Address to the Commonwealth Club of California

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Address to the Commonwealth Club of California

On Family Values


By: Dan Quayle

Date: May 19, 1992

Source: Dan Quayle: Speeches: Address to the Commonwealth Club of California. "On Family Values." May 19, 1992 〈〉 (accessed June 19, 2006).

About the Author: Vice President James Danforth Quayle (b. 1947) served the United States from 1989 to 1993 under former President George H.W. Bush. Born in Indiana, Quayle received his law degree from the Indianapolis University School of Law. He began his career in public service in 1971, working in the Attorney General's office. Quayle also practiced law with his wife and worked as publisher of the family newspaper The Huntington Herald-Press. Entering the Republican political arena as a Congressman in 1976 and serving in the House of Representatives, he represented Indiana for two terms. Quayle entered the Senate race of 1980, which he won and was re-elected in 1986. He was called upon by George H.W. Bush to run for the Vice Presidency, attaining this office in 1988 at the age of forty-one. He has published a book of his memoirs, Standing Firm, A Vice Presidential Memoir (1994), which was a New York Times bestseller; and has also authored The American Family (1996) and Worth Fighting For (1999). Since 2000, Quayle has been chairman of Cerberus Global Investments, a major investment company in the United States with international offices in Japan, Germany, and Korea.


This topic of family values was initiated by the Los Angeles riots that occurred in 1992. The riots were sparked by a verdict of a predominantly white jury that acquitted four policemen who were videotaped beating Rodney King, a black man who had been apprehended after fleeing the police. The rioting resulted in mass looting, injuries, and several deaths. Former Vice President Dan Quayle was asked about these domestic events by Japanese leaders while in Japan meeting on international affairs.

In relating the riots to the breakdown of values within society among inner city residents, there were comments suggested by some of the Japanese officials that diversity was to blame. They also argued that racial differences create problems that weaken a society. Quayle refuted these remarks noting that because of diverse backgrounds and cultures in America, they have enjoyed tremendous success economically as a nation. He also refuted those in the United States that explained away the riots as justifiable or pardonable behavior. However, the underlying question—what transpired that provoked the riots in Los Angeles—still required an explanation.

In this 1992 speech to the Commonwealth Club of California, Quayle remarks on how the decline of family values in American society contributed to this tragedy. He discusses how fathers are necessary components of the family, despite how it was portrayed by television personas of the time (Murphy Brown, for instance); how two parents are essentially and statistically necessary to prevent poverty from being transferred from one generation to the next; and how governmental programs should find strategies that support the family structure rather than promote its breakup.


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 the 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 committed against blacks.

We are for law and order. If a single mother raising her 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 businesses?

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 homeowners. 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 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. It 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 motive 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 choice."

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 public.

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 than 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 dignified independence.

Shelby Steele, in his great book, The Content of Our Character, writes, "Personal responsibility is the brick and mortar of power. The responsible person knows 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 stronger nation.


Quayle's reference to the Murphy Brown persona caused this speech to garner far more publicity than would otherwise have been the case. The producers of the television sitcom promptly used reference as the basis for a double-length episode, widely watched, that featured Ms. Brown viewing the speech on television, being assured by her friends that it was of no importance ("It's DAN QUAYLE!—FORGET it!"), and then discovering, in the onslaught of reporters and publicity, that when the Vice President makes a statement about someone, it can't be taken lightly.

In the years immediately following Quayle's speech, the raised consciousness of the importance of fathers in the family—whether or not the speech was a factor—was evident in the founding of the National Fatherhood Initiative, established in 1993 to improve the well-being of children by increasing the proportion of children growing up with involved, responsible, and committed fathers; and in the 1995 Million Man March in Washington, D.C., to demonstrate commitment of African American men to be better fathers and husbands.

Two of the four officers acquitted of beating Rodney King were later convicted on federal charges of violating his civil rights. King sued the city of Los Angeles and settled for $3.8 million; he later had other conflicts with the law and entered a substance abuse rehabilitation program. The South Central neighborhood, where the riots originated, became the recipient of $1.4 billion through an initiative called Rebuild Los Angeles, spearheaded by a coalition of city officials and businesses. Nevertheless, the neighborhood remains one of Los Angeles' poorest, with high unemployment. The Reverend Cecil Murray, pastor of the AME church in South Central, remarked cautiously in an interview on CNN ten years after the event that though the "wounds had not healed," … "there are isolated moments where you can note progress here."



Quayle, Dan. Standing Firm. Harpercollins, 1995.

Web site "Los Angeles Riot Still Echoes a Decade Later" April 29, 2002 〈〉 (accessed June 29, 2006).

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Address to the Commonwealth Club of California

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