AN AMERICAN VIEW

‘What a waste, not to have a mind’

Americans are reluctant to believe that the old Dan Quayle, who ducked Vietnam, has changed

FRED BRUNING May 28 1990
AN AMERICAN VIEW

‘What a waste, not to have a mind’

Americans are reluctant to believe that the old Dan Quayle, who ducked Vietnam, has changed

FRED BRUNING May 28 1990

‘What a waste, not to have a mind’

AN AMERICAN VIEW

FRED BRUNING

Americans are reluctant to believe that the old Dan Quayle, who ducked Vietnam, has changed

Dan Quayle is well into the second year of his vice-presidency and neither has he been impeached nor laughed rudely out of office nor photographed in Bimini, all smiles, with a Perfect 10 warming his knee. He still has plenty of time, of course, but the morning line on Quayle is that he just won’t meet his early billing.

If we thought the vice-president would prove entirely the spoiled, empty-headed glamor boy originally advertised, perhaps we expected too much. José Canseco cannot hit the ball into the ozone each time he comes to the plate, and neither, it turned out could the vice-president consistently achieve the virtuoso level of loopiness that once prompted a political acquaintance to observe that when Dan Quayle is asked to turn off a light “by the time he gets to the switch he’s forgotten what he went for.”

On the contrary, there have been a number of articles suggesting the vice-president has what appears to be normal intelligence. The New York Times revealed in a long Sunday magazine article last year that Dan Quayle reads!—and not just Dr. Seuss, either. Rather, related the Times, Quayle had been perusing Charles de Gaulle’s The Edge of the Sword, a meditation on war; Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, which profiles a number of formidable despots; and Richard Nixon’s Leaders, in which the former president recalls conversations with Khrushchev, BenGurion and others. The message was inescapable. Not only does Dan Quayle read! but Dan Quayle thinks!

Also advanced in stories about Quayle is the notion that his reputation as a glad-handing golf nut who excels only in the inventive application of leisure time has little basis in fact—that the vice-president is rather quickly acquiring a sense of priorities that he may have lacked in his early days as a senator from Indiana, when the boyish Quayle seemed disposed to do as little heavy lifting as possible.

‘1 know one committee I don’t want—Judiciary,”

Fred Bruning is a writer with Newsday in New York.

stated Quayle after his 1980 election victory. “They are going to be dealing with all those issues like abortion, busing, voting rights, prayer. I’m not interested in those issues, and I want to stay as far away from them as I can.”

Finally, we are instructed by Quayle’s interim biographers that he has mostly overcome his penchant for exactly that sort of dizzy public disclosure and has, at last, mastered the technique of marshalling his thoughts before engaging his mouth. Yes, he goofed by calling American Samoans “happy campers” and lapsed into inscrutability at a United Negro College Fund luncheon by attempting to improve the group’s slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” with his own weird invocation. “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind,” said Quayle. “Or not to have a mind.” The new, improved Dan Quayle is faring much better, we are instructed. He is, as Time magazine declared in a cover story, “No joke.”

Time's is a sanguine view of matters, however, because the American people, in their grand and often unaccountable wisdom, beg to disagree. If the opinion polls are accurate, Americans are not swayed by revisionist assessments of the vice-president They are in no way convinced that the old Dan Quayle—the

one who ducked the Vietnam War while cheering it from the sidelines, the fellow who did so poorly in college that he still won’t allow his grades to be released but somehow got into law school anyway, the guy whose family is swayed by the screwiest kind of reactionary politics—has been so conveniently overhauled.

A recent Gallup survey indicated that whereas 46 per cent of the population in October, 1988, viewed Quayle as qualified for the presidency, the number dropped to 34 per cent the next May and swooned all the way to 31 per cent this March. When the question was turned a bit this spring and folks were asked if they considered Quayle specifically unqualified to assume the Oval Office, 52 per cent said quick, bar the White House door—an increase of 10 points over a previous poll.

Quayle has been travelling the globe and meeting foreign leaders and doing all the otherwise senseless ceremonial chores required of an individual in his position. With zest and great loyalty and what he calls “total preoccupation,” Quayle has served the President who plucked him from far, far beyond obscurity and brought him so near the seat of power.

And still, something tells the American people to look with unremitting skepticism at J. Danforth Quayle. Something tells them he did not, at age 43, suddenly become scholar and sage. Perhaps the nation has had time to reflect on the odd and unlikely tenure of Ronald Reagan, whose befuddlement over the responsibilities of high office caused one exasperated Democrat to describe him as an “affable dunce”—a term that stuck. Still, with a mixture of happy talk and easy answers, Reagan transfixed the majority. He had no ideas, but who cared? One might have thought Ronald Reagan would prepare the way for Dan Quayle. Maybe he did the opposite.

With his ratings in decline, Quayle could mean trouble for George Bush. If the vicepresident is apt to cause excessive drag in 1992, Bush may have to consider dumping him. Insiders say the President would like to run with his good buddy, Secretary of State James Baker, or perhaps with department of housing and urban development chief Jack Kemp. William Bennett, the so-called drug czar, wouldn’t mind a spot on the ticket, although with crack still as popular—and available—as breath mints, Bennett looks like a long shot Dick Cheney, the defence secretary, and Richard Thornburgh, head of the justice department, are said to be ambitious, though low on the presidential scouting report.

Dismissing poor Dan after one term could provoke conservatives—Quayle is a popular guy with gun clubs and right-to-life groups and the gang that still longs to see U.S. tanks grinding through Central America—and Bush can’t afford to trifle with his base of support Eager to be elected at all costs, Bush tapped a novice for vice-president because he had good looks and an obedient nature. Now the chief executive has a problem. As the articles say, Dan Quayle may not be as dense as first believed. Happily, the American people aren’t either.