Clinton gives Gore jobs that Quayle never had ON POLITICS

JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

April 14, 1993|By JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

WASHINGTON -- After two months as vice president, in whic he has served as a very visible player in launching President Clinton's budget-reduction and economic-stimulus package, Al Gore gets his first taste of foreign travel in his new office -- traditionally an opportunity and, at times, a test for the presidential standby.

Gore is to make a quick trip to Poland on Sunday to represent the president at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Warsaw ghetto uprising of World War II, wherein the city's beleaguered Jewish population for nearly three weeks heroically resisted its annihilation by occupying Nazi forces.

Gore will be staying only for the commemoration ceremony, brief talks with Polish President Lech Walesa and a speech at the Polish Parliament. Then it will be back home to resume his duties as point man in Clinton's campaign to "reinvent" the government by streamlining and waste-cutting, and as general lieutenant in the president's intensive focus on domestic matters.

The timing and circumstances of Gore's short trip are in notable contrast to former Vice President Dan Quayle's first trip out of the country less than two weeks after his inauguration in 1989. Quayle, already a cause of embarrassment to Bush insiders after his stumbling you're-no-Jack-Kennedy vice presidential campaign, was shipped out almost before he was able to locate the men's room in the West Wing.

A horde of reporters, assigned to "the Quayle watch" in the prospect of more gaffes, trooped along with the vice president, and they were not entirely disappointed. Quayle went first to Venezuela for the inauguration of its new president and then to El Salvador, where he promised that the United States would "work toward the elimination of human rights" in the region.

Gore's trip, by contrast, is not likely to attract nearly as large a contingent of press monitors, if only because Gore has no record of gaffeitis. The relatively few reporters who have traveled around this country with him since he became vice president have generally found him to be as predictable -- and, some would say, wooden and boring -- as he was through his congressional career.

The comparison of Gore's spare employment as an early foreign ambassador with Bush's use of Quayle does, however, underscore the degree to which Gore has become an immediate player in front-burner administration issues at home. Although Quayle, like Gore, came out of the Senate with most of his background in domestic affairs, Bush did not give Quayle anywhere near the visibility that Clinton has afforded Gore -- except abroad, where Quayle was assigned largely ceremonial duties, at least in his first couple of years.

Quayle, in fact, spent a fair portion of his term as vice president on foreign junkets, and after some more embarrassing moments -- remember the "anatomically correct" doll in Chile? -- he settled down to be a passable if not brilliant representative of the Bush administration abroad.

He never, however, was afforded a significant, visible role in the Bush domestic agenda other than heading a White House Council on Competitiveness that was widely bashed by Democrats as an escape route for big business from government regulations. He seldom was seen at Bush's side in photographs of public meetings, the way Gore has become Clinton's seemingly ever-present shadow. In fact, Quayle did not come into his own until the 1992 campaign for re-election, when he was shoved front and center to keep the Republican Party's right wing happy with a steady diet of "family values" speeches.

From numerous accounts, Quayle did not hesitate in private Cabinet meetings from saying his piece. Still, he left the vice presidency as he arrived in it -- a subject of ridicule with no indication that he was taken very seriously within the Bush administration.

Gore is also hearing criticism already about being a yes man, but without the demeaning edge that Quayle suffered. Clinton has clearly given Gore a real piece of the action, and can send him off to Poland without speculation that, as was the case with Quayle, Gore is being put to a test, or given a learning experience.

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