Quayle vs. Gore

9 minute read
Stanley W. Cloud/Washington

THE PARALLELS ARE STRIKING. Both men are in their mid-40s, telegenic, churchgoing Protestants and dedicated family men. Both were elected to Congress in 1976 and later moved to the Senate, where they served together on the Armed Services Committee. They are married to independent, tough-minded women. They come from prominent, wealthy families. But the main thing that James Danforth Quayle, 45, and Albert Gore Jr., 44, have in common this year is that they are fighting each other for the least exciting job in national politics: the vice presidency of the United States.

Although conventional wisdom holds that voters base their choice on the person at the top of the ticket, this year’s vice-presidential candidates are attracting plenty of attention. Just three months ago, a number of Republicans ( urged President Bush to dump Quayle because he was perceived as a serious drag on the G.O.P. ticket. But Quayle hung on, gave a well-received speech at the Houston convention, and has since waged an energetic campaign. Gore’s choice as the Clinton running mate was widely applauded, and the young Southerners have developed a remarkable campaign synergy that many feel has helped give the Democratic ticket its buoyancy in the polls. One way or another, Dan Quayle and Al Gore will play prominent roles in future presidential dramas.

Which is not to say that both men have not had more than their share of political problems. Quayle has been the brunt of jokes and criticism ever since Bush chose him, seemingly from out of nowhere, as his running mate at the 1988 convention. Quayle was too callow, some said. Too dumb, others suggested. Some experts estimate that his presence on the ticket in 1988 cost Bush as many as 3 percentage points in the popular vote. Since then, a series of flaps — the great “potatoe” spelling bee, the anatomically correct doll that Quayle brought back from an official trip to Chile, the Murphy Brown “family values” dispute and a host of misstatements and misspoken lines — only added to the popular view that Quayle was not ready for prime time. “Gore has written a book,” says the Democrat’s friend, outgoing Colorado Senator Tim Wirth, “and Quayle can’t spell.”

For his part, Gore was long criticized for being stiff-necked and arrogant, a policy wonk without humility or a sense of proportion. His brief and unsuccessful run for President in 1988 was seen by some as an example of overweening ambition. Gore’s recent book, Earth in the Balance, an environmentalist manifesto and call to arms that includes the idea of banishing the internal-combustion engine “in, say, 25 years,” has been blasted by Republicans as elitist nonsense. Quayle told a group of produce farmers in Fresno, California, last week that “with Clinton and Gore, you can say goodbye to water, goodbye to food and goodbye to jobs.” Gore has candidly admitted that if he had known he would be running for Vice President this year, he might have toned down his provocative book a bit.

The candidates’ wives have sometimes added to the problems. Marilyn Quayle, an attorney who once shared a law practice with her husband, has a flinty edge that has on occasion made her seem both tougher and smarter than the Vice President. Some consider it ironic that a woman as independent-minded as Marilyn Quayle would so outspokenly back the Republican Party’s emphasis on traditional family roles during the G.O.P. convention last August.

Tipper Gore has also generated controversy. Her determined campaign against raunchy rock lyrics appeared to place her to the right of her moderate-to- liberal husband and for a time risked alienating traditional sources of Democratic political and financial support in Hollywood during her husband’s 1988 presidential bid. Today, however, she talks more about homelessness, mental health and children.

During the run-up to this week’s vice-presidential debate, Quayle suggested that he would be at a disadvantage because he was a product of public schools while Gore had mainly attended private schools. If the remark was intended to paint Quayle as a man of the people and his rival as a privileged elitist, it was disingenuous to say the least: both men sprang from well-known, well- heeled and politically active families. On his father’s side, Quayle’s family ran the Chicago Dowel Co., which produced Lincoln Logs. The Vice President’s maternal grandfather, Eugene C. Pulliam, was a prosperous conservative publisher of newspapers in Arizona and Indiana. Gore’s father, Al Gore Sr., is a former U.S. Senator from Tennessee whose opposition to the war in Vietnam helped defeat him in 1970. While growing up in Washington, Al Jr. lived in the Fairfax Hotel and attended the exclusive St. Albans School before going off to Harvard as an undergraduate.

