Until last week, Union Church Road was just a quiet side street in the Washington suburb of McLean, Va. But the neighborhood swiftly took on a circus air when Senator Danforth Quayle hauled his household trash down the driveway to be collected. Surrounding the Republican vice-presidential candidate as he did so was a group of secret service agents. And swarming near the garbage truck at the curb were more than two dozen reporters and photographers backed up by about 10 television transmission trucks. A growing controversy over the 41-year-old Indiana politician’s military and political record, as well as his personal life, was keeping national attention focused on him last week—and it was continuing to overshadow the presidential campaign of Vice-President George Bush.
Bush picked the youthful and relatively unknown Quayle as his running mate in part to offer the first Republican presidential ticket with a member of the post-Second World War baby boom. But that appeal to the generation that came of age in the 1960s and 1970s also reopened the wounds left by the unpopular war in Vietnam and raised serious questions about Quayle’s service record.
Although he supported the Vietnam War—and has since become a leading hawk in Congress—Quayle did not allow himself to be drafted in 1969. Instead, a
former major-general in the National Guard who was a senior editor at one of his family’s newspapers helped Quayle into one of the scarce vacancies in the guard, America’s part-time militia. He spent the next six years as a public information officer preparing news releases and articles for a quarterly National Guard magazine while thousands of other young Americans fought overseas.
Since being chosen by Bush, Quayle has been frequently met at campaign stops by groups protesting his use of family connections and charging him with hypocrisy on military issues. Some leading Republicans, including Senate minority leader Robert Dole, now say that Bush’s choice of running mate may harm the party. But by late last week, Quayle was making only joking references to the controversy.
He had clearly decided to reject advice to confront the issue directly from as disparate a range of commentators as George Will, the conservative columnist and confidant of President Ronald Reagan, to Geraldine Ferraro, the Democrats’ 1984 vice-presidential candidate. Like Quayle, Ferraro had attempted to
deflect a controversy over her husband’s financial operations with jokes. Now, she says that strategy was a mistake. Added Ferraro: “Quayle, unfortunately, is now trying to do the same thing.” Meanwhile, other issues continued to dog Quayle. During an impromptu exchange with reporters outside his home last week, Quayle angrily denied a report in an upcoming issue of Playboy magazine that he made sexual advances to blond lobbyist Paula Parkinson, who shared a house with him and other congressmen during a golf trip in 1980. And on Friday, The Cleveland Plain Dealer said that in his official Senate biography, Quayle mistakenly claimed to be chief investigator for the Indiana Consumer Protection Division of the attorney general’s office from 1970 to 1971. In fact, the Ohio newspaper cited state records showing that Quayle held that post for just 10 weeks, although he was on the attorney general’s staff as an entry-level research assistant for most of that period. Quayle admitted to reporters that the biography contained inaccuracies, adding that his staff was responsible for the mistake.
Meanwhile, an incident out of Quayle’s congressional voting record came back to haunt him. The senator had voted against upgrading the Veterans Administration to a cabinet-level department. But last week, he told the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Chicago that his vote had been a “youthful indiscretion.” Then, Senator Lloyd Bentsen, the Democrats’ vice-presidential candidate, pointed out that the vote was cast only last July. Said Bentsen: “I don’t think America can risk youthful indiscretion in someone who could become our president at any moment.”
The National Guard controversy may yet fade during the next few weeks. But, equally damaging perhaps, Quayle has become a favorite target of television and nightclub comedians whose jokes have proliferated so rapidly that the Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post have devoted entire articles to them. “Why did the chicken cross the road?” went a riddle quoted by the Post. “To get to the National Guard.” Observers say that it might be too late for Quayle to be removed from the Republican ticket, and early speculation about that possibility died down fairly quickly. But clearly, Quayle’s presence on the ticket will make the road to November a far more treacherous political path than George Bush ever anticipated.
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