Every time I think life is getting too complicated, I just listen to Dan Quayle and learn how simple-minded it really is.
I had been trying to understand the causes of the violence in Los Angeles. Was it just the result of thieves and thugs? Or were there serious underlying social problems?
Our vice president has now supplied the answer: Murphy Brown did it.
As you probably know, Dan Quayle recently gave a speech blaming the Los Angeles rioting on the breakdown of the American family and the abandonment of traditional values as typified by Murphy Brown "bearing a child alone and calling it just another 'lifestyle choice.' "
Murphy Brown is a TV character played by Candice Bergen. Recently, that character had a baby without getting married first.
What I never realized before now, however, is that Dan Quayle apparently thinks the show is real. In preparing his speech, he probably thought to himself: "We never had riots when Ozzie and Harriet slept in separate beds. We never had looting when Lucy and Desi stayed together for the sake of Little Ricky. So why do we have riots now?"
And it occurred to him that it's because Murphy Brown has been behaving like a little Miss Roundheels.
Well, I hate to be the one to break it to you, Mr. Vice President, but not everything you see on TV is real.
When the Road Runner hands Wile E. Coyote a stick of dynamite, Wile E. doesn't really blow up.
And the Brady Bunch? Just actors.
But even if you give him the benefit of the doubt and assume Quayle knows that "Murphy Brown" is fiction, it is clear that Quayle believes that life imitates TV.
He believes that if a woman on TV has a child out of wedlock and does not get hit by lightning, this will encourage other women to have children out of wedlock.
In fact, however, TV is not on the cutting edge of anything. It is a conservative medium (shows would never get sponsors otherwise) and it tends to reinforce values already accepted by society.
So if Murphy Brown has a baby out of wedlock it is because TV executives think the public can handle it.
And the public probably can, especially considering that more than one-fourth of all births in America right now occur out of wedlock.
What, for instance, do these famous couples have in common: Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. Woody Allen and Mia Farrow. Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. Jessica Lange and Mikhail Barishnikov. Jessica Lange and Sam Shephard. Farah Fawcett and Ryan O'Neil.
That's right: They all had kids without being married.
And yet no rioting broke out.
I can't understand it. You'd think when Jessica Lange had out-of-wedlock children with two different guys, at least we'd see a few windows broken.
But, no, the public took it in stride.
Not all women are big movie stars, of course, and not all of them have the father of the child sticking around to help raise it.
But what would Quayle prefer to out-of-wedlock births: more abortions?
This is the problem Quayle did not think through before he spoke. And so Marlin Fitzwater, the presidential spokesman, was dispatched the next day to praise the show that Quayle had just criticized.
"The Murphy Brown show is an excellent show," Fitzwater said. "That fact is she is demonstrating pro-life values which we think are good."
Quayle said, however, that what our society really needs is "social sanctions" against women who bear children without being married.
And Quayle must feel really deeply about this because when he saw Rodney King being beaten by cops on TV, he was not moved to make a speech about it.
Yet when a fictional character has a kid on a TV show, Quayle makes a speech blaming it for the downfall of American society.
Quayle takes it so seriously because he believes children turn out badly when they are not raised by "two parents, married to each other."
Well, maybe they do. And maybe they don't.
Caterina, whose last name is unknown, had a child by Piero da Vinci, whom she never married. Their child was named Leonardo.
Corinne Pulliam married James C. Quayle. And their child was named J. Danforth.
I rest my case.