On the eve of last week’s congressional vote, as candidates aired their final TV commercials in a last-ditch effort to drum up public support, one politician, whose name did not appear on any ballot, took to the airwaves on a similar mission: Vice-President Dan Quayle made his network acting debut on the CBS situation comedy Major Dad. In a 90-second cameo role filmed in his White House office, Quayle played himself, phoning to decline an invitation to a Marine Corps gala from a bespectacled female officer besotted with his clean-cut good looks. In the carefully choreographed appearance, for which the White House had final script approval, Gunnery Sgt. Alva Bricker swooned at the mere mention of the vice-president’s name. Sighed Bricker: “Can I help it if the man brings out the female animal in me?” That curious bid to win Quayle heartthrob status was the latest indication of one of George Bush’s toughest political problems heading into the 1992 presidential race: how to rescue the hapless image of his second-in-command.
The 43-year-old Quayle remains best known as the butt of jokes on the TV talk-show circuit. Despite his two years in office, and a staff of
seasoned handlers, a New York Times-CBS News poll last month reported that his approval rating had sunk by more than 30 points since last spring to 14 per cent. Those results revived a Dump Quayle movement in some Republican circles. In fact, as Quayle campaigned across 45 states for the party’s candidates in last week’s elections, some analysts noted that, however hard he was cheerleading for other Republicans, he was also campaigning for his own political survival.
Dogged: From the moment Bush stunned the 1988 Republican convention by plucking the boyish Indiana senator from obscurity to be his running mate, Quayle has found himself dogged by questions about his credentials and capabilities. At the time, political consultants predicted that the controversy over his lacklustre academic record and his decision to enlist in the National Guard rather than serve in Vietnam would vanish when he found his footing in office. But six months after the election, some of his managers reinforced the impression of ineptitude. Said Joseph Canzeri, who had left Quayle’s staff: “He was like a kid. We knew we were going to have to script him.”
The vice-president also has a much-publi-
cized and enduring tendency for verbal disasters. In one of his most celebrated oratorical entanglements, he addressed the United Negro College Fund, whose motto is “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Said Quayle: “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind or not to have a mind. How true that is.” In fact, instead of vanishing, Quayle’s lightweight reputation is becoming even more pervasive. Two enterprising Bridgeport, Conn., publishers regularly chronicle his misadventures in The Quayle Quarterly, which now has a circulation of about 14,000.
Gibes: And last month, the publishers announced a 1991 Quayle calendar entitled “A Dan for All Seasons.” It features a medley of his major verbal
1 embarrassments, along with his asser£ tion: “I stand by all the misstatements 2 that I’ve made.” Said Larry Sabato, a 0 political science professor at the University of Virginia: “Whatever he does
will generate gibes. He could be addressing the National Science Foundation and the media would still make a joke about it.”
Bush, who languished for eight years in Ronald Reagan’s shadow and attended so many foreign state funerals that he used to joke, “You die, we fly,” has reacted with sympathy to the vice-president’s problems. But his assignment of Quayle to a less morbid beat— attending the inaugurations of six new Latin American heads of state—left White House officials red-faced. In Chile last March, Quayle was browsing at a coastal souvenir market with reporters when he picked up a wooden male doll which was, as one newspaper delicately put it, “anatomically correct.” But instead of hastily dropping the obscene souvenir, Quayle bought it. Said the vice-president to his disbelieving wife, who kept trying to divert his attention to a copper vase: “I could take this home, Marilyn. This is something teenage boys might find of interest.” Marilyn Quayle shook her head. “You’re so sick,” she said.
Reassigned to the campaign trail, Quayle proved a tireless booster of the Republican cause—even if some candidates shrank from being photographed with him. In fact, with the Persian Gulf crisis heating up, 66 per cent of respondents in the New York Times-CBS poll, including most Republicans, now say that they would worry, should something happen to the President, about Quayle’s qualifications to take over. Last week’s congressional results, foreshadowing a difficult course ahead for Bush, have also increased pressure on him to name a more respected 1992 running mate.
But, in fact, Quayle may serve as a useful lightning rod, drawing criticism away from Bush. The vice-president himself apparently seems resigned to that task. As he once said, “Vice-presidents are there to be kicked around.” In that part of the job description, Quayle has certainly succeeded.
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