Murphy Brown and the Media Elite
By: Vice President Dan Quayle
This file contains the entire text of the vice president's
infamous "Murphy Brown" speech, delivered to the Commonwealth
club of California in San Francisco.
As you may know, I've just returned from a week-long trip to Japan.
I was there to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the
reversion of Okinawa to Japan by the United States, an act that has
made a lasting impression on the Japanese.
While I was there, Japan announced its commitment to join with the
United States in assisting Eastern and Central Europe with a $400
million aid package. We also announced a manufacturing technology
initiative that will allow American engineers to gain experience
working in Japanese businesses.
Japan and the United States are allies and partners. Though we
have our differences, especially in the area of trade, our two
countries--with 40 percent of the world's GNP--are committed to a
global partnership in behalf of peace and economic growth.
But in the midst of all these discussions of international affairs,
I was asked many times in Japan about the recent events in Los
Angeles. From the prospective of many Japanese, the ethnic
diversity of our culture is a weakness compared to their homogenous
society. I begged to differ with my hosts. I explained that our
diversity is our strength. And I explained that the immigrants who
come to our shores have made, and continue to make, vast
contributions to our culture and our economy.
It is wrong to imply that the Los Angeles riots were an inevitable
outcome of our diversified society. But the question that I tried
to answer in Japan is one that needs answering here: What happened?
Why? And how do we prevent it in the future?
One response has been predictable: Instead of denouncing
wrongdoing, some have shown tolerance for rioters; some have
enjoyed saying, "I told you so"; and some have simply made excuses
for what happened. All of this has been accompanied by pleas for
I'll readily accept that we need to understand what happened. But
I reject the idea we should tolerate or excuse it.
When I have been asked during these last weeks who caused the riots
and killing in L.A., my answer has been direct and simple: Who is
to blame for the riots? The rioters are to blame. Who is to blame
for the killings? The killers are to blame. Yes, I can understand
how people were shocked and outraged by the verdict in the Rodney
King trial. But there is simply no excuse for the mayhem that
followed. To apologize or in any way excuse what happened is
wrong. It is a betrayal of all those people equally outraged and
equally disadvantaged who did not loot and did not riot--and who
were in many cases victims of the rioters. No matter how much you
may disagree with the verdict, the riots were wrong. And if we as
a society don't condemn what is wrong, how can we teach our
children what is right?
But after condemning the riots, we do need to try to understand the
underlying situation. In a nutshell: I believe the lawless social
anarchy which we saw is directly related to the breakdown of family
structure, personal responsibility, and social order in too many
areas of our society. For the poor, the situation is compounded by
a welfare ethos that impedes individual efforts to move ahead in
society and hampers their ability to take advantage of the
opportunities America offers.
If we don't succeed in addressing these fundamental problems, and
in restoring basic values, any attempt to fix what's broken will
fail. But one reason I believe we won't fail is that we have come
so far in the last 25 years.
There is no question that this country has had a terrible problem
with race and racism. The evil of slavery has left a long legacy.
But we have faced racism squarely, and we have made progress in the
past quarter-century. The landmark civil rights bill of the 1960s
removed legal barriers to allow full participation by blacks in the
economic, social, and political life of the nation. By any measure
the America of 1992 is more egalitarian, more integrated, and
offers more opportunities to black Americans--and all other
minority group members--than the America of 1964. There is more to
be done. But I think that all of us can be proud of our progress.
And let's be specific about one aspect of this progress: This
country now has a black middle class that barely existed a quarter-
century ago. Since 1967 the median income of black two-parent
families has risen by 60 percent in real terms. The number of
black college graduates has skyrocketed. Black men and women have
achieved real political power--black mayors head 48 of our largest
cities, including Los Angeles. These are achievements.
But as we all know, there is another side to that bright landscape.
During this period of progress, we have also developed a culture of
poverty--some call it an underclass--that is far more violent and
harder to escape than it was a generation ago.
The poor you always have with you, scripture tells us. And in
America we have always had poor people. But in this dynamic,
prosperous nation, poverty has traditionally been a stage through
which people pass on their way to joining the great middle class.
