The Dan Quayle watch: His eyes are on the prize

May 22, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- Virtually every review of Dan Quayle's new book, "Standing Firm," contains a line about how Quayle "reveals" that he considered running for president in 1988.

There are two reasons almost all reviewers mentions this:

1. It appears on page 18 and most book reviewers don't stop reading a book until page 50 or so.

2. It is the height of audacity that a person such as Dan Quayle should have even dreamt of running for president in 1988.

In the interest of establishing an accurate historical record, however, and also to stroke my own ego, Quayle does not reveal his 1988 presidential plans in his new book. He revealed them in my book, which came out in 1990.

(All reviewers who continue to make this mistake will be sued by me if they have any money, which I doubt.)

But the point reviewers are making about Quayle is essential to understanding him and his plans for 1996: He is audacious, but not always by conscious choice. He makes audacious decisions because he has rarely failed at anything.

This may be a shock to those who view Quayle as a goof who was put on the ticket because he would provide the same blind loyalty to Bush that Bush provided to Reagan and had no chance of overshadowing the president.

But consider that Dan Quayle was elected to the House of Representatives at age 29 and to the U.S. Senate at age 33, defeating no less a figure than Birch Bayh.

So to Quayle, running for president or vice president in 1988 was merely a logical progression.

It did seem to touch a raw nerve with some. All candidates draw protesters, but the protesters Quayle drew in his vice presidential campaign were unusually vitriolic and personal.

In a single day on the Quayle trail, I recorded the following protest signs: "Sissy Little Rich Boy!" "800-Wah-Wah, Daddy's Private Line." "Keep Bimbos Out of Politics!" "Draft Dodgers for Quayle." "It Isn't the Skeletons in His Closet, But the Brain in His Head." "What Is the Difference Between Dan Quayle and Jane Fonda? Jane Fonda Went to Vietnam!"

And the protesters were almost always of Quayle's own generation, the generation he was supposed to bring into the Republican fold.

Why did some baby boomers hate Quayle so much, especially since many of them opposed the war that Quayle avoided? Part of it was Quayle's seeming hypocrisy: He was a hawk on defense matters and on a war that he had declined to fight in.

But a lot of it was also Quayle's social class. He was a member of a privileged class that always seemed to get what it wanted without breaking a sweat. The joke about Quayle's family motto summed it up: "Too dumb to pass; too rich to fail."

But if Quayle thought the jokes would end with his election, he soon learned he was wrong: On the Sunday morning after Election Day 1988, Quayle's son, Tucker, 14, came downstairs and saw his father.

"They're still making fun of you on 'Saturday Night Live,' " Tucker said. Then he began to repeat the jokes.

"Those aren't funny," Quayle replied.

They weren't? Then why was America laughing? Jay Leno may have had the best line: "A lot of people feel he's just too inexperienced for a do-nothing job."

But that has been the saving of Dan Quayle. Being vice president is a do-nothing job. And for four years, Quayle did nothing just fine.

Except for misspelling "potato" -- a mistake, let us admit, many of us could have made -- he made no high-profile blunders. Even his famous "Murphy Brown" speech, much criticized at the time, draws praise from Bill Clinton today.

To Quayle's way of thinking, just because George Bush let him down in the election of 1992, why should that end Dan Quayle's career now?

The rest of the country might question Quayle's ability, but he does not question it. He possesses a trait that all successful politicians need: He is unaware of his own limitations.

"I have complete confidence that whatever I want to do, I can do," Quayle once said. "I am confident that things will turn out right for me. And they always have."

There is one other thing that I wrote about Dan Quayle back in 1990:

"In 1996, Dan Quayle will be 49. He will be tanned. He will be fit. And he will be ready to run."

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