The Magazine

DAN QUAYLE GETS SERIOUS

Mar 1, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 23 • By TUCKER CARLSON
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts




Manchester, New Hampshire


There is nothing in the world more jaded than a New Hampshire Rotarian, so by the time Dan Quayle steps down from the podium after a speech to the Manchester Rotary Club most of the audience is already on its way out the door. A few linger for grip and grin photo-ops. The rest seem to realize this won't be their last chance to get a picture with Quayle. Within a few minutes all that remains is a knot of reporters. Pressing in against the former vice president, notebooks out, they bark questions, many of which turn out to be variations of the same question: Are you serious about running for president?


Quayle smiles. He's been expecting this one. "I'm totally focused on this campaign," he says. How focused? Well, says Quayle, "I've basically quit playing golf." The reporters scribble. Quayle's announcement may not make for a compelling campaign slogan -- Dan Quayle: He Gave Up Golf For You -- but it isn't meaningless either. Quayle spent much of his childhood living on the 11th hole of a country club course in Scottsdale, Arizona, went on to become captain of his college team (his teammate and friend at DePauw University, Mark Rolfing, is now a golf announcer for NBC), and continued to play passionately, often several times a week, throughout his career in politics. And he almost always played very well. Even during the darkest days of his vice presidency -- when an entire magazine, the Quayle Quarterly, was founded simply to tell jokes about him -- Quayle received respectful treatment from sportswriters. "Anyone who knows Dan Quayle," his wife once reportedly said, "knows that given a choice between golf and sex, he'll choose golf every time."


Now Dan Quayle has chosen something else entirely, and for a moment it's hard, standing in the back room of the Puritan Restaurant in Manchester at 8:15 in the morning, not to see Quayle's retirement from golf -- the great undisputed success of his life -- as almost noble, or at least poignant, like Bob Dole's giving up his beloved career in the Senate before going doomed into battle against Bill Clinton. But Quayle has a long way to go before his sacrifice pays off. First he must defeat his reputation.


If you're Dan Quayle's campaign manager, there are three ways you can respond to the fact your boss is widely considered dull-witted and shallow. You can ignore it, refusing even to dignify such ludicrous slurs with a response. You can advise the candidate to laugh along, in hopes the public will find his sense of humor more endearing than self-incriminating. Or you can try to turn the entire caricature to your advantage. Sure Dan Quayle is the butt of one out of every three jokes told on late-night television, you might say. And that's exactly why he should be president. Because of all the candidates, he's the one who has proved he's tough enough to handle the job. Or, in the words of Quayle's actual campaign manager, Kyle McSlarrow, "He's the most experienced. He's the one who has taken the shots and kept going."


It's a clever approach, and there is also some truth in it. Quayle is nowhere near as slow as he has been portrayed. (For one thing, he is smart enough to have hired a talented staff.) Nor, unlike a number of others running for president this year, has he softened or backed away from his core political beliefs over the course of his career. The Dan Quayle of 1999 is a lot like the Dan Quayle of 1992, except more so. Out of office, Quayle has flowered into the conservative ideologue his enemies in the Bush administration always suspected him of being. If he becomes president, Quayle tells audiences, he would push for school choice and a national missile defense. He would fight abortion, affirmative action, greedy lawyers, and U.N. control of American troops. He wouldn't simply cut taxes, he says, he'd slash them "30 percent, across the board." Asked for his opinion of the Lewinsky scandal, Quayle doesn't hesitate or hedge. In a perfect world, he says, Clinton should have been tossed from office. Ultimately, however, even the unsuccessful effort to remove the president "will be a plus for the Republican party."