And if one generation didn't get very far up the ladder, their
ambitious, better educated children would.
But the underclass seems to be a new phenomenon. It is a group
whose members are dependent on welfare for very long stretches, and
whose men are often drawn into lives of crime. There is far too
little upward mobility because the underclass is disconnected from
the rules of American society. And these problems have,
unfortunately, been particularly acute for black Americans.
Let me share with you a few statistics on the difference between
black poverty in particular in the 1960's and now:
In 1967, 68 percent of black families were headed by married
couples. In 1991, only 48 percent of black families were
headed by both a husband and wife.
In 1965, the illegitimacy rate among black families was 28
percent. In 1989, 65 percent--two thirds--of all black
children were born to never-married mothers.
In 1951, 9.2 percent of black youth between 16 and 19 were
unemployed. In 1965, it was 23 percent. In 1980, it was 35
percent. In 1989, the number had declined slightly, but was
still 32 percent.
The leading cause of death of young black males today is
It would be overly simplistic to blame this social breakdown on the
programs of the Great Society alone. It would be absolutely wrong
to blame it on the growth and success most Americans enjoyed during
the 1980s. Rather, we are in large measure reaping the whirlwind
of decades of changes in social mores.
I was born in 1947, so I'm considered one of those "baby boomers"
we keep reading about. But let's look at one unfortunate legacy of
the "boomer" generation. When we were young, it was fashionable to
declare war against traditional values. Indulgence and self-
gratification seemed to have no consequences. Many of our
generation glamorized casual sex and drug use, evaded
responsibility, and trashed authority. Today the "Boomers" are
middle-aged and middle-class. The responsibility of having
families has helped many recover traditional values. And, of
course, the great majority of those in the middle class survived
the turbulent legacy of the '60s and '70s. But many of the poor,
with less to fall back on, did not.
The intergenerational poverty that troubles us so much today is
predominantly a poverty of values. Our inner cities are filled
with children having children; with people who have not been able
to take advantage of educational opportunities; with people who are
dependent on drugs or the narcotic of welfare. To be sure, many
people in the ghettos struggle very hard against these tides--and
sometimes win. But too many feel they have no hope and nothing to
lose. This poverty is, again, fundamentally a poverty of values.
Unless we change the basic rules of society in our inner cities, we
cannot expect anything else to change. We will simply get more of
what we saw three weeks ago. New thinking, new ideas, new
strategies are needed.
For the government, transforming underclass culture means that our
policies and programs must create a different incentive system.
Our policies must be premised on, and must reinforce, values such
as family, hard work, integrity, and personal responsibility.
I think we can all agree that government's first obligation is to
maintain order. We are a nation of laws, not looting. It has
become clear that the riots were fueled by vicious gangs that
terrorize the inner cities. We are committed to breaking those
gangs and restoring law and order. As James Q. Wilson has written,
"Programs of economic restructuring will not work so long as gangs
control the streets."
Some people say "law and order," are code words. Well, they are
code words. Code words for safety, getting control of the streets,
and freedom from fear. And let's not forget that, in 1990, 84
percent of the crimes committed by blacks were against blacks.
We are for law and order. If a single mother raising here children
in the ghetto has to worry about drive-by shootings, drug deals, or
whether her children will join gangs and die violently, her
difficult task becomes impossible. We're for law and order because
we can't expect children to learn in dangerous schools. We're for
law and order because if property isn't protected, who will build
As one step on behalf of law and order--and on behalf of
opportunity as well--the president has initiated the "Weed and
Seed" program--to "weed out" criminals and "seed" neighborhoods
with programs that address root causes of crime. And we have
encouraged community-based policing, which gets the police on the
street so they interact with citizens.
Safety is absolutely necessary. But it's not sufficient. Our
urban strategy is to empower the poor by giving them control over
their lives. To do that, our urban agenda includes:
Fully funding the Home-ownership and Opportunity for People
Everywhere program. HOPE--as we call it--will help public
housing residents become home-owners. Subsidized housing all
too often merely made rich investors richer. Home ownership
will give the poor a stake in their neighborhoods, and a
chance to build equity.
