Editor’s Note: This article was written for a magazine called The Quayle Quarterly. It is obviously quite dated, since it presumes the Bush-Quayle ticket would be re-elected in 1992. To the dismay of comedians and smartasses everywhere, Slick Willie was a bit too much for the venerable GOP team, and the magazine went under. Later, it seemed that George W. Bush might be the next Dan Quayle, which turned out to be true. Thank God for inarticulate Republican officeholders. And, as the first decade of the new century, comes to a close, many of us looking forward with anticipation to the prospect of President Palin.

Danning With Faint Praise

Wagners music is better than it sounds.

                                — Mark Twain

In a recent New York Times editorial, Russell Baker asked: “Why doesn’t anybody ever say, ‘Dan Quayle would make a great president?’” Baker was reacting to the recent spate of articles (most particularly, Bob Woodward and David Broder’s Washington Post series) espousing the theory that Quayle has been underestimated. This new conventional wisdom has two facets: (1) the vice president is not as bad is we thought and (2) the related corollary that he has actually grown in the job.

Although few pundits believe Bush chose Quayle because he was the best man to be a heartbeat away from the White House, the feeling is growing that he was not the worst choice either. And Quayle’s selection may have set the precedent for the politically expedient choice of Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court. Nominated by Bush because he was the best black, conservative jurist who has never thought about or even expressed an opinion on abortion, Thomas may not have been the most-qualified person, but we can all be proud that he was not the least either. And maybe, like the vice president, he’ll grow into the job.

Quayle’s current situation can be compared to the rehabilitation of actress Robin Givens since her divorce from heavyweight champion Mike Tyson. During the marriage, she was cast as the “wife from Hell.” After the divorce, the conventional wisdom was that Tyson was well rid of such a castrating, social-climbing, publicity-seeking gold-digger. But in light of Tyson’s recent problems (the rape conviction, lawsuits from every woman in Indiana under the age of 25, and being labeled a “serial buttocks fondler”), revisionists are now saying that maybe Robin wasn’t so bad after all. Even if she’s still no one’s idea of the ideal wife, her reputation has improved since the divorce in much the same way as Dan has grown in his job.

Logically then, the ideal vice presidential candidate would be David Duke. As a former Nazi and Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Duke has more room to “grow” than any VP in recent memory. Starting from the position of a lightweight C student and draft-avoiding, war-mongering rich kid (what some smartasses might call a “chicken hawk”), is nothing compared to the stigma of being a pointy-hooded Hitler fan with a modified Michael Jackson nose job.

Patrick Buchanan, about whom there are only whispers of racism and anti-Semitism, can’t hold a candle in growth potential to a white-power rabble-rouser who has made an entire career out of running for office as a hatemonger. Within a few short months, wouldn’t we all be saying that Mr. Duke is not as bad as we first thought he was? After all, he only wears the sheet on weekends, and didn’t he come out against lynchings without due process?

In truth, the difference between Duke and Buchanan on most issues is more stylistic than substantive — more aroma than nutritional value. Buchanan’s blunt and insensitive style makes him sound even worse than he probably is, while Duke's clever use of racially charged code words and his smooth delivery make him look significantly better than he is. Buchanan is like headcheese, which looks less like food than a linoleum tile designed by Picasso; Duke is like a container of sour milk — you can’t get the full effect of how rancid it is until you get really close to it and study it a while. Personally, I could live without both, but I’m sure the headcheese is somewhat less harmful to the digestion.

Haggis, the national dish of Scotland, is made by boiling the ground-up liver, heart and lungs of a sheep; mixing it with suet and oatmeal; stuffing it into a sheep’s stomach; and then steaming/boiling the whole concoction for several months. It’s served with Scotch whiskey and is reported to be the only food in the world that actually tastes better when accompanied by bagpipe music. Sounds disgusting, you say? You’re probably right. I’ve heard British people say that even they won’t even eat it, and British chefs make the economy class food for airlines that fly into Hell.

On the other hand, I’ve also been told that haggis is “not as bad as it sounds.” Given that stirring recommendation, I might even be willing to try it ... once. But if I were only going to get one home-cooked meal every four years, it wouldn’t be haggis. Yet that is what Dan Quayle has become — the medias political equivalent of a bowl of haggis, with musical accompaniment by Andre Kostelanetz and the 101 Bagpipes.

With President Bush so popular and the Democrats self-destructing, it looks more and more like Dan will be VP again in 1992, making him the presidential front-runner in 1996. The GOP will certainly tell us he was not nearly as bad a vice president as we thought he would be, and he’ll be even more “not as bad” as president. Is this what we want from our chief executives: such a surprising degree of mediocrity that we breathe a sigh of relief when their tenure is completed without major damage to country?

Many pundits portrayed Reagan as a trigger-happy cowboy, claiming that, as president, he would lead us into nuclear war. When it didn’t happen, everyone was relieved. Oh, the economy might be in shambles, with deficits so large as to be incomprehensible, and our cities might be in ruins, boasting more crime and homelessness than entire third-world countries, but at least he didn’t vaporize us. Republicans now tell us, “See, you were wrong — Reagan wasnt as bad as you thought.

Jerry Brown said recently that if you live in a fish market long enough, you can’t smell the fish. Has Washington become such a collection of rotting fish heads that we’re really happy when one of them only stinks a little?

Maybe this is the best we can hope for from our leaders: that they be not as bad as we fear they might be. So pass me that big plate of haggis, but hold the bagpipe music. And forget about the glass, just hand me the Scotch bottle — I think Im going to need it.


There are as many sites dealing with our former VP as there are notches on Bill Clintons headboard. One of the best of these features The Dan Quayle Quotes Page, as well as a link to the complete compilation of David Lettermans Top-10 Lists dealing with Indianas favorite son.

Also, if youre a fan of Scottish gourmet cuisine, which is probably an oxymoron,
try this link to the Haggis Homepage.


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