The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1994, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Tuesday, September 13, 1994            TAG: 9409130010
SECTION: FRONT                    PAGE: A14  EDITION: FINAL 
TYPE: Editorial 
                                             LENGTH: Medium:   56 lines


Former Vice President Dan Quayle returned to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco last week to speak on the subject he addressed there two years ago: family values. The previous address, of course, was the famous ``Murphy Brown'' speech, in which Mr. Quayle attacked Hollywood producers for portraying the character's decision to have a child out of wedlock as a ``lifestyle choice.'' For that speech, he was widely ridiculed and attacked by the Hollywood and Washington elites.

His latest speech, however, was given in very different atmosphere. President Clinton devoted his radio address last Saturday to the issue of family values and he has said he now agrees with much of Mr. Quayle's analysis. And in a Congressional hearing two months ago, Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala echoed the president, saying ``I don't think anyone in public life today ought to condone women having children born out of wedlock, even if the family is financially able.'' The former vice president can be forgiven for asking, as he did playfully the other day, ``Where were they when I needed them?''

The ``poverty of values'' is indeed an issue that has, as Brookings Institution scholar Stephen Hess put it, ``stuck to the ribs of Americans.'' William Bennett's Book of Virtues has become a best-seller. And while some might have laughed at Mr. Quayle for picking a fight with a TV character, a lot of people know something is wrong when an 11-year old commits murder, and is in turn murdered by members of his own gang. That is a story difficult to imagine reading in a newspaper 30 years ago.

Yet, Mr. Quayle still has his critics. Lois Salisbury, of an organization called Children Now, cites figures from the Census Bureau saying that only 51 percent of all children live with both natural parents. ``The fact is,'' she says, ``Ozzie and Harriet are just about dead in this country.''

Well, not quite. Just because only a little over half of all children live with both biological parents does not mean that everyone else is a either a Murphy Brown or a welfare mother. When one counts children living with divorced or widowed parents who have remarried, the percentage of children living with married parents zooms to 73 percent. The nuclear family may be in trouble, but not that much trouble.

The problem the former vice president was addressing was not families that break up and re-form, but of families that are never formed in the first place. ``I'm talking about situations where children today don't even know who their father is,`` he said.

As former Education Secretary Bennett pointed out, legislation is pretty much helpless in this area. What is needed, as Mr. Quayle said, is ``a conversation'' about what the realities are. It's nice to see that after two years, that conversation can finally begin. by CNB