Classroom Activities

  1. What were Quayle’s goals in this speech? Discuss what phrases, arguments, or images influenced your response.
  2. Listen to Quayle’s speech at the Commonwealth Club of California (http://www.c-span.org/video/?60051-1/family-values). How would you describe his tone? Was it appropriate for the speech? What changes, if any, could he have made to make the delivery more effective?
  3. What words does Quayle use to describe poverty in America? What images do these words conjure up?
  4. What are the social and economic problems Quayle identifies within his speech? Discuss what solutions he offers to these problems and whether they seem feasible.
  5. Quayle claimed that the American family is in crisis. What does he mean by this statement? What evidence does Quayle offer to support his claim?
  6. Quayle advocated “personal responsibility” as a way to help lift the poor out of poverty. Discuss what Quayle means by “personal responsibility” and analyze the reasons he might think it would empower the poor.
  7. What are some examples of the Judeo-Christian values that Quayle argues Americans must uphold? Be prepared to discuss how a non Judeo-Christian religion might differ from Judeo-Christian religions in its definition of family values.
  8. What evidence does Quayle offer to support his claims? Did you find his arguments convincing? Be prepared to discuss your response.
  9. Why do you think that the speech attracted so much attention from so many different people, organizations, and media outlets? Who do you think was Quayle’s target audience and how does that help to explain how various audiences responded to the speech?
  10. How does Quayle’s ethos or credibility affect his speech? Would this speech have been received differently if delivered by another speaker? Be prepared to discuss your response.
  11. In a May 10, 2002, interview with CNN, Quayle said that he did not think he would have changed the Murphy Brown reference. Do you think Quayle was wise to use the line? Be prepared to discuss the evidence that led you to your conclusion.

Student Research

  1. Using the search terms “Quayle” and “Murphy Brown,” perform a search on an electronic database and read at least fifteen articles. What is the date of the first article? What is the date of the last article? How did the press portray Quayle? How did it respond to his speech? Further refine your search by adding the search term “poverty.” What additional issues or arguments did the press introduce into the debate about the causes of poverty and lawlessness?
  2. Quayle argued that marriage was the best anti-poverty program of all. Use four different research tools, two print and two electronic, to research President Lyndon B. Johnson’s anti-poverty program, the so-called War on Poverty. When was this program put into effect? How did it differ from Quayle’s approach? What different assumptions about the causes of poverty were behind Johnson’s programs?
  3. Compare and contrast Spiro T. Agnew’s speech on November 13, 1969, “Television News Coverage,” with Quayle’s “Murphy Brown Speech.” What similarities can you identify between the two speeches?What differences exist? Craig Smith argued that Quayle’s speech was not as successful as Agnew’s. What factors may have contributed to the different responses to the speeches?
  4. When speaking about the government’s role in maintaining order, Quayle suggests that “law and order” are “code words” or flexible cultural signifiers that “can take on multiple cultural meanings, depending on the context.” What does Quayle mean when he says that “law and order” are “code words”? Is it a positive or negative reference? Create a list of other “code words” that you think politicians use when talking about politics and explore the connections and implications of each. [See Garth E. Pauley discussion of “code words” in The Modern Presidency and Civil Rights: Rhetoric on Race from Roosevelt to Nixon (College Station: Texas A&M University, 2001), 202.]
  5. In his “Murphy Brown Speech,” Quayle specifically addressed urban poverty. Find out more about the differences between rural and urban poverty, using a research method of your choice. What conditions must be present for a person to be considered “impoverished”? In what areas of the country is the problem of poverty most acute? Using a phonebook and the Internet, try to identify at least one organization in your local community that assists those in poverty. What services do they offer?
  6. Quayle frequently used the word “underclass” to describe the poor. Use four different research tools, two print sources, one electronic database, and one interview to learn more about the characteristics of the “underclass.” Where did the phrase come from? What assumptions and stereotypes does the phrase “underclass” promote about those in poverty?
  7. In his speech, Quayle mentions the “Great Society.” What does that mean? Read President Lyndon B. Johnson’s speech the “Great Society” (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/lbj-michigan/).How did the Great Society differ programmatically or philosophically from the George H.W. Bush administration’s approach to poverty? Do you think that America has achieved Johnson’s vision of the Great Society?
  8. In 1996, President Clinton and the 104th Congress passed into law the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996,” a piece of welfare reform legislation. Using the Government Printing Office Public Access web page (https://www.gpo.gov/), search the 104th Congress for “public law 104-193.” Review the law and provide a brief summary of the welfare programs the bill funded. Visit the United States Senate page (http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=104&session=2&vote=00232). Did your home state’s Senators vote for the law? How do the programs supported by the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996,” compare to those Quayle advocated in his Commonwealth Club address?
  9. In a 1965 report entitled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” or the Moynihan report, former assistant secretary of labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan summarized the economic challenges facing low-income African American families. Locate a copy of the report (http://www.blackpast.org/primary/moynihan-report-1965) and compare and contrast its assertions about poverty and fatherless homes with Quayle’s claims in his Commonwealth Club address.
  10. Many famous people have spoken to the Commonwealth Club of California including Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Caesar Chavez, Shirley Chisholm, Jane Goodall, and Bill Gates. Research the mission and the purpose of the Club and explain when and why it became such an important forum for speeches by famous Americans. Are there any organizations in your area like the Commonwealth Club of California? What are their mission and goals? How can you become active in one of these organizations?
  11. Use three different sources (e.g., one newspaper, one opinion magazine, and one web site) to learn more about the Los Angeles riots. Aside from the Rodney King trial, what other issues are brought up in the public discussion of the riots in Los Angeles? What reasons are given to explain why the riots happened? How do these explanations differ from Quayle’s?
  12. Review the transcripts from the first debate in the 1992 presidential election (http://www.debates.org/index.php?page=october-11-1992-first-half-debate-transcript and http://www.debates.org/index.php?page=october-11-1992-second-half-debate-transcript). How did President Bush, Governor Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot respond to the question about family values? How did their responses compare to Quayle’s views? How did the three candidates differ from each other?
  13. Explore the Institute for American Values’ web site (http://www.americanvalues.org/index.php) and the Contemporary Families web site (http://www.contemporaryfamilies.org/). What claims do these organizations make regarding the state of the family? What evidence do they offer to support their claims? What are the fundamental disagreements between these two? Find an organization or club in your area that concerns itself with family issues and present a brief description of this organization and its central views.
  14. Research the Republican “empowerment agenda”? What types of programs does it include? What are some of its goals? What research method did you use and why did you choose it? How might your decision affect your findings in terms of bias, validity, audience, credibility, and recency?

