ARLINGTON, Va. -- Continuing his role as the point man for securing President Bush's conservative base, Vice President Dan Quayle told a cheering National Right to Life Committee convention yesterday that "cultural change, a change of values . . . [and] individual behavior" in the inner cities and elsewhere is essential to cure the nation's ills.
Mr. Quayle cast himself as "playing David to the Goliath of the dominant cultural elite," reiterating his attack on individuals in "our newsrooms, sitcom studios and faculty lounges," a group that "avoids responsibility and flees from the consequences of its self-indulgence" regarding pregnancy and abortion.
"If, as a result of one's own actions, a child is conceived," he said, "they [the cultural elite] have a simple solution: Get rid of it." Whereas anti-abortion forces opt for adoption, he said, "they believe in the right to dispose of life. We believe in the right to life."
The speech was the third of a series by Mr. Quayle espousing "family values" that started with his celebrated speech criticizing television situation comedy character Murphy Brown as a poor example to the country for bearing a child out of wedlock. He reported that since then, "the public's response has been overwhelmingly favorable, summed up by the hundreds of calls to my office that said, over and over again, 'Thank goodness someone is finally speaking out.'
"In the heart of America, in the homes and workplaces and churches, my message resonated with the common sense of the average citizen."
He also said, "The cultural elite don't want me to talk about values, but the American people do." Repeatedly interrupted by standing applause, the vice president assured his audience that "we shall carry the day, in defense of mothers and children, because the American people are far ahead of the country's self-appointed cultural elites."
Mr. Quayle's speech to the convention amounted to preaching to the choir, but within the Bush-Quayle campaign it is considered essential now that such elements of support be shored up against possible erosion from prospective independent candidate Ross Perot.
Although Mr. Perot has indicated at least a modified position in favor of abortion rights, Republican strategists feel that his common-sense appeal to the same "average American" to whom Mr. Quayle is pitching his "values" speeches could peel away some of the president's support.
Mr. Quayle did not mention Mr. Perot in his speech, but Wanda Franz, president of the National Right to Life Committee, observed in welcoming the vice president that "with all that put-on forthrightness, Mr. Perot is still weaseling around the [abortion] issue."
Mr. Quayle, taking note of the approaching election, said that it "will be about trust -- and about values."
"Of course," he said, "we can count on the cultural elite to deplore the injection of values into politics. But a clear choice of values should be at the center of our political process."
The vice president told the convention that "in poll after poll, the majority of Americans support limitations on abortion," as stipulated in the Pennsylvania law now under Supreme Court review. While this is so -- a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll found that 70 percent favor parental approval and spousal notification of prospective abortions -- polls have also found strong support for abortion rights.
Mr. Quayle generated only modest applause among the strict anti-abortionists in the audience when he called the Pennsylvania law, which requires a 24-hour waiting period, spousal notification and parental consent for minor children, "a reasonable effort by the people of Pennsylvania to advance the cause of life. Such efforts deserve our support."
The consideration of such limitations is itself a retreat from the group's once-categorical position barring all abortions.
His references to "the cultural elite" strike the same chord that another Republican vice president, Spiro T. Agnew, often strummed in his criticism of "radical liberals" who he said looked down on the values of "the average American."