Patricia Ireland of the National Organization for Women looked like a boxer on the ropes as she made a tour of the cable news shows opposing Bush administration plans to support traditional married families. "I'm not against marriage," she protested to Fox's Bill O'Reilly. But later on MSNBC, she did oppose encouraging one kind of family: "The man has to be head and master. The woman is supposed to submit, and submit graciously to her husband's authority. No, I don't think the government should encourage that kind of family."
The target of Ms. Ireland's ire is Wade Horn, a child psychologist whom President Bush has nominated to be assistant secretary for family support at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
NOW's biggest gripe is with Mr. Horn's stated belief that housing officials should give preference to married couples over single-led families when government-owned apartments become available, and that in other ways as well government should recognize the poverty-fighting importance of marriage. In a 1997 Hudson Institute paper on "Fathers, Marriage, and Welfare Reform," Mr. Horn argued that "if we want to revitalize marriage in low-income neighborhoods, we will have to reverse the current preference for single-parent households and favor married couples."
A source very close to Mr. Horn, however, told WORLD that the nominee has come to believe that giving preference to married couples is politically unworkable, and that Mr. Horn would not advocate that at HHS. Since Mr. Horn was under White House instructions not to talk with the press, Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, backed up the view that Mr. Horn had dropped his support of preferences for married couples. "He changed his mind," Mr. Haskins stated.
Mr. Horn spent the Clinton years as president of the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), a group founded by Don Eberly, who's now deputy director of the president's Office for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The president spoke highly of the two in a speech at NFI's annual conference in Washington on June 7, and said he looked forward to signing a bill "that provides financial support to community-based fatherhood programs all across the country." He saluted supporters of the fatherhood movement, singling out "great Democrats, like Al Gore and Joe Lieberman."
NOW's Legal Defense and Education Fund began a campaign to defeat the Horn nomination in mid-May, sending senators a letter signed by 30 liberal groups. They aren't opposing Mr. Horn for inexperience: He served for four years as commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families at HHS in the last Bush administration, and has served in the Clinton years as a member of the U.S. Advisory Committee on Head Start Research and Evaluation. They're opposed to Mr. Horn's promotion of traditional marriage and fatherhood.
NOW lawyer Timothy Casey reviewed 140 of Mr. Horn's columns on family matters and made a long list of his alleged inadequacies: He opposes abortion, cohabitation, and premarital sex; he approves of spanking and the notion "that boys and girls have innate differences" and "mothers and fathers are innately different."
NOW's offensive may melt away as Mr. Horn's nomination goes before the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, recently gave a keynote speech for Mr. Horn's fatherhood group, and has declared, "Wade Horn is an honest broker who works effectively across party lines in the best interest of our nation's children." Mr. Horn also is friends with Democratic Senators Jay Rockefeller and Tom Carper. One of the most liberal senators on the Finance Committee is John Kerry, but Mr. Horn has worked with his wife, Teresa Heinz, as a juror for the last three years for the Heinz Family Philanthropies' Award on the Human Condition. Managers of the Horn nomination have told pro-family groups to hold their fire since NOW is losing, and a conservative campaign would only pull Democrats away. Their only concern is whispers that a NOW-friendly senator like Hillary Clinton might put a hold (an informal request to party leaders to stall) on the nomination.
Senators may hear that Mr. Horn's years of advocacy for the importance of fathers has a personal dimension. In his introduction as co-author of the Better Homes and Gardens New Father Book, he recalled that his promise to love his two daughters "forever and always" too frequently came to mean "tomorrow"-until he was diagnosed with cancer at 34. Then all the focus on career and money seemed silly, when what mattered most were "the two little girls who, each morning before going to school, quietly came into the bedroom to give their sick daddy a kiss."