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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Quayle starts from a conservative base but tries to keep the freedom to maneuver away from it. In 1976 he suggested that marijuana be decriminalized, a view too radical to be repeated before his constituents. Dan Coats, who now holds Quayle's Senate seat, is a born-again Christian who as Quayle's aide helped him win votes from the religious right; but Richard Fenno, the political scientist who observed his 1980 race, noticed that Quayle kept his commitments to a minimum in this part of his campaign. In the Senate, Quayle avoided the social issues and sought expertise in defense, specializing in SDI. His staff emphasizes the way he could cooperate "even with Teddy Kennedy" to pass the job-training act. This is the kind of paternalistic program, involving business, that his grandfather supported in towns he "looked after." Quayle's pragmatism is good politics, but he seems to favor it in any case. In an editorial for the Barrister (the first political writing of his I can find), Quayle attacked the machine-driven convention system in Indiana, calling for open primaries -- the kind of reform Eugene Pulliam always favored.

As Vice President, Quayle has established a right-wing base again, choosing a hard-line and activist staff (unlike Vice President Bush's bland low-profile aides). The number of Ph.D.s is emphasized by his press office (two for Carnes Lord, his national security aide). He recruited from the ranks of believers in the cold war, just before that war's demise, surrounding himself with those who have an investment in it. His chief of staff, William Kristol, is the son of neoconservative Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb and is a former aide to William Bennett. Quayle is comfortable with intelligence in his vicinity.

Structurally, Quayle's position with Bush, a man never quite accepted by the right as "one of our own," is that of Nixon with Eisenhower -- bridge to the right, voice of the right, pacifier of the right. In the latter role he has already been criticized by the National Review and conservative columnist Eric Breindel. It is a high-risk position, since reflex anticommunism is not the right-wing glue it was before Mikhail Gorbachev. Quayle has treated changes in the Soviet Union as suspect, while saying he does not differ from the President (the refrain against which all Vice Presidents must play their own tunes). Quayle is loyal to individuals, as he showed in the Senate in 1986 by his frantic efforts to win a judgeship for Daniel Manion (whose written opinions were more embarrassing than Quayle's spur-of-the-moment inanities); but he does not play to lose. If Bush wants to get rid of Quayle, he may get as little cooperation as Eisenhower got from Nixon. Kristol, who turned down other job offers in the Administration to go with Quayle, is firm for his man. Similar commitments are in the making.

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