Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Quayle's Endorsement

If former Vice President Dan Quayle is smart — and I believe the ship sailed on that one quite awhile ago — I think I would avoid taking sides on the 2012 Republican presidential race.

Publicly, anyway.

Privately, of course, he can do as he pleases — like anyone else.

But Quayle apparently is going to publicly announce his endorsement of Mitt Romney for the presidency today in Arizona.

And that could really open a Pandora's box.

Quayle, who was born in Indiana, grew up in Arizona, then returned to Indiana where he graduated from high school and worked for the family newspaper and practiced law before embarking on a political career that took him to the U.S. House and U.S. Senate before his four–year term as George H.W. Bush's vice president.

I guess Quayle had a pretty good image in Indiana when Bush picked him to be his running mate. He never got less than 54% of the vote, including the time he unseated incumbent Sen. Birch Bayh in 1980, and, for most people outside Indiana, I guess, the sight of him at the 1988 Republican convention was their first real exposure to him.

The choice was controversial from the start.

Quayle didn't help matters — either during the campaign, when Lloyd Bentsen memorably told him he was "no Jack Kennedy," or after the election and subsequent inauguration, when he told American Samoans they were "happy campers" or when he supposedly said he regretted not having studied Latin in school so he could converse with a group of Latin Americans.

That latter item, incidentally, is said to have started as a joke about Quayle that took on a life of its own. Some of Quayle's defenders clearly have indulged in some revisionist history — it's hard to deny the statements that live on in video and audio tape — but others are correct when they suggest that many of Quayle's alleged malapropisms started as jokes that appeared credible because he really did utter so many others.

Depending upon the identity of the GOP's eventual running mate, he or she should study the Bush–Quayle 1988 campaign for tips on what not to do — and how to handle the inevitable setbacks and misstatements. It's all part of living under the microscope.

It's a pity that Sarah Palin — or her handlers — didn't try to apply any of the lessons that should have been learned from the Quayle experience.

Quayle, it seems, is still learning. He's been away from the vice presidency for nearly 20 years now, but people still remember things he said — even if he doesn't.

Shira Schoenberg of the Boston Globe observed that "Quayle is known for his rhetorical blunders — once, spelling potato with an 'e' on the end."

As long as Quayle doesn't jump headlong into the campaign and draw more attention to himself, as long as he makes his endorsement and then retreats into private life, there probably won't be too many more reminders of the weird old days — when Quayle said things that were actually attributable, like when he mangled the United Negro College Fund's slogan by saying "what a waste it is to lose one's mind, or not to have a mind is being very wasteful."

So my advice to Quayle would be this:

Express your opinion. Make an endorsement. Put a Romney sticker on your car.

Then shut up.

We already have enough of your misstatements to write a book.

Come to think of it, several people already have. No sense in providing ample material for a sequel.

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