Citizenship Resources

  1. Quayle suggests that “the America of 1992 is more egalitarian, more integrated and offers more opportunities to black Americans and all other minority members than the America of 1964.” Research the status of black Americans today in education, income, employment, or healthcare and discuss how, if at all, things have changed for minorities since Quayle delivered his speech. Ask one of your family members to discuss how the status of minorities has changed since they were young. Be prepared to share their comments.
  2. Quayle claimed that his critique of Brown was based on his concern over fatherless homes. Perform a search on the Internet using the terms “fatherless homes” and create a list of the social and economic problems that are alleged to be connected to fatherlessness. What solutions does the National Fatherhood Initiative (http://www.fatherhood.org/) present to help lessen the number of fatherless homes? Identify a local or state organization that assists fatherless families. What resources does it offer fatherless homes in your area?
  3. In 1996, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law and President Bush has been an avid supporter of marriage initiatives. Find public discourse that discusses the current marriage debates, marriage initiatives, or the marriage movement and prepare a speech that explains your position on one of the issues that fuels contemporary debates.
  4. Locate a speech in which President George W. Bush discusses family values using the search terms “family” and “values” in the Public Papers of the President of the United States(https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/search/home.action). What values does Bush promote in his remarks? What plans does he promote to restore family values?
  5. Read President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry’s response to the minimum wage question during the third 2004 presidential debate (http://www.debates.org/index.php?page=october-13-2004-debate-transcript). How did the candidates’ arguments differ? What plans did each candidate offer for helping families? In your opinion, which candidate made a more compelling and complete argument in regard to their position? What factors influenced your response?
  6. Search President George W. Bush’s 2001 Public Papers of the President of the United States (https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/search/home.action) using the term “poverty” and read three different instances in which Bush discusses issues related to poverty in the United States. What specific issues or problems does he discuss? How does he describe or discuss these topics? Refine your search using the words “poverty” and “programs.” What solutions does Bush offer or support? Prepare a brief (200 words) reaction to Bush’s proposals and locate one local, state, or national forum where you could present, post, or send this response.
  7. Read or listen to George W. Bush’s August 18, 2001, radio address to the nation (https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/08/20010818.html) and examine the White House’s Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships website (https://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ofbnp) to answer the following questions: What are faith-based and community initiatives? How are they supported? Using an electronic database, find an article or editorial that opposes these initiatives. What arguments are given against these initiatives? How do President Bush’s arguments for the initiatives confirm or conflict with your own spiritual practices?How do his arguments challenge or affirm your views about the separation of church and state?
  8. Ask three members of your family to describe your family’s values. What values do they mention? What similarities and differences exist between their responses? What are your own values? Do they agree or disagree with members of your family?
  9. Visit Project Vote Smart (http://votesmart.org/) and enter in your nine digit zip code to locate information about your local and state representatives. Click on the name of one U.S. senator or representative and review his or her position on welfare and/or poverty issues using the “Issue Positions (NPAT)” link beneath the picture. What is his or her position on issues related to poverty and welfare?Perform the same search for at least one of your state senators or representatives and at least one of your state officials and record their positions on these issues. Which candidate’s responses most closely resemble your position?
  10. Visit Pew Research Center’s website (http://www.pewresearch.org/) and look at research on issues of  poverty and welfare. What do Americans think about this issue? Look at this survey report from 2002: http://www.prb.org/Publications/Articles/2002/AmericanAttitudesAboutPovertyandthePoor.aspx  and then read this summary from a Wall Street Journal poll from 2014: http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2014/06/20/attitudes-toward-poverty-show-dramatic-change-wsjnbc-poll/. After reviewing these studies and viewpoints, write your own view about the reason for poverty and who might be responsible for the problem and the solution.

Last updated May 10, 2016