CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Dan Quayle vs Murphy Brown

Jun 13, 1992

Several weeks ago U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle caused a minor uproar concerning comments he made about television character Murphy Brown’s out-of-wedlock birth.  The liberal-left establishment went ballistic, accusing  Quayle of, at best, making a “gaffe”, and at worst, trivialising a tragic occurrence – the L.A. riots.

What exactly did Quayle say that caused such a stink?  Was it as bad as all that?

I happen to have before me a copy of the speech he gave on May 19th.  It is a good speech.  In fact it is a darn good speech.

The gist of his speech emphasises three points.  First, “when families fail, society fails”.  Second, a major cause of current societal ills is a “poverty of values”.  Lastly, “marriage is probably the best anti-poverty program of all”.

Now, does any of that really sound so daffy?  More importantly, can these claims be substantiated?  Available evidence suggests that they certainly can.

Both Republicans and Democrats in America now recognise that the fundamental problem facing Black Americans is family breakdown.  The major symptoms of the Black underclass – poverty, crime and drugs – can all be at least partially attributed to fatherless black families.

Just a few figures.  Only 5.6 per cent of families headed by a married couple are poor, whereas 33.4 per cent of families headed by a single mother are now in poverty.

Moreover, 60 per cent of poor families with children are headed by a woman, and in the inner cities that figure jumps to 80 and 90 per cent.

Want more?  A recent study has shown that 80 per cent of adolescents in psychiatric hospitals come from broken homes. Also, three of four teenage suicides occur in households where one parent is absent. Finally, girls from intact low-income families perform better on cognitive tests than boys from broken high-income homes.

This is only a fraction of the evidence available.  Nor is what Quayle said all that new.  Back in 1965 Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said the same thing about Blacks, poverty and family breakdown.  In his report, The Negro Family, he demonstrated that the main factor in Black social disintegration was the growth of one-parent families living on welfare.

What Quayle said therefore was spot on: unwed motherhood is a social disaster.  A society that tolerates or encourages out-of-wedlock births is virtually guaranteeing itself a permanent underclass, laden with problems.

Thus when Quayle chastised Murphy Brown for having a child without a father present, he was making a very sensible claim which had direct relevance to the situation in Los Angeles.

The silly rejoinder by the sitcom’s producer that abortion should remain safe and legal totally missed the mark.

Firstly, abortion is not the only alternative to single motherhood.  There is also adoption.

Further, Quayle was not  saying that a fatherless child ought not to be born.  He was saying that a child should not be conceived irresponsibly – that is, without a mother and father to look after the child.

Western civilisation has historically tried to discourage illegitimacy, chiefly through encouraging the institution of marriage.  And it has had good reason to do so.  The recent L.A. rioting is a good example as any of the kind of consequences that  follow a lifestyle based on promiscuity and irresponsibility.

In the light of the above, Dan Quayle’s comments sound very sensible indeed.  In fact, his words are worth repeating:

“Bearing babies irresponsibly is, simply, wrong.  Failing to support children one has fathered is wrong….When families fail, society fails.  The anarchy and lack of structure in our inner cities are testament to how quickly civilisation falls apart when the family foundation cracks. 

“Children need love and discipline.  They need mothers and fathers.  A welfare check is not a husband.  The state is not a father.  It is from parents that children learn how to behave in society; it is from parents above all that children come to understand values and themselves as men and women, mothers and fathers.”

Would that an Australian political leader had the guts and the sense to make such a speech.

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