Bush, Quayle Spark National Debate Over 'Family Values'

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President Bush and Vice President Quayle last week reopened a national debate about single parenthood and other family issues with speeches that cited the loss of "family values'' as a major reason for the recent riots in Los Angeles and other societal problems.

In a widely quoted speech, Vice President Quayle told a civic group in San Francisco that the problems facing inner-city families reflect "fundamentally a poverty of values.''

Calling marriage "probably the best anti-poverty program of all,'' he advocated new "social sanctions'' that favor two-parent households.

"Bearing babies irresponsibly is, simply, wrong,'' he said. "Failing 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 fathers by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another 'lifestyle choice,''' Mr. Quayle said.

The Vice President's reference to the television character in the popular program of the same name, who in last week's episode gave birth to an out-of-wedlock child fathered by her ex-husband, unleashed a storm of criticism and dominated much of the ensuing discussion.

At a stop at the Bret Harte Middle School in South-Central Los Angeles, the heart of the recent riots, the Vice President reiterated his theme the day following his May 19 speech.

"My complaint is that Hollywood thinks it's cute to glamorize illegitimacy,'' he was quoted as telling reporters. "Hollywood doesn't get it.''

In a speech last Thursday to a business group in Cleveland, Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, the apparent Democratic nominee for President, said that Mr. Quayle's speech "ignores the relationship of our family problems to our economic decline, holds out Murphy Brown as a bigger problem than TV's crass commercialism and glorification of selfishness and violence, and denies the Administration's responsibility to face the full range of America's staggering family problems.''

Mr. Clinton laid out his own agenda on family issues, which he said offers a "third way'' that goes beyond traditional Republican and Democratic solutions. He called for expansion of the earned-income tax credit, welfare reform, renewed efforts to collect child-support payments, adoption of family-leave legislation, full funding of Head Start, and school sex-education programs.

The White House, meanwhile, appeared ambivalent about the Vice President's criticism of the "Murphy Brown'' show. Marlin Fitzwater, the President's chief spokesman, endorsed Mr. Quayle's comments, but later also stressed that the television character's decision not to have an abortion was in line with the Administration's position.

Families 'Under Siege'

President Bush, in a May 17 commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, also cited the loss of family values as the underlying cause of societal unrest.

"At the heart of the problems facing our country stands an institution under siege,'' Mr. Bush said. "That institution is the American family. Whatever form our most pressing problems take--ultimately, all are related to the disintegration of the family.''

He noted that, compared with other industrialized countries, the United State leads in percentages of divorce, single-parent households, and violent deaths among young people.

In a response to those who said, following the Los Angeles riots, that the government should take the primary role in rebuilding the nation's cities, the President said: "I am absolutely convinced that today's crisis will have to be addressed by millions of Americans at the personal, individual level for governmental programs to be effective.''

"And the federal government, of course, must do everything it can do,'' he added, "but the point is government alone is simply not enough.''

"Government can and we must foster American competitiveness,'' he continued. "But parents must teach their children the dignity of work and instill a work ethic in the kids.''

Vol. 11, Issue 36, Page 17

Published in Print: May 27, 1992, as Bush, Quayle Spark National Debate Over 'Family Values'
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