What say you, Murphy Brown?


Tom Dunn - Contributing Columnist



On May 19, 1992, President George H.W. Bush’s Vice President, Dan Quayle, gave a speech that became quite the rage at the time. Speaking to the Commonwealth Club of California, the vice president criticized one of the more popular television shows of the time, “Murphy Brown,” for depicting its main character having a baby out of wedlock.

Mr. Quayle suggested that promoting single parenthood was irresponsible given the fact that most single mothers and their children didn’t live in a television fantasy world and that many lived in poverty, which reduced their opportunities to thrive. He also dared suggesting that perhaps it would be nice for men who fathered children to actually take some responsibility for rearing them.

As one might imagine, the vice president, who was quite the conservative, was lampooned for his “out of touch” viewpoint by the Hollywood establishment (you know them; those bastions of moral and ethical conduct), as well as some major news outlets, like TIME magazine. After his speech, the show even ran portions of his speech, so the fictional characters could react to it with the appropriate disgust. He was viewed by many as the village idiot for suggesting that there is some value to growing up in a two-parent family with traditional family values.

It turns out, the vice president was right.

Research in 2016 showed that 32 percent of single-parent families were living in poverty compared to 7 percent from two-parent families. Research has also shown that a child in a single-parent household is more likely to experience violence, commit suicide, become drug dependent, commit a crime, perform below his or her peers academically, and continue the cycle of poverty. In fact, as of 2010, the United States led the industrialized world in the percentage of kids living in a single parent household, which explains why so many live in poverty.

This issue is not confined to America, though. A study in Great Britain, for example, discovered that a child who grows up in a single parent family is nine times as likely to become a juvenile delinquent than a child from a two parent home.

But, Vice President Quayle was demonized when he dared suggest what the facts tell us.

Of course, nothing is universal. There are children who grow up in single-parent, high poverty homes who break the cycle and become incredibly successful, just as there are those who grow up in wealthy, two-parent homes who crash and burn.

But, you will find no research that touts the value of growing up economically deprived. Likewise, you will find none that shows anything other than when a child lives in a single-parent household, it significantly raises the chance that he or she will live in poverty and will struggle in life.

Tell me again why Mr. Quayle was ridiculed.

These irrefutable facts explain why I continue to ridicule our political “leaders” for their pathetic attempts to address the problems of failing children by passing ridiculous laws that “guarantee” a child will read, or by creating new charter schools, or by establishing new teacher evaluation programs, or by implementing new student attendance laws.

I ridicule them, because they do these things while completely ignoring what the data tells us. They are either incredibly naive, ignorant of the facts, or devoid of the courage necessary to address the real issue.

Or, maybe they just remember how Mr. Quayle was treated when he spoke the truth, and they have no interest in that. But, that probably speaks to their courage.

Interestingly enough, 10 years after the original controversy, the star of “Murphy Brown,” Candice Bergen, admitted to the Associated Press that the vice president was correct in his assessment. She was quoted as saying, “His speech was a perfectly intelligent speech about fathers not being dispensable, and nobody agreed with that more than I did.”

That didn’t get much attention, though, since it broke with the Hollywood establishment’s talking points and the media’s biases.

It is incomprehensible that the political debate about traditional family values continues to this day as if the data we have doesn’t exist.

But, it does.

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Tom Dunn

Contributing Columnist

Tom Dunn is the former superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.

Tom Dunn is the former superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.