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If Quayle is right, here are the contradictions.

As if on signal, the business-supported sector of the scribbling class got morality this year. Its members have set out to reform what American Enterprise Institute philosopher Michael Novak calls the "moral-cultural system" and more popular scribes refer to as the "Murphy Brown thing."

As a recent Atlantic cover warned us: "Dan Quayle was right."

Americans seem to have lost their moral compass. Of course, they have always been that way. Jesuit Father George Dunne put his finger right on the cause in NCR on April 2: original sin. Nothing new there. It's the only thing on earth that is literally as "old as Adam."

Statistically and anecdotally, though, we do seem to be sliding down the road to perdition or anarchy, whichever comes first. Some of that can be charged to better statistics and higher self-expectation, but still there is more than enough to concern serious people.

Not that you get to hear many serious people on television nor read them anywhere. The air is too thick with misperceptions created by chatterers and scribblers who have sponsors. It will get thicker now that conservatives and neocons are laying a patina of academese over the censoriousness of politically safe allies on the dollars-for-morals circuit. With Quayle elevated, can Se. Jesse Helms be far behind?

Maybe that's what you do when your politics lose at the polls and your economics reduce the book value of your own sponsors. Morality is the last refuge of a thinker who has been wrong on politics and economics.

The New Left discovered the moral-cultural nexus after its politics produced a choice between Hubert Humphrey and the unspeakable Richard Nixon and participatory economics suffered in endless rap sessions. For those too young to remember, that was hen Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin proclaimed a cultural revolution in which society would be transformed by rock music, drugs, blue jeans, long hair and the absence of Clorox.

Continuing this history lesson (for the benefit of people who read too many op-ed pages), the "failed liberal social policies of the past," on which business-sponsored scribblers blame single-parent families (and almost everything else), were the works of people like Humphrey, not of his critics in the New Left.

In the present, little light can be shed on moral and cultural values from chat shows sponsored by Exxon and Pepsi nor from fellowships endowed by John M. Olin because, in this area, the sponsors are implicated.

When, for example, Thomas Sewell takes apart welfare for breaking up families, one can find a mote of policy truth. But what of the beam of advertising and marketing? The so-called market, economy determines when a family can't purchase enough to hold up its head in society before government intervenes.

Or what of the beam of full-time jobs that can't support one person, much less three? One of the victims of the World Trade Center bombing was working two full-time jobs to support himself, a wife and two children. Why? Not, why did he have two jobs? Not, why didn't he put his wife to work (and give his kids latchkeys)? But why didn't one job support a family?

If corporate America has endowed your chair on your intellectual food fight, you avoid the question. The dead man's two jobs are not seen as a problem; they are laudable.

Yet he was only a high-priced illness (are their any other kinds?) in the family, or a leveraged buyout that eliminated one of his jobs, away from the dreaded welfare system. At which time he and his family would be fair game for the chatterers and scribblers.

Working 80 hours a week and not seeing your family is part of the Judeo-Christian morality. But leaving and not seeing your family so it can qualify for Medicaid is what is tearing the country apart on its cultural-moral axis. Or so the scribblers and chatterers tell us.

They don't offer the whole Judeo-Christian morality, though. How can we stop worrying about clothes and consider how the wildflower grow (Matt. 6:28) when we are brought to you by the Gap? Who can bring up "Lend and expect nothing back" (Luke 6:35) when the sponsor's message is, "Give us your money to lend and we'll give you enough to buy a sailboat when you retire"?

There is both an internal contradiction and an external one in the discovery that Quayle was right. The internal contradiction is a Bible that bites the hand that thumps it.

The external contradiction is that when your subsidy comes from part of the problem, you aren't likely to notice the solution even if it bites you on the hand.

Tom Blackburn is an editorial writer for the Palm Beach Post.
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Title Annotation:Dan Quayle's family policy
Author:Blackburn, Thomas E.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Apr 30, 1993
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