Connie Marshner is a conservative figure whom Susan Faludi discusses in her 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. In this post, I’ll talk about the times when I have come across that name.
The first time that I came across the name “Connie Marshner” was when I was in high school. I had an interest in political conservatism, and I was reading a book from my high school library: Alan Crawford’s Thunder on the Right: The “New Right” and the Politics of Resentment. Crawford referred to Connie Marshner, a lady who (according to Crawford) became a conservative because she was rebelling against her liberal Catholic parents. According to Crawford, Marshner wrote a widely-circulated critique of Walter Mondale’s bill for federally-funded child care in the 1970s. I could identify with Crawford’s picture of Marshner for two reasons. First of all, one reason that I was a conservative Republican was that I was rebelling against my parents and seeking my own identity. My parents were not exactly die-hard liberals, for they had conservative ideas. But my Mom was pro-choice on the abortion issue, and my Dad was so anti-establishment that he distrusted the Republicans and the institutions that they supported, not just the Democrats. In reaction to that, I was a gun-ho right-wing Republican. Second, I could identify with Marshner writing a critique of federally-funded child care, for a way that I expressed my conservatism in my high school days was through my writing: I wrote letters to the editor, and I also wrote a monthly newsletter offering a right-wing perspective on issues. I didn’t become prominent like Marshner through my writing, but it was something that I enjoyed doing!
The second time that I came across the name “Connie Marshner” was when I was getting my M.Div. at Harvard Divinity School. I had a break from my schoolwork, and I was spending that time reading William Martin’s excellent book With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America. One of Martin’s chapters was about the White House Conference on Families during the Carter years. Martin talked about how Connie Marshner led a conservative faction at that conference, a faction that defined the family as nuclear and opposed abortion, homosexuality, and a greater domestic role for the federal government. I did not realize at the time that this lady was the same person in Alan Crawford’s book, but Martin’s discussion of the White House Conference on Families influenced me to start re-evaluating my right-wing conservatism (which was a long process that did not occur overnight, but Martin’s discussion was definitely a seed). Martin referred to a philosophical difference between Marshner and John Carr, the executive director of the conference. Marshner said that feeding the poor should be done by individuals and charities rather than the federal government, whereas Carr thought that private charities were not sufficient to tackle large societal problems. I’ll quote what Carr said, which is on pages 187-188 of Martin’s book:
“What we’ve got in family policy and so many other areas is one group that says what we really need are better values—-more personal responsibility, more time with our kids; children need to stop having children; we need more sexual restraint; we need good old-fashioned morality. Then another group says that what we really need are better policies—-better jobs that pay a living wage, better child care, better health care, less homelessness and hunger. The fact is that we need both better values and better policies. We need policies that reflect our best values. Churches can’t feed every hungry person in America. I go down to the soup kitchen and I bring my kids. I think that’s part of what I’m called to do as a believer, but as a society we have got to do something about millions of hungry kids, and that’s not only by making lasagna and bringing it down to the soup kitchen. It’s also by deciding what kind of policies, what kind of budget priorities we’re going to have, what kind of supports we’re going to give families.”
Carr criticized many of the right-wing delegates for encouraging polarization rather than seeking common ground, whereas Marshner believed that the conference was pushing an extreme left-wing agenda, an agenda that included expansion of the federal bureaucracy, which entailed inflation (as a result of more government spending), higher taxes, and the government supplanting the role of the family to provide for its own needs (in such areas as child care, housing, and health care); a guaranteed annual income and guaranteed jobs; and support for abortion-on-demand, gay rights, and the Equal Rights Amendment. What surprised me was that Carr actually characterized Dr. James Dobson as a voice of moderation at the conference, for, although Dobson wrote a minority report, he also sought to build bridges and find common ground, as well as declined to walk out of the conference with other conservative delegates.
Reading about Connie Marshner’s stand at the White House Conference on Families was not the same as watching it on television! Years later, I watched the television documentary With God on Our Side, which was related to Martin’s book. Although my reaction to what Marshner says changes whenever I watch the episode about the White House Conference on Families (from thunderous applause, to annoyance that she is focusing on trivialities when there are poor families that need help, to seeing her point-of-view as valid), I’ve had to admire her because she is bold, articulate, attractive, stands up to the powerful, etc. I especially like the scene of the documentary in which she is on the Today Show and she says to Jim Guy Tucker (who was the chair of the conference and was an Arkansas congressman at the time), “Come now, Jim Guy, let’s not con the audience.” When I saw her on TV, I did not remember that she was the same person as the lady in Martin’s book. But I was thinking to myself, “Who is SHE? And why don’t I see her on TV nowadays?”
It turned out that, for years, she was raising her family at home, even as she was writing books. But it’s been interesting what I’ve found whenever I’ve searched her name on the Internet. I’ve found some articles that she has written, such as one against expanding S-CHIP, and another arguing (if I recall correctly) that contraception is not effective in protecting teens against certain STDs. Although there is not a wikipedia article about Connie, there is one about her theologian husband, William. I was surprised to read the late conservative activist and Connie’s mentor, Paul Weyrich, saying that Connie was shy and learned to come out of her shell (which I liked because I myself am shy). And I learned that Connie has a business nowadays, Connie Marshner and Associates, which helps people in fund-raising and organizational development. On her web site, she tells potential clients about her network, which she gained as a leader of the religious right.
Tomorrow, I’ll refer to something about Connie Marshner that I learned from Susan Faludi’s Backlash.