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Vice President Quayle and the Murphy Brown Speech

By Editorial Staff
Published August 1, 1992

What he actually said

Posted as “the world’s greatest fool” by late night comedians for his misspelling of “potatoe” and his remarks about the Murphy Brown sitcom, the Vice President has suffered in the polls as a result of media backlash. But just how laughable was the real thing? Here is an excerpt from the infamous “Murphy Brown speech” so that you can judge for yourself:

Right now the failure of our families is hurting America deeply. When families fall, society falls. The anarchy and lack of structure in our inner cities are testament to how quickly civilization falls apart when the family foundation cracks. Children need love and discipline. A welfare check is not a husband. The state is not a father. It is from parents that children come to understand values and themselves as men and women, mothers and fathers.

And for those concerned about children growing up in poverty, we should know this: marriage is probably the best anti-poverty program of them all. Among families headed by married couples today, there is a poverty rate of 5.7 percent. But 33.4 percent of families are headed by a single mother are in poverty today.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Where there are no mature, responsible men around to teach boys how to become good men, gangs serve in their place. In fact, gangs have become a surrogate family for much of a generation of inner-city boys. I recently visited with some former gang members in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In a private meeting they told me why they had joined gangs. These teenage boys said that gangs gave them a sense of security. They made them feel wanted, and useful. They got support from their friends. And, they said, “It was like having a family.” “Like family” – unfortunately, that says it all.

The system perpetuates itself as these young men father children whom they have no intention of caring for, by women whose welfare checks support them. Teenage girls, mired in the same hopelessness, lack sufficient motive to say no to this trap.

Answers to our problems won’t be easy. We can start by dismantling a welfare system that encourages dependency and subsidizes broken families. We can attach conditions – such as school attendance, or work – to welfare. We can limit the time a recipient gets benefits. We can stop penalizing marriage for welfare mothers. We can enforce child support payment.

Ultimately, however, marriage is a moral issue that requires cultural consensus, and the use of social sanctions. Bearing babies irresponsibly is, simply, wrong. Failure to support children one has fathered is wrong. We must be unequivocal about this.

It doesn’t help matters when prime time TV has Murphy Brown – a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid, professional woman – mocking the importance of a father, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another “lifestyle choice.”

I know it is not fashionable to talk about moral values, but we need to do it. Even though our cultural leaders in Hollywood, network TV, the national newspapers routinely jeer at them, I think that most of us in this room know that some things are good, and other things are wrong. Now it’s time to make the discussion public.

It’s time to talk again about family, hard work, integrity and personal responsibility. We cannot be embarrassed out of out belief that two parents, married to each other, are better in most cases for children than one. That honest work is better than hand-outs – or crime. That we are our brother’s keepers. That it’s worth making an effort, even when rewards aren’t immediate.

So I think the time has come to renew our public commitment to our Judeo-Christian values – in our churches and synagogues, our civic organizations and our schools. We are, as our children recite each morning, “one nation under God.” That’s a useful framework for acknowledging a duty and an authority higher than our own pleasures and personal ambitions.


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