The Surprising Choice

THIS was supposed to have been the week Vice President George Bush stepped out from President Reagan's shadow and got his chance to "define" himself to the millions of voters who still honestly don't know what he stands for.

Yet all the selection of Sen. Dan Quayle (R-Indiana) as his running mate does is to highlight the vice president's glaring weaknesses as a candidate. The pick was a foolish one that has Democrats celebrating and many Republicans muttering under their breath in disgust.

Quayle's limited assets, in no particular order, seem to be his youth and good looks, as well as his conservative credentials. Those few party officials who honestly support the choice say that Quayle has shorn up conservative support for the vice president and are boldly predicting that he will reduce the so-called "gender gap", bring in the Baby Boom vote for the Republicans, and give Bush a much-needed boost in the Midwest.

Yet the only one of these predictions that is likely to be true is the first one, and ensuring conservative support for the ticket should have been the least of Bush's worries in picking his running mate.

The second assumption (namely, that women will now vote for Bush because he's got a handsome running mate), which was clearly involved in the decision since Bush trails so badly among women voters, is not only incredibly insulting to women, but doesn't make logical sense. After all, by that logic, Geraldine Ferraro (or Meryl Streep) would have closed the gap among male voters for Walter Mondale in 1984 And it's not like Quayle has a popular record to go along with his pretty face: he's staunchly opposed to the ERA, comparable worth and parental leave.


THE idea that Quayle is suddenly going to deliver the youth vote to Bush is unlikely as well. The so-called Baby Boom generation is an incredibly diverse one which, like most other generations, does not vote as a monolithic bloc. None of this year's likely Baby Boomer presidential candidates (Gary Hart or Joe Biden) went anywhere, as voters were quick to recognize that, like Quayle, these two candidates were all style and very little substance.

Geographically, the pick makes no sense. Quayle will help Bush win in the Midwest? He's barely known outside of Indiana. Bob Dole, on account of his popularity and his record of service to that region, would have been a far better pick to shore up Bush's lagging support in the farm states. Moreover, Quayle doesn't bring Bush a crucial state and is unlikely to help him in the South. And his opposition to the plant closing notification is unlikely to endear him to the heavily industrial states of that region of the country as well.

As a symbol, Quayle merely reinforces the public perception of the Republican Party (and of Bush himself) as the party of the well-to-do. As an heir to a nationwide publishing network whose net worth is estimated at $200 million, Quayle certainly isn't likely to help Bush convince blue-collar workers and Reagan Democrats that the ticket represents the concerns of the working men and women of this country.

MOREOVER, as much as Bush's supporters may try to deny this, Quayle is no match for his Democratic counter-part, Lloyd Bentsen, in intelligence, leadership, experience or qualifications for the presidency. He is widely considered by congressional colleagues on both sides of the aisle as a lightweight, a nice guy with a pretty face but with virtually no substantive achievements in his 12 years in Congress. During a dinner for top Republican officials earlier this week, the main topic of conversation was who would be Bush's pick as a running mate. When Quayle's name was mentioned, many in the group could barely conceal their amusement.

Finally, if emerging reports that Quayle's wealthy family may have helped to get him out of the Vietnam War are proven true, Quayle will soon be off the ticket, and for good reason. After all, it's awfully easy to proclaim your support for an aggressive, intervientionist foreign policy when your Dad helped buy your way out of military service.

Praising the vice president's choice on national TV the other night, one Republican strategist said that Bush's decision reflected his desire to "be his own man" and not be overshadowed by a well-known running mate. Indeed, Quayle is sure to play the groveling loyal and unquestioning vice president that Bush has been all along. But while the vice president may seem wiser, more mature and more self-assured in comparison with Quayle, who seems nervous and overwhelmed by the spotlight now shining on him, Bush's judgment remains questionable.

It certainly suggests that Bush does not have much respect for the office of vice presidency, a position he has held now for eight years, by selecting some one who has clearly not proven himself qualified to be the proverbial "heartbeat away" from the presidency. And it makes you wonder when Bush ignores the pleadings of seasoned political pros like James Baker and follows the advice of his media advisers that Quayle, if not the most competent, would make the most telegenic running mate.

It's already clear that the selection of Quayle was a poorly-thought-out, desperate move by a candidate who realizes he's in serious trouble. By selecting a lightweight who is clearly not ready for the rigors of a national campaign, Bush has lost a crucial opportunity to convince American voters to support his candidacy. He has implicitly insulted millions of American women and has added nothing but a pretty face with a paltry record to his ticket.