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Dan Quayle's only complaint about life just now concerns the noisy owl that swoops past the house before dawn. However, his new book, "Standing Firm," which is the beginning of his political comeback attempt, expresses retrospective complaints that should, but will not, trouble those he complains about. On the other hand, the book will please those he most wants to please, the conservatives in the Republican nominating electorate.

If George Bush had not chosen Quayle in 1988, Quayle would be a leading contender for the 1996 Republican nomination. In 1980, at age 33, after two terms in the House, he won a Senate seat by handily beating a former Democratic presidential candidate, Birch Bayh. In 1986 he was re-elected with 61 percent of the vote, the highest percentage ever for an Indiana senator, and continued to build a creditable Senate record.But in the sudden glare of national attention at the 1988 convention he seemed strangely unformed. His soft voice, his boyishness made him seem unserious.

In 1988 the media rushed to a contemptuous judgment about Quayle, but no quicker than did some of Bush's operatives, those hollow technicians of empty politics who went on to squander the legacy handed to them by Ronald Reagan, another man deficient of neuroses. James Baker put Quayle in a cocoon of aides who emulated the disdain that Baker did not disguise toward Quayle.

Why were the media so hysterically hostile, beginning with the absurd "reporting" of Quayle's service in the National Guard? Quayle believes young journalists could tolerate a Bush or Reagan, who reminded them of their fathers, but could not abide a conservative their own age who might be a national figure for years. The first baby boomer on a national ticket was not supposed to be someone conservative enough to have voted for Reagan against Ford in the 1976 Indiana primary.

Quayle believes the Bush administration began to crumble before it began - in December 1988, when the president-elect's advisers began pushing for a tax increase. Quayle rightly says that by 1992 Bush was using Dukakis' playbook from 1988, assuming that the election was about "competence, not ideology." But that is as close as Quayle comes to saying a discouraging word about Bush.

His book will not embarrass those who, by their egregiously unfair treatment of him, proved themselves to lack the understanding requisite for embarrassment. Therefore the book should have been less retrospective and more an occasion for him to present his seriousness.

For example, with his "Murphy Brown" speech (in which Brown was mentioned in just one sentence) he was prematurely right in raising the most important domestic issue of the 1990s, illegitimacy. But we still await his analysis of precisely how public policy is relevant to that, either as cause or cure.

That subject and others will, presumably, be the stuff of his coming presidential campaign.