Quayle rocks the boat

MARCI McDONALD August 29 1988

Quayle rocks the boat

MARCI McDONALD August 29 1988

Quayle rocks the boat


It was a week when events failed to untold as Vice-President George Bush had planned. First, bad timing marred what was to have been his triumphant arrival in New Orleans on the second day of the Republican national convention. As his plane, Air Force Two, taxied to a halt at Belle Chasse Naval Air Station, he did not see an aide frantically signalling him not to disembark. Clearly unaware that President Ronald Reagan’s motorcade had not yet pulled up for the ceremony to mark the President’s departure from the convention—and from his domination of the Republican party—the vice-president found himself stranded awkwardly on an empty tarmac. After IV2 years of playing understudy in the White House wings, Bush had to wait 10 minutes longer before Reagan gave him the symbolic cue to take centre stage.

Then, as Bush moved swiftly to claim the party as his own, his first act of leadership just as swiftly turned into a nightmare of controversy. The trouble

began shortly after Bush startled the country by announcing that he had chosen conservative Indiana Senator Dan Quayle as his running mate. In selecting the boyish and little-known 41-year-old, Bush, 64, signalled that after years in Reagan’s shadow, he no longer intended to be upstaged. But a storm of questions erupted over whether the hawkish Quayle tried to avoid combat duty in Vietnam by using his wealthy family’s ties to join the Indiana National Guard in 1969 (page 26).

That issue overshadowed Bush’s big moment in the convention limelight—a nomination acceptance speech that critics agreed was the most masterful of his career. And it called into question his judgment. Indeed, although the convention rallied around Bush and Quayle in a final confetti-studded show of unity, many delegates privately expressed concern that the affair could seriously damage Republican hopes for the Nov. 8 election. Said conservative Washington lobbyist Richard Shelby: “I don’t think anyone has begun to panic yet, but if this thing should evolve, it is going to be a serious problem.”

In fact, Bush’s strategists huddled into the early-morning hours for two nights in a row, planning damage-control strategies. Campaign manager James Baker, the former treasury secretary, attempted to defuse the issue by saying that there was “nothing unusual” about a family trying to help one of its own to avoid active service in the most controversial war in recent history. But Robert Beckel, manager of Walter Mondale’s doomed 1984 Democratic presidential bid, likened the furore to the one over the finances of Mondale’s running mate, Geraldine Ferraro, which crippled his campaign. Beckel added that the scandal would not fade until “the questions stop being asked.”

The controversy from the incident began to descend on Bush at the very moment he was attempting to define his personality to the electorate. As he sketched himself self-deprecatingly as “a little awkward” and “a quiet man,” demonstrators outside the Louisiana Superdome caught the attention of TV cameramen with a banner reading “Draft dodgers for Quayle.” And 200 Vietnam veterans in camouflage vests protested with a variant on the “Where was George?” refrain aimed at Bush during the Democratic national convention last month, chanting instead, “Where was Dan?”

Meanwhile, Bush’s choice of Quayle may have been a symptom of a personal insecurity so great that he could not select a running mate of stature. William Schneider of Washington’s American Enterprise Institute described the selection as “goofy.” As well, in choosing a candidate whom he could control instead of one with stature and expertisesuch as former rivals Kansas Senator Robert Dole or New York Representative Jack Kemp—

Bush undermined his ability to attack his Democratic opponent,

Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, for lack of experience. Said Schneider: “Quayle will not make trouble.

George Bush has chosen his own George Bush. It is the nation’s first father-son ticket.” Some delegates quickly named Bush and Quayle the “millionaire ticket.” With an estimated net worth of $200 million from his maternal grandfather’s publishing empire, Quayle leaves Bush even more vulnerable to charges that he is out of touch with the average voter because of his own patrician background. In fact, Democratic analysts

observed with evident glee that Quayle’s privileged roots as well as his questionable military service could hurt Bush most with the socalled Reagan Democrats. They constitute the nine per cent of the electorate that pollsters predict will decide the race—conservative working-class southern whites and northern ethnics who switched parties to vote for Reagan in the past two elections.

Meanwhile, many Republicans expressed fear that Quayle’s selection reinforced impressions that the I party was still hostage to g white upper-class interests I at the very moment it was I trying to broaden its base. I Although only six per cent g of the convention’s more ä than 4,500 delegates and al-

1 ternates represented visible g minorities, a television

2 viewer might have thought i the numbers were greater.

From the three black speakers who opened Monday night’s ceremonies, to Bush’s Mexican-born daughter-in-law, Columba, who seconded his nomination for the Florida delegation in Spanish, the convention showcased blacks, Asians and Hispanics. In his acceptance speech, Bush urged his countrymen to “leave that tired old baggage of bigotry behind.”

But Bush seemed to unwittingly undercut his own call for racial harmony when he introduced his three half-Mexi-

can grandchildren to Reagan on Tuesday as “the little brown ones.” Hispanic leaders expressed outrage at the remark, and campaign officials worried that the outcry might rattle Bush during Thursday night’s critical closing speech. But Bush delivered the most polished performance of his career. Relaxed and confident-looking, he repeatedly brought the audience to their feet

with his promise to create 30 million more jobs, his pledge never to raise taxes and frequent jests at his own expense. “I’ll try to hold my charisma in check,” he said. Many delegates agreed that Bush had even outshone his stiffest competitor, Reagan, whose emotional swan song on the convention’s opening night was surprisingly rambling. Said Milton Lakness, a farmer from Hazel, S.D.: “You could understand Bush’s speech—blue collars and young people. Now you know who he is.” Declared lobbyist Shelby: “It is the greatest speech he has ever given. He established himself as his own man.”

Still, Bush did not make a clean break with Reagan. Instead, he defined himself largely as the candidate who would carry on Reagan’s so-called conservative revolution. “The most important work of my life is to complete the mission we started in 1980,” said Bush, who paid tribute to the President five times in the first three minutes of his address. Then, as he enumerated his differences with Dukakis, he provided a list that Reagan himself might have delivered. One of the few exceptions was Bush’s specific vow to “clean the air” and “reduce the harm done by acid rain.”

In hewing to the ideological path so clearly charted by the President—as well as choosing Quayle and approving a platform that deviates little from those that Reagan ran on in 1980 and 1984Bush may have appeased the party’s restive conservative wing. But a recent Los Angeles Times poll showed that 60 per cent of those who responded wanted a change in the country’s direction. Said Norman Ornstein of Washington’s American Enterprise Institute: “I don’t see the shape of where Bush is taking the Republican party.” He added: “It is going to look as if Bush is jumping through the conservatives’ hoop. He is taking a big gamble because conservatives are going to be constantly saying, ‘You didn’t pass the litmus test.’ ” Indeed, in his first major decision as party leader, Bush appears to have created enormous problems for himself. Still, as Republican media adviser David Keene noted, Bush frequently performs best under pressure. And he has seldom been under greater pressure than now. Not only does he have to overcome the Quayle factor, but he must repair the damage to his own and his party’s image with a decisive show of leadership. Said conservative Representative Robert Dornan of California: “It’s like being in the middle of major surgery. We’re looking at all the options, but the patient is still open.” Meanwhile, Dornan and others say that Bush does not have much time if he is to heal the party’s wounded self-esteem in time to win back the White House.

—MARCI McDONALD in New Orleans