DAN QUAYLE: Late Bloomer

Dan Quayle spent much of his life blissfully AWOL from history, a huge handicap even for a faster learner than he has given evidence of being

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If he seemed for much of his life unaffected by the world around him, that may have been an advantage, considering the world he lived in. He avoided the Viet Nam War, but he also ignored much that led to Viet Nam. Inattentiveness is sometimes a survival skill. Quayle's pugnacious father did not always agree with Quayle's more famous grandfather, Eugene Pulliam, and among Pulliams it matters from which wife of Eugene one is descended (he had three). When the 17-year-old Quayle thought of siding with his father against his grandfather on behalf of family friend Barry Goldwater, his mother Corinne (a daughter of Pulliam's second wife) told him, "Don't start any more trouble in the family. We already have enough problems." Quayle's father James -- an ex-Marine who named his son for a friend, James A. Danforth, a World War II hero killed in action in Germany -- was gung-ho for Viet Nam. J. Danforth Quayle was, famously, not. Considering the other enthusiasms of his father's, from Robert Welch to Ashbrook, from Nostradamus to Fundamentalist preacher "Colonel" Robert Thieme, there is something to be said for the son's reluctance to join his father's battles. Quayle grew up golfing with his imperious grandfather and camping (gun in hand) with his volatile father, an opinionated owner- editor whose Indiana newspaper is known to its local critics as the Huntington Herald "Suppress." Young Danny kept his head down, his eye on the ball.

One of Quayle's college professors has an indelible memory of trying to make a point with Quayle, and talking into air. "I looked into those blue eyes, and I might as well have been looking out the window," says William Cavanaugh. But he was the teacher of Quayle's freshman composition course; he had differed with his student over the prose of Whittaker Chambers. Witness, Chambers' portentously anticommunist book, was a kind of bible in the Quayle family. Quayle's tactical incomprehension with Professor Cavanaugh may have been the response of one who knows where ideological conflict goes when it is pushed. Attending law school in Indianapolis, Quayle lived outside town with his grandmother, the divorced second wife, while a son of the first wife edited the Indianapolis paper, and the third wife was active in the Pulliam chain. Quayle kept peace all around. He may not know much, but he seems to have self-knowledge when he calls himself accommodating.

Is Quayle serene merely because he is vacuous, preferring drift to ideology? That view obliges one to explain how, in politics, he drifted often and early to the top. Even his friends admit that his success was not by any blaze of intellect. Says M. Stanton Evans, the ex-editor of the Indianapolis News, who helped Quayle get his first political appointment: "There is a cycle in all of his offices. When he comes in, he is underestimated -- too young, too inexperienced -- and then he surpasses people's expectations." In other words, Quayle first gets the job and then gets qualified for it. But for a politician, getting the job is the primal qualification. How did he succeed at that? The only answer his critics have been able to come up with is a false one -- family influence.

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