No Dan Quayle Was Not Right
George H. W. Bush’s choice for Vice President was a non-descript Indiana Senator, a not too bright fellow named Dan Quayle. Mr. Quayle made headlines during his single term for criticizing a TV program, Murphy Brown whose main character decided to have a child as a single parent. Because of his lack of intellect, Mr. Quayle was accused of confusing a fictional TV character with real life and for acting in a judgmental and prejudicial manner.
Quayle’s argument — that Brown was sending the wrong message, that single parenthood should not be encouraged — erupted into a major campaign controversy. And just a few weeks before the ’92 vote, the show aired portions of his speech and had characters react to it.
“Perhaps it’s time for the vice president to expand his definition and recognize that, whether by choice or circumstance, families come in all shapes and sizes,” Bergen’s character said.
Her fictional colleague Frank, meanwhile, echoed some of the national reaction: “It’s Dan Quayle — forget about it!”
Now a researcher for Brookings argues that Mr. Quayle was ‘right.
Twenty years later, Quayle’s words seem less controversial than prophetic. The number of single parents in
has increased dramatically: The proportion of children born outside marriage
has risen from roughly 30 percent in 1992 to 41 percent in 2009. For women
under age 30, more than half of babies are born out of wedlock. A lifestyle
once associated with poverty has become mainstream. America
He was not. The study by the folks at Brookings only reached the obvious conclusion. Children are better off with two married parents instead of one
It isn’t clear why children who live with their unmarried biological parents don’t do as well as kids who live with married ones. Adults who marry may be different from those who cohabit, divorce or become unwed mothers. Although studies try to adjust for these differences, researchers can’t measure all of them. People in stable marriages may have better relationship skills, for instance, or a greater philosophical or religious commitment to union that improves parenting. Still, raising children is a daunting responsibility. Two committed parents typically have more time and resources to do it well.
But the point is not to compel couples to marry or to punish single parents and their children. The point is, people are free to have children if they are not married and people are free to have children as a single parent. Government should be involved, but not to interfere with people’s choices but to support their decisions. A study like the Brookings work should determine why children of unmarried couples or single couples do not do as well as children of married couples, and then propose policies to help those families do better.
Such an attitude is an anathema to Conservatives who want government to enforce their values on an unwilling population. Which is why they get no respect as Conservatives, or as proponents of family values.