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Perimeters / PATT MORRISON

Dan Quayle's Endless Campaign

May 01, 1996|PATT MORRISON

There is his potatoe misspelling, which really happened, and his regrets about not being able to speak Latin in Latin America, which didn't.

But in the MTV age, that stuff gets old fast, and Dan Quayle, an old man's idea of what a young man ought to be, has been a former vice president for more than three years now, and that is an eternity in politics.

Dan Quayle is 49--venerable for Hollywood, callow for Washington--and he has calculated that he has seven presidential elections before he is 73, the age of BobDole, which is how even Quayle refers to the Republican nominee presumptive--two syllables, one word.

But the magic year, the year everyone was whispering or pumping his hand about Tuesday, is the year 2000. Run, Dan, run, the faithful say.

Quayle was in town--a zig up from Newport Beach to KABC talk radio, a zag to Pasadena, city No. 8 on his 34-city book tour. On the air and in person, he responds to such effusions neutrally: "Aren't you nice, keep thinking like that, thanks very much, hang in there for us."

When a man is 49, there is plenty of time--to write a column, to go a little gray at the temples and a teeny bit bald on top, to take a page from Richard Nixon's book and play a junior elder statesman, a party loyalist who raises money for the other guys and goes where he's needed to elect the ticket.

His speech about family values and unwed mothers is still known as the Murphy Brown speech, but with everyone from Clinton down making the same points, what's there to gripe about? Didn't Atlantic Monthly, a keystone in the arch of the arch-liberal media, put on its cover in letters as big as a bumper sticker the words "Dan Quayle Was Right"?

Oh yes, there is lots of time.

*

Talk show host Michael Jackson, who introduced Quayle to listeners Tuesday by remarking on the American nicety of calling out-of-office politicians by the highest rank they held, added to the Quayle comic lore by pointing out--off the air--that the former vice president was wearing his earphones backward.

Quayle's own signature media-bashing has become schtick, expected of him, even though he is a columnist and a fixture on the bestseller list. Just last year, he walked into a political reporters' breakfast in Hollywood with the acid greeting, "I bet you were all just waiting for me to trip and fall, weren't you?" Now it doesn't have quite the edge when he says he'll tell the bookstore people he was late because of the liberal media TV crew interviewing him.

On the air, there was a little talk of Quayle's second book, "The American Family: Discovering the Values That Make Us Strong," and a lot of listeners' calls, making it clear that the issues of 1988 and 1992 have not been forgotten.

When Donna, "a big George Bush fan," pro-choice and pro-gun control, said she would have jumped ship if Pat Buchanan had been nominated, Quayle answered not her Republican angst about those profound social issues, but gave an insider's take on Buchanan's role at the upcoming convention.

*

Of all the bookstores in all the towns in all the world, he had to walk into this one.

Vroman's of Pasadena invited Quayle two months ago to cut the ribbon to its new annex, and he did, with Pasadena Vice Mayor Chris Holden. "Mr. Vice Mayor," he said. "Mr. Vice President," said Holden. "We vice guys have to stick together," said Quayle.

At a desk between Anthropology and California and the West, he signed. He put his name on books by the hundreds, golf balls, and a photo of himself that a swooning young woman carries in her wallet.

I had taken a taxicab to join up with the former vice president. Now, a taxi ride in Los Angeles is an undertaking of problematic wisdom. Taxicabs are not native species. On the hottest day of the year, this taxi's air conditioning was broken. The driver had hung a Jesus air freshener from the rearview mirror, and when he handed me a pamphlet, "Should your child listen to rock music?" I used it to fan myself.

He asked whether I believed in government. I said it depends on the government. He said he believes in pure, unfettered capitalism practiced by moral people, but that right now it isn't, which is why, until people become moral, we have to have laws. Like the "No Smoking" sign in his cab, I suppose.

He's Christian, his sister is an atheist, he says, her husband a lapsed Muslim. He waited for me to label myself. I didn't.

Four of the five families profiled in Quayle's book are religious; one is not. But all, Quayle says, believe in middle-class values. Don't stop the presses over this, but most people do. They believe in quiet neighborhoods, respectful kids, spouses who aren't abusive, fair bosses and honest politicians. And apart from the rare likes of the Brothers Menendez and 6-year-olds with killer instincts, most people try to live it too.

Incidentally, the cabdriver did something I hate, something I never do because I think it isn't fair. He took an exit but used the through-traffic lane to get back on the freeway well ahead of where he would have been if, like everyone else, he'd waited his turn.

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