If Quayle’s just-folks barbs at Gore’s background seem somewhat off the mark, so do his claims that he served his country “in uniform” in contrast to the Democratic standard bearer. The fact is that of all the three baby- boomer candidates running this year, only Gore saw duty in Vietnam — albeit as a noncombatant Army reporter with the 20th Engineering Battalion outside Saigon. Quayle avoided the draft and Vietnam by using his family connections to help him gain admittance to the Indiana National Guard — a solution that Bill Clinton was considering at about the same time in Arkansas before he found other ways to stay out of the army and the war.

Following their military service, Quayle and Gore followed similar career paths that led them back to school and then to Congress in 1976. In the House, Quayle was as well known for his golf as for his legislative abilities, although he did push through such measures as an amendment stipulating that American hostages in Iran would not be required to pay federal income taxes. In the Senate, his most notable achievement was a major job-training bill in 1982. He began to develop a significant conservative following by supporting such projects as the balanced-budget amendment and defense-spending increases. He occasionally positioned himself to the right of even the Reagan Administration, particularly where arms-control treaties were concerned.

GORE’S CONGRESSIONAL CAreer was a good deal more productive. In the House he conducted investigations of the contact-lens industry, organ transplants and the Tennessee Valley Authority. In the Senate he concentrated on environmental legislation and arms control, immersing himself in the technical details of START, Star Wars and the proposal in the early ’80s for a nuclear freeze. His main concern, he said, was finding a balance between “national power and security on the one hand and long-term human survival on the other.” Recalls a congressional friend and colleague, Representative Tom Downey of New York: “Al worked harder than everyone and shone brighter than everyone.”

In the current campaign, the two men are playing very different roles. Quayle, coming off his star turn at the Republican Convention in Houston, is largely campaigning alone, appearing in smaller towns and before smaller crowds than Bush, always with an eye to keeping conservatives in the G.O.P. fold. Gore, meanwhile, spends much of his time campaigning side-by-side with Clinton, either on the Democrats’ now fabled bus tours or in joint Television interviews that underscore the Democratic team’s apparent compatibility.

Quayle’s campaign speeches stress his active role in the Bush Administration. His case is stronger than his lightweight reputation would suggest. As Bush’s main contact with Congress, he was crucial in getting Congress to sustain 35 of Bush’s 36 vetoes. In foreign trade issues — especially where Latin America and the Far East are concerned — Quayle has been quietly effective in promoting U.S. commercial interests. He has played a key role in helping revive NASA and the space program.

But Quayle’s greatest contribution has been his leadership of the controversial President’s Council on Competitiveness, a kind of appellate court for businesses that feel overburdened by federal regulations, especially environmental ones. The council has served simultaneously to win business friends for the Bush Administration and to help Quayle enhance his right-wing credentials.

In addition to bragging about the panel’s achievements, the Vice President and his staff privately rejoice in the fact that this time out Quayle is not the main liability to the ticket. As former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, a Quayle ally who is now a fellow at the Hudson Institute, said last July: “When George Bush was at 85% in the polls, was Dan Quayle doing anything differently? No. George Bush is where he is politically because of George Bush.”

If Quayle is satisfied not to have hurt the President’s re-election chances, Gore appears to be giving Clinton a real lift. Their tactic of campaigning in tandem allows the two men to reinforce their “yuppies-for-change” image. Moreover, Gore’s presence helps compensate for certain Clinton weaknesses. Clinton has no Washington experience; Gore does. Clinton has had serious marital troubles; Gore has not. Clinton did not serve in Vietnam; Gore did. Clinton has equivocated on the Persian Gulf War; Gore supported it (although he has lately taken aim at the Bush Administration’s policy toward Iraq both before and after the war).

Clinton and Gore both insist the Vice President will have an important policy role to play in a Democratic Administration. Candidates always talk this way, of course, but some of them actually deliver on the promise: Walter Mondale was very active in the Carter Administration on domestic policy issues and in congressional relations. Should Clinton win, Al Gore would probably become deeply involved with issues like the environment and arms control.

The constitutional duties of Vice Presidents are to preside over the Senate (where they vote only in case of ties) and to sit around waiting to replace the President. That may not sound like much of a job in its own right, but consider the opportunities for career advancement: five of the past 10 Vice Presidents have eventually moved up to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, either through succession or election in their own right, a lesson of history that has not been lost on Dan Quayle or Al Gore.

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