IF THE CIRCUS were forced to replace Chuckles the Clown with BoBo the Clown, would we worry that the show couldn't go on? Why, then, are we afraid that, because of President Bush's illness, Dan Quayle might become president?
The argument that Quayle is unfit to follow in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan and George Bush does not hold up.
Quayle is a lawyer, which makes him better educated than Reagan. Quayle was a senator, which makes him a more experienced legislator than Bush, who hasn't served in Congress for 21 years. Quayle was reared in Indiana, which makes him more sympathetic to the average American than either Hollywood Ronald Reagan or blue blood-turned-cowpoke Bush. He is also younger and healthier than either.
The case against Quayle really amounts to criticism of his virtues. When we say that he appears "unpresidential," what we mean is that he is not as comfortable with his ignorance as Reagan was and not as natural with his cynicism as Bush is.
The worst that can be said of Quayle is that he loves golf. But surely his play on the links reveals a singular competence not seen in the executive branch in over a decade, a competence worth celebrating.
As for the fear that Quayle could not handle a national emergency such as the Persian Gulf war, remember that Stormin' Norman Schwartzkopf sang the songs in that show, while President Bush only did the lip syncing.
Would you be less nourished eating corn dogs than chicken McNuggets? Would you be less enlightened watching "F-Troop" instead of "Hee-Haw"? Why, then, do you fear that we would lose our greatness with Dan Quayle as our leader?
Since intelligence and competence have disappeared as criteria for being president, it is unfair to hold Quayle to standards we apply to few others. All Quayle lacks is a touching patriotic slogan like Reagan's "morning in America" or Bush's "kinder, gentler nation;" a stirring symbol like Reagan's "shining city on the hill" or Bush's flag factory; a sinister symbol of black American menace, like Reagan's welfare queens and Bush's Willie Horton; and some chilling, swarthy, third-world bum of the month, preferably one with a bad complexion, toward whom our attention is turned from real, urgent problems.
Add to these ingredients all the spin doctors and image makers being supplied by the taxpayer, and Dan Quayle could finish George Bush's term looking like Winston Churchill, easily winning in 1992 and 1996.
Daniel Rosen writes from Baltimore.