- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Stop the presses. Dan Quayle likes "The Osbournes" better than "Murphy Brown."The former vice president released that bit of late-breaking news in response to a question I asked him at the National Press Club after he spoke there Thursday.

"Do you think MTV's 'The Osbournes' helps or hurts family values?" I scribbled on a question card that was read to him ahead of everybody else's.

He chuckled. He thought for a moment about the hit docu-soap about the Beverly Hills home life of shock-rock star Ozzy Osbourne, his manager-wife and two of his three teen kids.

Then he answered. Yes, he concluded, the Osbournes in their bizarre way help to confirm the value and virtue of good family values, once you get past their "sort of dysfunctional aspects."

Even though the potty-mouthed dialogues are frequently bleeped, the show features two "loving parents." And "there are some very good lessons there that are being transmitted of not doing drugs, of not doing alcohol."

So, even though Osbourne home life is quite different from Quayle family life, he gave the show a guarded thumbs-up.

I was amused by how amazed Mr. Quayle sounded, as if he was discovering for the first time that, lo and behold, you don't have to be a doctrinaire conservative zealot to appreciate and maintain a loving family life.

Yes, even "cultural elites," as he called the Hollywood folks, agree kids are better off with two parents at home.

Mr. Quayle understood this now and was eager to claim at least part of the credit. Ten years had passed since he made headlines with his famous swipe at "Murphy Brown," a sitcom about an unmarried TV reporter who had decided to raise her child alone.

"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,' " Mr. Quayle said in a San Francisco speech to the Commonwealth Club of California.

Mr. Quayle was beat up by critics for that and for claiming a "poverty of values" had led to the Los Angeles riots and for calling for "social sanctions" against women who bear children out of marriage "irresponsibly."

But now he feels vindicated, he said at the press club, citing dramatic shifts he has noticed in the political landscape and in the public and private lives of Hollywood's "cultural elite."

He praised Sarah Jessica Parker of "Sex and the City" for taking a maternity leave to spend more time with her husband, Mathew Broderick, and the child they are expecting.

He even gave guarded praise to "Friends." Yes, Jennifer Aniston, who is married to Brad Pitt, plays an unmarried expectant mother on the show, but at least the father is helping to support the child. "So, we've made at least 50 percent progress," Mr. Quayle quipped.

Well, maybe the shift is only in Mr. Quayle's perspective.

That's what right-wingers get for believing their own propaganda. The real political history of the past decade shows that Mr. Quayle's poke at "Murphy Brown" was part of a much larger populist movement to rally middle-class discontent against welfare recipients, who constantly were portrayed as "irresponsible" and, at worst, "cheats."

In fact, you did not have to be a conservative to think something had to be done about the way welfare had turned into a trap for too many families. In fact, the Bush-Quayle team would be unseated later in 1992 by Bill Clinton, a centrist Democrat who promised to "end welfare as we know it" and hold fathers accountable for their children.

Mr. Clinton kept his promise under pressure from a very conservative Congress. He signed a welfare reform bill (after vetoing two others) before the 1996 elections that was far tougher in its cutoff limits than most Democrats wanted. Fortunately, the decade's economic boom and a variety of support services like day care and job training have helped the reforms to work, although benefits vary wildly from state to state.

Unfortunately, while about 3 million fewer families are receiving welfare benefits, at least 2 million remain on the rolls. And the welfare poor too often become the new working poor. Those who are working are making more than they were receiving from welfare, on average, but too little to rise out of poverty.

As Congress prepares to debate reauthorization of the welfare reform law, President Bush wants to ratchet up the pressure. He proposes to put 70 percent of all welfare recipients to work and raise the minimum to a 40-hour week instead of the current 30-hour week.

It is ironic that Mr. Bush's new family values would require welfare-to-work participants to spend even more time working and away from their families. He also proposes to spend $300 million on counseling programs that encourage marriage. That's not a bad idea. It sounds like a lot of people may need counseling for the new stress his welfare plans put on them.

Mr. Quayle can feel vindicated, all right. He got the ball rolling on welfare reform. Let's hope it doesn't roll over the families it was intended to help.


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