' Marianne M. Jennings
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Jewish World Review Oct. 5, 1999/ 25 Tishrei, 5760

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Econophone

Dan Quayle, morals and schoolyard bullies


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- ON SEPTEMBER 22, I crossed paths with Dan Quayle in the Des Moines airport. I recalled a 1992 column I wrote about his much-touted mistakes and his impressive record, something long lost in the spelling of potato. On the escalator I seized the moment and introduced myself.

There are few politicos who are not hosers. They glad-hand you with superficial platitudes until they can get a focus group together. But, I could use the same words to describe meeting Dan Quayle that Gorbachev used about Ronald Reagan, ". . . at once I felt him to be a very authentic human being."

Some years back I had seen Mr. Quayle handle Diane Sawyer's arrogant questioning with the aplomb of a 30-year kindergarten teacher dealing with an incorrigible. I knew he was skilled but fancied myself capable. Following the establishment our mutual Phoenix destination, Mr. Quayle quickly became the inquisitor, asked my purpose in Des Moines, how long I had been gone and then, upon learning of my short family tether, focused on my children. His aides lifted my carry-on to the security conveyor belt because I was engrossed, giving the ages of my four children to the former vice president of the United States, who expressed concern that I was tackling too much.

Between parenthood analysis, I offered him two political thoughts. One was that he suffered from a bad rap. "Don't I know it," was his response.

When I referred to Al Gore as a "moron," Mr. Quayle seemed taken aback. I clarified, "No, he's an international moron." Mr. Quayle was too dignified to agree with anything except that the media treatment of them was disparate. I then told him his finest line, because it showed his humor, self-deprecation and class, came in response to a reporter dogging him for dirt on the Clinton scandal, "The one thing Bill Clinton and I have in common is that we both married above ourselves."

The flight to Phoenix found Mr. Quayle sitting two rows ahead reading the New York Timesand the Wall Street Journal cover-to-cover, showing no aggravation at either. In the Phoenix airport, I paused to speak to him as he organized his carry-ons, "Mr. Vice President, it was a pleasure. Good luck." He stopped to make eye contact and thank me.

Six days later, Mr. Quayle withdrew from the presidential race, taking with him a good deal of the Republican race substance. Mr. Quayle has long been an advocate of both tort reform and meaningful reduction in government regulation and bureaucracy, two causes that alienate lawyers, keepers of the top-spending PAC in the last federal election. He knows international affairs well enough to teach at the Thunderbird Graduate School and has been warning since the Lewinsky scandal broke that Republicans can't take back the presidency with just the character thing. Mr. Quayle is a statesman with Gary Bauer's pro-life views and Steve Forbes' tax cuts. Mr. Quayle's speech on Murphy Brown's out-of-wedlock motherhood stands alone in vice- presidential history. The only other VP speech that even comes to mind is Spiro Agnew's "nattering nabobs of negativity" media speech, long lost in his income-tax evasion charges. Even Murphy Brown herself (Candice Bergen) has conceded his point, and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead enjoyed career rejuvenation because her work in the Atlantic Monthly article, "Dan Quayle Was Right," emerged from that cultural-turning point speech which forced introspection in a nation damaged by its fatherless families.

Mr. Quayle's contributions have been ignored because he is a victim of media ridicule and Leno and Letterman hammering. By comparison, Mr. Gore and his newfound translation of e pluribus unum got a pass. From the silly canoe ride on pumped-in water to the invention of the Internet, Mr. Gore suffers naught, even for his television speech praising Ellen and homosexuality.

Dan Quayle was a target because he has strong views and believes in religion-based morality. He often prayed with potential supporters you can't have that kind of a person around the Oval Office. You start allowing prayer in the Oval Office and the next thing you know, cigars will be banned there.

Mr. Quayle was also a victim of our unwillingness to pass judgment, today's mortal sin. Bill Clinton is still around because we don't do infidelity, morality and scarlet letters anymore. To fill the standards void, we have seized upon amoral substitutes such as p.c. language or even the spelling of potato. Spelling is safe judgment and ridicule territory. We mock the tiny errors with a "gotcha" mentality to avoid the introspection of morality's higher ground, a Quayle specialty.

Mr. Quayle withdrew because he is a realist when it comes to money and obstacles. But, in a race devoid of positions, ideas, and character, it is only fitting that a candidate with them is gone. Schoolyard bullies who have taunted foolishly and unjustly are always diminished when the victim departs. As the dejected but not-so-flawed target departs they wonder, "What were we thinking when we teased so mercilessly?" Too late to remedy the injustice, the bullies disperse as though blameless, unwilling to face what their silliness hath wrought.


JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Mr. Cantoni is a former HR executive and the president of Capstone Consulting in Scottsdale, AZ. Send your comments by clicking here.

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©1999, Marianne M. Jennings