10 Years Later: Quayle Reminisces About 'Murphy Brown' Speech

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

Washington (CNSNews.com) - Ten years after criticizing a fictional television anchorwoman for refusing to marry the father of her child, former Vice President Dan Quayle Thursday said he still thinks his arguments back then "were rather mainstream, rather non-partisan and hardly controversial."

However, the "Murphy Brown speech," as many in the media called it that Quayle delivered on May 19, 1992 to the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco, remains one of the most memorable moments of Quayle's vice presidency.

In his speech, which was actually titled "The Poverty of Values," Quayle blamed the breakdown of the family for the "serious social problems" of the day, and said more families were breaking down "not because of economic poverty, but because of a poverty of values."

He also heaped criticism on the then-popular CBS sit-com Murphy Brown, which starred Candace Bergen as the broadcast journalist who had became pregnant and decided to raise her child alone.

"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,'" Quayle said in the 1992 speech.

Quayle was immediately accused of stigmatizing single mothers, and being narrow minded for insisting the traditional nuclear family was best for children.

But by April of 1993, the Atlantic Monthly was writing that single parenting "dramatically weakens and undermines society."

And in 1998, Bergen said she agreed with "the body of [Quayle's] speech" and that it was "the right theme to hammer home.

"I agreed with all of it except his reference to the show, which he had not seen," Bergen said. "It was an arrogant, uninformed posture, but the body of the speech was completely sound."

Thursday, in an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, Quayle said he didn't think a speech promoting two parent families instead of one would be controversial.

"I thought it was common sense that an intact family would be the preference," he said.

Quayle also contended that he never "criticized single moms."

"What I tried to do was point out the reality of their struggles and the difficulties that they had in having their children," he said.

What the Murphy Brown episode was doing, Quayle said, was "mocking the importance of fathers."

"That's what it was all about: fathers are irrelevant, fathers are dispensable, fathers don't need to be around, you don't even need to know who the father is," he said. "That was the message that really got to me, and that was the message I tried to convey at that time."

Quayle said single motherhood is also tied to the irresponsibility of young men.

"[Young men] have this fantasy that they can go around impregnating young women and they don't have to worry about having children, that somehow it's just a woman's issue," Quayle said. "And I think that some women live in the fantasy that they don't need men and that they are somehow inconvenienced [by men].

"Both attitudes are wrong," he said.

At an event hosted by the Hudson Institute preceding Thursday's speech, Quayle told reporters that there has been progress in the family values debate since 1992.

"If you look at the number of children who have been born out of wedlock, it is actually going down," he said. "The number of children who are living at home with a father or a step-father is stabilizing and starting to go up."

Those who promote two-parent families are also no longer the subject of ridicule, Quayle said, signaling that family values are more important in America than they were a decade ago when he delivered the Murphy Brown speech.

"If you look back at 1992, it was controversial to say that two parents were better than one," Quayle said. "I don't think that's the situation anymore. I think that is widely accepted that having a man around the house is usually a positive thing both emotionally and financially.

"We can now openly come out of the closet and talk about marriage," he said.

E-mail a news tip to Jason Pierce.

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