Among IWF Senior Fellow Lisa Schiffren’s many claims to fame, I am partial to Lisa’s authorship of a particular speech. Lisa wrote the famous “Murphy Brown” speech, which was given by then-Vice President Dan Quayle.
Murphy Brown of the eponymous television show was a rich, glamorous, ambitious TV reporter, played by Candace Bergen, who has a child. There was no father in sight and the baby was cared for, if memory serves, largely by Eldon, the housepainter. Quayle triggered a firestorm when he used the show to talk about the undermining of fatherhood.
Here is some of what Quayle said:
Bearing babies irresponsibly is simply wrong. Failing to support children one has fathered is wrong, and 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. I know it is not fashionable to talk about moral values, but … it's time to make the discussion public.
Well, you can just imagine the furor!
So I hope the prophetic Lisa enjoys Jonah Goldberg’s column this morning headlined “Dan Quayle Was Right.” As Jonah notes, his headline is taken from a Barbara Dafoe Whitehead esay published twenty years ago. Whitehead's essay didn't get the accolades it deserved from the elites. But two decades of single-parent families have shown us that Quayle had a point:
Back then, Whitehead's essay was heretical. Today, it's conventional wisdom. Last year, Isabel Sawhill, a widely respected liberal economist at the Brookings Institution, wrote an op-ed article for the Washington Post titled "20 years later, it turns out Dan Quayle was right about Murphy Brown and unmarried moms."
Sawhill noted that kids raised by married parents — not just parents living together, never mind single mothers — simply do better. They do better academically and are less likely to get arrested, get pregnant or commit suicide. They're also much less likely to be poor or stay poor.
None of these claims are particularly controversial among social scientists. And none of this is particularly aimed at gay marriage, pretty much the only kind of marriage liberal elites want to celebrate now.
Jonah argues that Quayle made one error, placing the blame mostly on Hollywood. Marriage had already begun to deteriorate long before Murphy Brown. The intriguing phenomenon today is that marriage thrives among the well-educated but not among the poor. That is probably because the affluent realize that the best way to prepare their offspring for success is by giving them a stable family.
Jonah points out something very interesting: experts continue to say that college is the panacea for poverty but don’t talk as much about marriage. So maybe they are getting it backwards.