It's a Problem of Racism and Class Bigotry Family Value, Round 2: Now Clinton and Quayle Both Endorse Them

September 14, 1994|By Carl T. Rowan

Washington -- Why is it that whenever former Vice President Quayle and President Clinton talk about ''family values'' they focus on illegitimate babies?

Mr. Quayle wants prime-time TV's Murphy Brown and the networks to halt television's glamorization of women who get pregnant without a husband and bring up the baby without a father. President Clinton wants the nation's black Baptists and others to spread the word that it is morally wrong to have a baby before marriage, and that the torrent of births out of wedlock ''must be stopped.''

While I embrace their goals, I am bothered by a subtle demagogic racism that oozes from their sermons. There is always the implication that young black women started the sexual looseness, and that now, horror of horrors, young white women are being copycats. How flattering to young black women to suggest that they invented (or first discovered) America's sexual revolution.

Then there is the not-so-subtle but foolish notion that through ''welfare reform'' the politicians can stop young women from engaging in sexual intercourse and getting pregnant. Even worse is the notion that if they deny food and shelter to enough babies and children their mothers will suddenly behave.

Family breakdown in America is not merely caused by the deterioration of sexual mores among poor females from troubled families. I cite one tragic case in point:

Here in the affluent suburb of Bethesda, 16-year-old Elizabeth Clark was driving three friends on a partying spree in the BMW 325i given to her by her mother three weeks earlier. She was with two 16-year-olds and one 15-year-old schoolmate and was driving illegally on a provisional license that forbade her to drive between midnight and 5 a.m. without a licensed driver age 21 or older in the front seat.

What's worse, Elizabeth Clark was drunk, her blood-alcohol level being .17, or almost double the Maryland threshold at which she became legally intoxicated. She lost control of the car, which was cut in half by a tree. One of her friends was killed and the other two were critically injured.

I cite this terrible accident only by way of reminding Mr. Quayle and President Clinton that America has changed for the worse in many ways that cannot be blamed on poor black teen-agers or welfare mothers. Even in ''traditional'' wealthy families, parents feel they will be seen as unloving ogres if they do not give their children a fancy car at age 16. I can remember when four sets of parents would never risk the nightmare of four young women driving off to guzzle alcohol and chance riding home with a beginner driver who was drunk.

Family values? Do affluent parents who put their daughters on birth-control pills when they reach puberty -- and who know that their daughters are sexually active -- need to be harangued into fulminations against young women who do not have as easy access to contraceptives as do their girls?

Restoring some of the traditional family values is a legitimate dream, but in so many cases it is a futile hope. The unspoken custom now is to indulge our children in whatever excesses make them feel superior to their classmates and neighbors, whether it be the car they are allowed to drive or how much we overlook the hour at which they return home loaded with whatever amount of booze.

No matter how many speeches Mr. Quayle and Mr. Clinton give about ''family values,'' nothing will get better until we get racism and class bigotry out of the discussion and we get Americans to admit that they, not their neighbors, have undermined family values.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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