WASHINGTON – The ever-popular metal head Ozzy Osbourne has managed to pull off what CBS' Murphy Brown still can't seem to accomplish — he has gotten the Good Housekeeping seal of approval from former Vice President Dan Quayle.
That’s right, Quayle, who 10 years ago was flayed alive for calling the single motherhood of fictional journalist Murphy Brown on the now-defunct comedy series irresponsible, says the former Black Sabbath frontman is a good parent.
"Obviously this is an intact family," Quayle said of the Osbourne brood, who star in their own reality TV series. "They appear to be very involved with their kids, who seem to get embarrassed by the show of emotional attention. And they tell them not to do drugs and alcohol."
Quayle may be caught up in the hype surrounding the MTV show that features the middle-aged rocker, his wife and manager Sharon, and two of their three teen-age children. The show has transfixed popular culture on to the man whose sometimes incoherent "father knows best" schtick has endeared him even to President Bush, who saluted him at a recent White House Correspondents Association Dinner.
Despite the foul language and the obvious impact of Osbourne's formerly outrageous lifestyle on his health, Quayle said he thinks there is much to be said for this family’s example.
"It's a little different from our household," he said to the mostly conservative crowd at the National Press Club Thursday. "But I think there are some good lessons being transmitted there."
Quayle is certainly not averse to throwing out critiques of Hollywood's fixation on the non-nuclear family.
In 1992, he earned scorn when he and President George H.W. Bush were locked in a tough presidential fight with Bill Clinton and Al Gore, a battle they lost. Quayle's comments about Murphy Brown, played by Candice Bergen, were reported widely as being an attack on single mothers, and he was skewered for taking on a "fictional character" in his rhetoric.
"I don't regret it," he said of his comments during an appearance commemorating his now-famous Murphy Brown speech. "I felt I was right at the time and I feel that I am right now."
"I never criticized single mothers, I was merely pointing to their difficulties," he added.
Detractors say Quayle's comment is still out of line today.
"Unmarried and single mothers, they are a very easy target to blast — they are not very powerful, they don't make a lot of money, and they don't launch big campaigns in Washington," said Estelle Raboni, a spokeswoman for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which took issue with Quayle’s comments then and now.
Marriage advocates brought together by the Hudson Institute Thursday to fete Quayle say the former vice president merely touched upon a movement that sought an end to the growing divorce and out-of-wedlock birth rates, while bringing reform to the welfare system, which many say kept single mothers in hopeless poverty.
"We have won the debate," insisted sociologist and Rutgers University professor David Popenoe, who called Quayle's 1992 speech a "breakthrough" for the movement. "For the first time nationally, these issues were being raised and discussed."
Popenoe said the movement has been vindicated. Since 1996, welfare reform has taken millions of women off the federal dole and put them into jobs. Studies now prove that children growing up in non-abusive two-parent households, especially when the two parents are married, are healthier than children from single-parent or broken homes.
But there is much to do, Popenoe said. Out-of-wedlock births that had been on the decline in the last five years are now on the uptick, and the marriage rate continues to drop.
"Co-habitation is beginning to replace marriage more than ever before," he said.
To help the move toward marriage, Bush has proposed $100 million in new funds for research and technical assistance to states engaging in pro-marriage projects, and another $100 million in matching grants for new fatherhood and abstinence initiatives in his welfare authorization plan.
The money is in addition to the $16.5 billion he is proposing for welfare assistance to the states overall — about the same spent when welfare reform was passed.
Critics say the money is going in the wrong direction.
"Instead of directing the money to promote marriage, put it into education reform for welfare recipients so that can get jobs above minimum wage," countered Raboni.
But Quayle insists the movement has "stemmed the tide" of the family breakdown, and said even television has made a few steps forward, citing fictional characters Ross and Rachel's effort to get it "half-right" in the NBC series Friends.
The two characters are having an out-of-wedlock child, "but the father is involved," he said.