Generals always want to tell you how to win the last war.
So it seems with a curious letter to the editor the Star Tribune published today, Tuesday, November 22, 2016. The subject is, ostensibly, a touching and revelatory story about a child in peril, who got bounced back and forth between a good foster home and a deeply troubled mother, before finally meeting a happy ending.
But in reality, Edina resident Barbara Chapman is most energized about three figures who've rarely bubbled to the top of the social debate in America in the last 20 years: Dan Quayle, Murphy Brown, and Sam Malone, the irresistibly smug bartender Ted Danson played on Cheers.
What do they all have to do with a child protection case in Hennepin County? We don't know! Let's read and ... still not be quite able to figure it out.
Our letter begins:
"In 1992, Vice President Dan Quayle gave a speech criticizing Murphy Brown, a fictional television character, for choosing to have a child out of wedlock. The writers of the eponymous show did give Murphy’s son a male role model — her house painter, who eventually left to study painting overseas."
So far so good. This analogy relates, if somewhat indirectly, to the dilemma the county faced in the heartbreaking Strib story this letter addresses. The initial decision was to place the child back with his birth mother, a prostitute and an addict, and his father, an absent figure; the foster parents attempting to the adopt the boy were a lesbian couple.
Then it takes a weird turn.
"Perhaps Quayle would have preferred that another television character, Sam Malone, marry Murphy, to give her child a traditional loving family. The writers of Cheers crafted Malone as an Irish Roman Catholic, an ex-alcoholic bartender pro-athlete womanizer. Episodes of Cheers frequently showed Sam trying to have casual sex with women. Malone was rated a favorite character in a Pew Research survey. The character was awarded an Emmy twice."
Wait a minute, I thought I was watching Murphy Brown! What's the bartender from Cheers doing here? Is this a crossover episode?
Hey, honey? What channel am I on? Is it Thursday night? And in what year?
To the submitter of our reader letter, Malone's popularity two decades ago plays directly into how a child was repeatedly endangered by Hennepin County's thicket of foster care and adoption bureaucracy.
"Our child-protection experts apparently wanted to keep him with his drug-addicted prostitute mother and/or sperm donor/father," she writes.
Finally, after numerous lapses -- by both the mother, and local government agencies -- the county came around to placing the boy with his foster parents, who had already adopted the child's older half-brother. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman says the case was instructive to his office, which is now "much more aggressive, conducting their [child protection] investigations quicker and more thoroughly."
The letter writer takes a different lesson: "Children need a father. Our culture needs to stop celebrating the Sam Malones of the world."
This is a strongly held viewpoint. It's just a tad late. Cheers went off the air in 1993. Anyone whose cultural icon is Ted Danson on Cheers is 1) at least 50 years old and 2) just waking up from a coma.
In truth, this letter has the ring of a long-held grudge, finally working its way out. Perhaps the writer should consider calling into the popular radio show hosted by Seattle psychiatrist Frasier Crane. After all, she's hung-up on a TV character -- just a thirtysomething guy, the two of them Perfect Strangers -- and making a Quantum Leap to bring him into the present.
It's enough to make you wonder: Who's the Boss?