Although former Vice President Quayle’s legacy may not be one for the history books, he will certainly be remembered for the day he took on television’s Murphy Brown. Some conservatives claim that it was a turning point in the war to save the family.
On May 9, the tenth anniversary of Quayle’s speech condemning Murphy Brown, he celebrated with an appearance at the National Press Club, where he delivered an address titled “Ten Years after Murphy Brown: A Mother’s Day Progress Report on the American Family.”
Ten years ago, the reaction to Quayle’s speech fell along predictable lines-liberals denounced it as another in a series of gratuitous election-year attacks on Hollywood. Conservatives were thrilled that Quayle had brought the issue of single-parent families to public attention.
Quayle’s speech was one of the first volleys in the “marriage wars.” Over the past ten years, a “marriage movement” has evolved; no longer the subject of widespread liberal disdain, marriage advocates dominated the 1996 welfare reform debate and are now key players in the debate over welfare reauthorization.
President Bush’s $300 million initiative to promote heterosexual marriage is at the heart of his welfare reauthorization proposal, and it owes its existence, in large measure, to the marriage warriors at right-wing think tanks and foundations.
Remaking the Cultural Consensus
In an early May Village Voice article, Sharon Lerner writes: “With $300 million of funds from the soon-to-be reauthorized Welfare Reform Act allotted for marriage promotion, poor people can expect an unprecedented array of programs nudging them toward the altar, including billboards advertising the joys of matrimony; ‘marriage education’ for unwed, expecting parents; and ‘marriage mentoring’ programs in which married couples serve as role models for singles.”
How has the right’s “marriage movement” become so prominent in the welfare reauthorization debate? Right-wing foundations conceptualized, supported, sustained and helped direct the debate over marriage during the past ten years, publicizing their views through Op-Ed pieces, articles, books, radio and television interviews, speaking engagements and reports rolling off the presses of conservative think tanks. David Popenoe, a seasoned veteran of the movement, discusses the pivotal role of conservative foundations in an article titled “New Day Dawning? In the Struggle Over the Family, Foundations Made the Difference,” in the March/April 2002 issue of Philanthropy magazine–the bimonthly publication of the Philanthropy Roundtable, a consortium of conservative foundations.
Popenoe is a professor of sociology at Rutgers University and co-director, along with Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, of the National Marriage Project. Popenoe explains how most foundations traditionally focused on funding “direct service programs” rather than research and public education, especially when it comes to children’s issues. However, beginning in the late 1980s several conservative foundations “blazed a new trail and supported research and public education in the child-related area of marriage and the family.”