According to Dan Quayle, the infamous Los Angeles riots can be attributed to a breakdown of traditional family structures: “I believe the lawless social anarchy which we saw is directly related to the breakdown of family structure, personal responsibility, and social order in too many areas of our society” (Quayle 185). While some of his remarks can be rightfully considered controversial, particularly those with religious overtones, he does make several logical points throughout his essay. Dan Quayle’s argument is legitimate given his examination of historical trends, social values, and changing demographics.
First, Quayle points out the historical trends that helped lead to the family crises today. Specifically, the majority of Americans now known as “Baby Boomers” believed “it was fashionable to declare war against traditional values” and that “indulgence and self-gratification seemed to have no consequence” (Quayle 186-187). While today many of the “Baby Boomers” are “middle class” and “the responsibility of having families has helped many recover traditional values” (Quayle 187), there were terrible ramifications for those less fortunate and “with less to fall back on” (Quayle 187). In other words, divorce rates began to skyrocket, and many couples ultimately never married, even if they had children.
Having less to fall back on leads to the second reason for the soundness of Quayle’s argument, which is the change in social values, especially social values related to family structures. Quayle argues that two-parent homes are ultimately better for children than single-parent homes: “We cannot be embossed out of our belief that two parents, married to each other, are better in most cases for children than one” (Quayle 189). Gerstel and Sarkisian would argue strongly against Quayle’s point, as they argue, “this focus on the nuclear family ignores extended family solidarities and care giving activities” (Gerstel and Sarkisian 62). They argue that Blacks and Latinos are “much more likely than Whites to share a home with extended kin” (Gerstel and Sarkisian 63). However, while the value of an extended family is certainly helpful in terms of additional emotional support, this cannot supplant the traditional structure of two parents.
Lastly, Quayle points out a salient fact that helps perpetuate these tragedies, which is that far too many impoverished people are having far too many children at too young of an age, changing the demographics of the average parent’s age. Specifically, “our inner cities are filled with children having children; with people who have not been able to take advantage of educational opportunities” (Quayle 187). Having children at too young of an age virtually eliminates the chance for getting and education and improving one’s life, and these children eventually have children of their own at far too young of an age. As Quayle points out, “the system perpetuates itself as these young men father children whom they have no intention of caring for, by women whose welfare checks support them. Teenage girls, mired in the same hopelessness, lack sufficient motive to say no to this trap” (Quayle 189). Therefore, as long as the system is allowed to function in this way, little change will occur. Grestel and Sarkisian argue that “disadvantaged men are often unable to offer women the kind of economic security that advantaged men provide” (Gerstel and Sarkisian 65), but providing emotional support and demonstrating fatherly traits is more important than bringing home large amounts of money, as demonstrated by the numerous wealthy children that are led astray. In other words, lack of economic resources should not be an excuse for a father to abandon his children.
Due to his logical points regarding history, values, and demographics, Quayle’s argument regarding single parent families is sound. Gerstel and Sarkisian make some good points regarding extended kin, but the extended kin attempts to take on the role of parenting when they are not the original parents. In addition, economic insecurity is a poor reason to abandon a child, and it would be logical for people to not have children unless they could afford them. Many people dislike Quayle’s argument, but the truth is that a stable home life increases the chance of producing a stable person, while the reverse effect is also true.