Quayle’s Opportunity: a Terrible Thing to Waste


What a waste it is to lose one’s mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.

--Dan Quayle in a speech to the United Negro College Fund, May, 1989

Let me begin by saying that I think it is a mistake to get too worked up over what television characters choose to do in the privacy of their own sitcoms. . . .

Be that as it may, what the hell do they do back there in Washington? Give Dan Quayle a list of the 10 most moronic things to say and push him out the White House door every morning?


Once again, our intrepid vice president is in front of the pack with his inspiringly insipid social analysis: In a San Francisco speech Tuesday, Quayle blamed the Los Angeles riots on Murphy Brown’s execrable decision to bear a child out of wedlock. Lesser minds would not have seen the link.

“The intergenerational poverty that troubles us so much today is predominantly a poverty of values,” he said. “It doesn’t help 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.’ ”

Quayle also remarked that the poverty rate for families headed by single mothers is six times higher than the poverty rate for families headed by married couples.

“Marriage is probably the best anti-poverty program there is,” said Quayle.

Yeah, Dan, so is child support.

His judgmental little riff on Murphy’s immorality--so typical of the Bush Administration view that women are incapable of making their own reproductive decisions--would have been a nice segue into a demand for authorities to do a better job collecting child support from errant fathers.

Lack of child support is clearly linked to the impoverishment of single-parent families. And our law enforcement officials do a dismal job of enforcing awards. In spring, 1990, the U.S. Census Bureau reported, only half the 5 million women who were awarded child support in 1989 received full payment. One quarter received partial support and the rest got nothing.

According to a local child support task force, an estimated 237,000 parents in Los Angeles County do not meet their support obligations. The district attorney’s office, which is charged with enforcement, has been criticized by the task force for finding only 17,300 of those deadbeat parents, or about one in 14.


Quayle’s speech also would have been a terrific opportunity for the GOP to announce it would return some or all of the half-million dollars recently contributed to the party by California businessman/deadbeat dad Michael Kojima. Last month, in recognition of his largess, Kojima sat with Bush at the “President’s Dinner,” which raised $9 million for GOP congressional candidates.

When Kojima’s two former wives saw the photograph of their ex with the President, they pleaded with Bush to give them some of the money, owed in back child support. The funds are sitting in an escrow account. Far be it from GOP officials to do the right thing on principle. Instead, they’re consulting their lawyers.

I was surprised that Murphy Brown had a baby, but not because it sets a bad example. Frankly, I thought an abortion would have been more in character.

But on the tube, it seems, there are only two possible outcomes of unwanted pregnancy: miscarriage or birth, a gross misrepresentation of reality, considering that far more unmarried pregnant women terminate pregnancies than proceed with them. (The most recent comparative statistics from the Alan Guttmacher Institute: In 1988, for every 1,000 unmarried women between 15 and 44, 38.6 gave birth while 46.2 had abortions.) Indeed, every time a show opts for abortion, the networks lose money--ABC did with “China Beach” in 1990; NBC did with the movie “Roe Vs. Wade” in 1989.

It’s not that I wanted Murphy Brown to have an abortion. The decision to keep or abort a child is purely personal, and women need to be supported in either decision.

I wonder if it ever crossed Quayle’s relatively uncluttered mind to ask whether the father of Murphy’s child used a condom? Ideally, birth control is a mutual decision, one for which a couple shares equal responsibility. When one of our nation’s highest officials blows the opportunity to underline the importance of shared responsibility for birth control, how can we expect the burden to be borne equally?

Instead, he heaps the “lifestyle choice” insults on women, who can’t win. Damned if you have that baby out of wedlock, damned if you abort him. And damned, I guess, for having sex in the first place.

It’s simply astonishing that he condemns an affluent, employed television character--and, by extension, anyone like her--for having a baby out of wedlock. I can understand that the state might have an interest in encouraging birth control if the taxpayers are forced to support children through the welfare system. In the absence of that concern, politicians should butt out of family planning decisions.

“I think most of us . . . know that some things are good, and other things are wrong,” said Quayle on Tuesday.

Indeed we do. Considering your speech was about intergenerational poverty and values, failing to urge fathers to pay child support was not only wrong, Dan, it was very wasteful .

How true that is.