Flashback Friday – Dan Quayle

If somebody had said the name Dan Quayle to you before today, would you have had any idea who he was? That is a question I am very interested to know, as not many people seem to have any idea of who Dan Quayle is. It’s significant, since he served as vice president of the United States for four years, under President George H.W. Bush. In 2008, Dan Quayle’s name was brought out from the depths of irrelevance, because he was compared to a certain Republican vice presidential candidate… or rather, she was compared to him. In 1988, Bush used the selection of Quayle, who at the time was only 41 and considered to be very inexperienced and controversial, to shake up his floundering campaign. While some found the selection to be troubling, it worked, and immediately after the convention the Bush/Quayle team jumped ahead in the polls and won the 1988 election. Unfortunately for the McCain/Palin ticket, the same did not happen in 2008.

Quayle had a bumpy, ride as vice president, but was supported throughout by the Bush team. Prior to his selection as running mate, Quayle served in the House of Representatives and Senate, representing his home state of Indiana. He was first elected to the House, at the age of 29, defeating a wildly popular multiple term Democrat. This was his first political victory, and it came at a very young age. He then ran for the Senate in 1980, and was elected once again. In this instance, he once again unseated a multiple term Democratic candidate. He had made history, with both his age, and the margins of victory that he enjoyed. In 1986 he was reelected, despite several of his Republican colleagues going down to defeat.

By 1988, Quayle had two terms in the House under his belt, and one term in the Senate. That seems to be hardly the record necessary to serve as president, yet he was chosen to be the number two man if George H.W. Bush was elected. Quayle was the youth that the Bush team felt was necessary in order to win support from younger voters (sound familiar to 2008?). Quayle was also very good looking, which never hurts when cameras are focused on you (sound familiar to 2008?). He was also a candidate who had a good electoral record, which included defeating Democratic opponents (sound familiar to 2008?). All of these qualities, plus others, pushed the Bush team to select Quayle for their running mate.

During the general election campaign, Quayle made many poor statements. He was terrible at answering questions, and the Democrats criticized his military record and lack of experience. One of the most remembered moments, came in the vice presidential debates. Quayle was facing off against Lloyd Bentsen, who was a multiple term Senator from Texas, the polar opposite of Quayle. Bentsen had actually beat Bush for his Senate seat in 1970. During the debates, Quayle attempted to answer a question about his lack of experience, by comparing his experience to that of John F. Kennedy. In his response, Bentsen offered a modern day “oh snap” moment, when he said “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy!” Quayle recovered from the moment, but it did nothing to put an end to the issue.

In the end though, Bush’s team was effective in painting their Democratic opponent as a Massachusetts liberal, who was too radical for the country. As vice president, Quayle continued to be the same inarticulate, simple man he had been during the campaign. He carried out his necessary duties. He travelled to foreign countries, he headed national councils, but unfortunately the media was far more concerned with what he said, and how dumb it was. Here are just a few of the things Quayle had to say:

  • “The Holocaust was an obscene period in our nation’s history. I mean in this century’s history. But we all lived in this century. I didn’t live in this century.”
  • “One word sums up probably the responsibility of any vice president, and that one word is ‘to be prepared.'”
  • “I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future.”
  • “A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls.”
  • “It’s wonderful to be here in the great state of Chicago.”

And the list goes on.

By 1992, despite an impressive victory in Iraq, the Bush/Quayle ticket lost its appeal, especially when compared to the young, energetic team of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Bush was looking quite weak, and his age was a slight issue, and people were not reassured by the fact that Dan Quayle was waiting in the wings to take his place, should something happen to him. In 1992, Bush and Quayle were fired by the American people.

Likely as a result of the ridicule he endured, Quayle essentially disappeared. He returned to private life, but made occasional speeches. He published his memoirs in 1996, then remerged to contest the 2000 Republican presidential nomination. He made no real progress, and eventually dropped out and supported George W. Bush.

The similarities between Quayle and Sarah Palin are undeniable. While we don’t know what kind of vice president Sarah Palin would have been (thank god), she perhaps could have been more capable than Quayle was. But then again, the media would have been all over her, just like they were for Quayle, monitoring any slip ups, and mistakes. I think it is safe to say that Dan Quayle is officially out of politics for good. The same may not be true for Sarah Palin though.


About Chris James

A student of political science at a Canadian University sharing stories of interest on Canadian and American political and social issues.

Posted on April 8, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. he kindof looks like what stephen harper would look like if he had a personality with more character than a sheet of wet cardboard…

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