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Dan Quayle, No Warts And All




By Dan Quayle

HarperCollins/Zondervan - 402pp - $25

While refreshingly honest, Quayle's book is devoid of deep thoughts, insights, or any political agenda

Dan Quayle believes he is heir to the legacies of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan: After their political obituaries were written, they rose from the dead to become President. Quayle is convinced he shares that destiny, and that dream--or delusion--has led him to write Standing Firm: A Vice-Presidential Memoir. The most ridiculed Vice-President in history sets out to prove that a cabal of liberal Baby Boomers in the media conspired to destroy him. Why? They couldn't bear that the first member of their generation to reach high office was--ugh!--a conservative.

To his credit, Quayle has penned a refreshingly honest book for a politician, particularly one who thinks he has a future. He accurately captures the Bush Administration's key players, from George Bush with his wishy-washy domestic instincts to James A. Baker III with his self-promoting manipulativeness. He makes a compelling case that the press was grossly unfair in casting him as a dim bulb. And he admits his errors. During the 1988 campaign, he says, "my biggest mistake was allowing myself to be put in a position where I couldn't take responsibility for anything."

But when it comes to proving that he's Presidential timber, Quayle falls short. Missing are deep thoughts, insights, or any agenda. He devotes a chapter to the infamous "potatoe" incident but doesn't say what he would do as President.

Open-minded readers will conclude that Quayle is not a nitwit. But they also will come away with an impression of a man who naively overestimates his talents. Quayle boasts of his prowess in 1980, when he knocked off incumbent Senator Birch Bayh, a "giant" in Indiana politics. What he neglects to note is that his election had a lot to do with Ronald Reagan's coattails, which carried into office a group of conservative GOP senators so talentless that they were dubbed the "Conehead Caucus." And Quayle may produce snickers when he confides that after his lopsided 1986 reelection: "I briefly contemplated making a run for the Presidency myself in 1988."

Quayle makes the same mistake describing his Vice-Presidency. He takes more credit than he deserves for shaping policy and influencing events, as when he had to fill in for Bush to help crush a coup attempt against Philippine President Corazon Aquino. Standing Firm is at its best when Quayle forgets himself and plays observer. Bush is captured as a Commander-in-Chief who relishes conflicts with foes abroad but fears confrontations with domestic aides. Mikhail Gorbachev is revealed as an insecure blowhard, Margaret Thatcher is depicted as a stern governess, and Jack Kemp is dismissed as a disloyal egotist.

History buffs will thank Quayle for this view from within the White House inner circle. But would-be voters who aren't already sympathetic will perceive a man more obsessed with correcting the record than getting on with his life. If Quayle expects to have a political future, he had better hope that Standing Firm doesn't become a best-seller.OWEN ULLMANN

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