Vice President Dan Quayle is blaming the Los Angeles riots on a breakdown of American family values and says prime-time television contributed to the moral decay by heroizing a character who bore a baby out of wedlock.
In a stern admonition on behalf of traditional mores, Mr. Quayle said that the "lawless social anarchy" that erupted in Los Angeles emerged from a broader breakdown that has fostered a "poverty of values."
He said that the plight of urban America has not been helped by the portrayal this week on TV's "Murphy Brown" of the title character "mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another 'lifestyle choice.' "
"Marriage is probably the best anti-poverty program there is," Mr. Quayle said yesterday in a speech before the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco.
The vice presidential scolding contained tough law-and-order rhetoric that left little doubt that crime again will be a central theme of the Republican presidential campaign. But it was most notable for its call for a return to "moral values."
"Even though our cultural leaders in Hollywood, network TV, the national newspapers routinely jeer at [such values]," Mr. Quayle said, "I think most of us in this room know that some things are good, and other things are wrong."
Mr. Quayle has long served as a conservative voice within the Bush administration, and his speeches often serve to appeal to the Republican right wing. But in reproving a television character who for some women has become a cultural icon, he risked alienating voters important to the Bush-Quayle re-election campaign.
Overnight ratings suggested that about 21 million American households watched a Monday night episode of "Murphy Brown" in which the unmarried title character, a well-paid TV anchorwoman, bore a baby boy. Told about Mr. Quayle's comments, a senior Bush campaign official replied only "Oh, dear."
Campaign press secretary Victoria Clarke said she had no comment about the vice president's remarks. A spokeswoman for Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas said the popularity of "Murphy Brown" reflected the fact that "millions of Americans think she has something relevant to say."
"The world is a much more complicated place than Dan Quayle wants to believe," Clinton campaign press secretary Dee Dee Myers said. "He should watch a few episodes before he decides to pop off."
Mr. Quayle voiced his concerns about unwed motherhood as he suggested that the Los Angeles riots were "directly related to the breakdown of family structure, personal responsibility and social order in too many areas of our society."
He cited statistics showing sharp increases in illegitimacy and crime rates among black Americans to suggest that within the underclass, the most troublesome poverty is "fundamentally a poverty of values."
As solutions, Mr. Quayle called for the "dismantling" of the welfare system to stop penalizing marriage and to make work or school attendance a condition of receiving benefits. He said that the administration's own urban agenda of enterprise zones and expanded home ownership would also contribute to a process of economic empowerment.
The prescription receiving the most emphasis was what he called "a tough law-and-order policy."