Creating enterprise zones by slashing taxes in targeted areas,
including a zero capital gains tax, to spur entrepreneurship,
economic development, and job creation in inner cities.
Instituting our education strategy, AMERICA 2000, to raise
academic standards and to give the poor the same choices about
how and where to educate their children that rich people have.
Promoting welfare reform to remove the penalties for marriage,
create incentives for saving, and give communities greater
control over how the programs are administered.
These programs are empowerment programs. They are based on the
same principles as the Job Training Partnership Act, which aimed to
help the disadvantaged young people and dislocated workers to
develop their skills to give them an opportunity to get ahead.
Empowering the poor will strengthen families. And right now, the
failure of our families is hurting America deeply. When families
fail, society fails. The anarchy and lack of structure in our
inner cities are testament to how quickly civilization falls apart
when the family foundation cracks. Children need love and
discipline. They need mothers and fathers. A welfare check is not
a husband. The state is not a father. If is from parents that
children learn how to behave in society; it is from parents above
all that children come to understand values and themselves as men
and women, mothers and fathers.
And for those concerned about children growing up in poverty, we
should know this: marriage is probably the best anti-poverty
program of all. Among families headed by married couples today,
there is a poverty rate of 5.7 percent. But 33.4 percent of
families headed by a single mother are in poverty today.
Nature abhors a vacuum. Where there are no mature, responsible men
around to teach boys how to be good men, gangs serve in their
place. In fact, gangs have become a surrogate family for much of
a generation of inner city boys. I recently visited with some
former gang members in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In a private
meeting, they told me why they had joined gangs. These teenage
boys said that gangs gave them a sense of security. They made them
feel wanted, and useful. They got support from their friends.
And, they said, "It was like having a family." "Like family"--
unfortunately, that says it all.
The system perpetuates itself as these young men father children
whom they have no intention of caring for, by women whose welfare
checks support them. Teenage girls, mired in the same
hopelessness, lack sufficient motives to say no to this trap.
Answers to our problems won't be easy. We can start by dismantling
a welfare system that encourages dependency and subsidizes broken
families. We can attach conditions--such as school attendance, or
work--to welfare. We can limit the time a recipient gets benefits.
We can stop penalizing marriage for welfare mothers. We can
enforce child support payments.
Ultimately, however, marriage is a moral issue that requires
cultural consensus and the use of social sanctions. Bearing babies
irresponsibly is, simply wrong. 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
I know it is not fashionable to talk about moral values, but we
need to do it. Even though our cultural leaders in Hollywood,
network TV, the national newspapers routinely jeer at them, I think
that most of us in this room know that some things are good, and
other things are wrong. Now it's time to make the discussion
It's time to talk again about family, hard work, integrity, and
personal responsibility. We cannot be embarrassed out of our
belief that two parents, married to each other, are better in most
cases for children than one. That honest work is better hand-outs-
-or crime. That we are our brothers' keepers. That it's worth
making an effort, even when the rewards aren't immediate.
So I think the time has come to renew our public commitment to our
Judeo-Christian values--in our churches and synagogues, our civic
organizations, and our schools. We are, as our children recite
each morning, "one nation under God." That's a useful framework
for acknowledging a duty and an authority higher than our own
pleasures and personal ambitions.
If we lived more thoroughly by these values, we would live in a
better society. For the poor, renewing these values will give
people the strength to help themselves by acquiring the tools to
achieve self-sufficiency, a good education, job training, and
property. Then they will move from permanent dependence to
Shelby Steele, in his great book "The Content of Our Character",
writes "Personal responsibility is the brick and mortar of power.
The responsible person know that the quality of his life is
something that he will have to make inside the limits of his
fate...The quality of his life will pretty much reflect his
efforts." I believe that the Bush administration's empowerment
agenda will help the poor gain that power by creating opportunity,
and letting people make the choices that free citizens must make.
Though our hearts have been pained by the events in Los Angeles, we
should take this tragedy as an opportunity for self-examination and
progress. So let the national debate roar on. I, for one, will
join it. The president will lead it. The American people will
participate in it. And as a result, we will become an even