Chapter 18: Murphy Brown and the Culture Wars

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Speeches

Pat Buchanan – Speech to the 1992 Republican National Convention

Vice President Dan Quayle – The “Murphy Brown” Speech

Throughout much of the 20th century, the debates in presidential campaigns about the responsibilities of the federal government revolved largely around economic, international and later racial issues. But in the 1990s a new question took on increased prominence – cultural values and in particular religious faith. While the role of cultural values had begun to gather steam a decade before, it truly reached its nadir in the 1992 race for the White House and speeches by two conservative politicians.

Vice President Dan Quayle attempted to lay much of the blame for recent deadly riots in Los Angeles on the “breakdown of the family structure, personal responsibility and social order in too many areas of our society.” That in itself was not surprising conservative rhetoric – what did make news however, was Quayle’s assertion that pop culture role models such as the fictional TV character “Murphy Brown,” who had recently had a child out-of-wedlock were not “helping matters.” The public ridicule that followed would only solidify Quayle’s sophomoric image.

At the GOP convention in Houston, Pat Buchanan would go even further that Quayle, arguing that there was a “religious” and “cultural war” going on in America and that Democratic nominee Bill Clinton was on one side and George Bush and the Republican Party on the other. With most Americans worried about the state of the US economy it would hardly be surprisingly that these strident attacks would spell doom for the GOP in November. But for millions of Americans, faith and morality-related issues were increasingly becoming the lens by they were now viewing their government and its elected leaders.

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