Vice President Dan Quayle was on the hot seat again last month. He was the focal point of the late-night talk shows and comedians. Retiring Johnny Carson thanked him for the "going away present" while another TV personality called him "God's gift to comedians." All this was in reaction to Quayle's passing but purposeful comment about Murphy Brown and unwed motherhood.
The Vice President had the audacity to suggest that erosion of individual responsibility and family values was exacting a horrendous toll on American life, and that television programs that make light of or actually promote such trends are part of the problem, not the solution.
Quayle's remarks, though inflammatory to a certain segment of American society, were hardly without supporting evidence. Sociologists from across the political spectrum are citing the pandemic breakup of families as one of the biggest contributors to a host of social ills from violence to poverty to juvenile delinquency. "Deadbeat Dads," to borrow a phrase from a recent Newsweek cover story about fathers who fail to meet their child support obligations, are growing both in number and in their indifference to the wreckage they're leaving behind.
Newsweek writer Marcus Mabry's words are compelling: "The nagging question for those of us abandoned by our fathers--however good their reasons--is, `How could you?'" He writes of a life empty of role models and filled with haunting feelings of rejection.
Bearing further testimony to Quayle's call for intact, two-parent families is a 1990 study from the very liberal Progressive Policy Institute. It noted that intact families function better than fractured families and suggested that America must apply some sort of "braking mechanism" to no-fault divorce.
But if the Vice President was so correct in the substance of his remarks, why all the flap and ridicule? Because, to put it bluntly, being "factually correct" is often not the same as being "politically correct." He ran afoul of the PC crowd, whose perversion of thought and speech to serve radical liberal ends commands substantial attention these days.
Though Quayle was factually correct in suggesting that fathers are "needed," he was politically incorrect to suggest that women "need" anything. Had he spoken of the need for a tender, nurturing female in every family, his remarks might have earned him the description of "sensitive," the highest praise awarded by influential PC people. But, horrors, he was saying that men might be necessary.
The Vice President was factually correct again for going after the lifestyle portrayed by Murphy Brown, who didn't know for a time who the father of her baby was. Casual sex is a substantial contributor to a long list of social ills, including AIDS. But again, Quayle was politically incorrect. The PC frame of mind demands an acceptance of all lifestyles and behaviors, no matter how absurd or dysfunctional, no matter what the consequences.
Quayle was suggesting that there is a right way, or at least a better way, for children to be nurtured--a notion we can accept about raising corn or cows but for some strange reason not children.
Television both mirrors society and creates models for society. Real people, especially young and impressionable ones, are influenced by the values popular personalities present on the screen. Just as young athletes "want to be like Mike!" (i.e, Michael Jordan), so too do lawyers, designers, journalists, and many other Americans have their heros and role models. Quayle never called for censorship, only a heightened awareness of how traditional values are being so cavalierly trashed, why that's breeding disastrous consequences, and what's needed to restore them.
Constance Horner, now the personnel director at the White House, put it well when she was deputy secretary of Health and Human Services: "There are ancient rules about how to live that have worked for millenia and still work where they are applied. We don't teach these rules any more. We have to start teaching them again. Rules like, honor thy father and mother, get married before you have children, don't eat undercooked pork, carry a handkerchief...."
The Vice President cleverly used a popular television show to command widespread public attention to that very same point. A lesser man would have given up on the issue at the first hint of objection; indeed, a lesser man would never have raised it in the first place. He deserves credit for stimulating a debate, whether or not the PC crowd can cope with it.