these social troubles would have sprung from the ERA as unwary legislators opened that Pandora's Box. In the 1970s, both parties, the TV networks, the "prestige press," business and labor groups, academic and law organizations, and far, far too many church and civic groups fell in line behind the ERA.
That formidable correlation of forces only served to spur on the indefatigable Mrs. Schlafly. She relished the chance to make a goal-line stance and save the country she loves. She inspired in her grassroots supporters a vibrant sense of the enormous issues at stake. Nothing less than the country she loved was in peril.
When Mrs. Schlafly's effort kicked into high gear, the ERA had already been ratified by more than thirty of the necessary thirty-eight state legislatures. As was said of the Battle of Waterloo, this was "a near run thing."
In Britain in those years, another strong woman came on the scene. Mrs. Margaret Thatcher won the leadership of a Conservative Party that had lost its way. The Tories were a party that offered the British electorate not a choice, but a mere echo of the pale pastel socialism of the ruling Labour Party. Mrs. Thatcher had the right stuff. She was a formidable figure in British politics and, soon, she became Britain's strongest Prime Minister since Winston Churchill. Her Soviet adversaries called her the "Iron Lady." Like Churchill, she made Britain great. And as Churchill said -- in a phrase he coined -- Mrs. Thatcher's Britain could "punch above her weight."
The movie "Iron Lady" was, to me, unbearable. I ejected the DVD and mailed it back. But I did value the remarkable movie trailer. That clip shows the talented Meryl Streep as Mrs. Thatcher, being coached on how to speak, how to move audiences.
It's a valuable lesson in moving a public here, too. My own wife, a distinguished veteran of the U.S. Navy for thirty years, knows how to address a crowd and so does Mrs. Phyllis Schlafly.
I confess I have not always agreed with Mrs. Schlafly. She backed that solid champion of Midwestern Republicanism, Sen. Robert A. Taft, for president in 1952. No one could budge me from my enthusiasm for Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. I wore my "I Like Ike" button to school. I was in second grade.
Phyllis Schlafly never had to raise her voice to raise concerns. She never had to equal the stridency of the radical feminists to make her points convincingly. In many ways, Mrs. Phyllis Schlafly is America's own Iron Lady. And I am proud on this significant day in her life, to salute her.