We now know what accounts for the unfathomable blue of Dan Quayle's eyes. It is the fire of revolution. It is the smoke of indignation. It is that certain something -- noticed in the eyes of reformers the world over -- that sets him apart from ordinary people. Dan Quayle, it turns out, is a secret feminist.
He favors equal rights for women. Sort of. In a general way. If someone else changes things, he won't protest. Should the revolution come, he'll join it. If he's not busy watching television or something. Or maybe taking a nap.
Quayle's secret empathy with women was revealed the other day in, of all places, Saudi Arabia. No, the vice president had not gone there to exhort the kingdom to permit women to drive cars. He actually was in Riyadh to ask the Saudis for more money. But while there, Quayle was asked whether he was sorry he had played golf at a club (Cypress Point in California) that has no black members. The vice president said he was.
Quayle was then asked about Burning Tree Country Club outside Washington. As vice president, he is an honorary member. The club has no female members. A mere coincidence, you might think. Nothing of the sort. It's policy. Women can't even play as guests. Quayle was asked how he felt about that.
"I've played there before, and I'll play there again," Quayle told the Associated Press.
But before you get the idea that the vice president is not sensitive to the issue, let me give you the full quote: "I'm not going to protest Burning Tree. Maybe they'll change. I think it would be a good idea for them to take women into the club. I don't have any problem playing there in the meantime."
As I read that quote, I thought I heard the faint strains of the "Marseillaise," "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "We Shall Overcome" and several other revolutionary anthems. Very faint. Here is the suburban revolutionary in his La-Z-Boy recliner. Here is the person who could be president in a second saying that it's okay with him if the policy changes, and really, the policy ought to change, but he's not going to do anything about changing it.
A column such as this is given a generic classification: Quayle Bashing. This is the term used by the vice president's defenders whenever someone points out that the man is a fool. In this case, it seems not to have occurred to Quayle that simply by not playing golf at a particular club he could advance the cause of women. All he has to do is publicly resign from Burning Tree, and in a snap he could have confused almost all of America: gee, maybe the veep isn't such a dunce after all.
Quayle probably does not realize that in saying that he would take no part in an attempt to do what, really, he wanted done, he was echoing what he had done during the Vietnam War. Then, while presumably favoring the war (or so he says), he joined the National Guard and avoided the draft. As with Burning Tree, he felt strongly enough to let others do the work. You can see now why Bush chose him as his running mate.
The issue of restricted private clubs, golf or otherwise, is supposedly a trivial matter. This is especially the case when it is women, and not minority group members, who are being excluded. The logic of that thinking escapes me. If it's wrong for a club to exclude on the basis of race, why should gender be any different? Should a black woman be consoled because it's not race that kept her out of Burning Tree, but sex? Either way, she was a non-member by virtue of birth.
The discrimination practiced by private clubs is petty stuff -- the petty insults of petty people. Maybe there is some truth to the argument that Great Decisions are made at these clubs, and women and minorities suffer economically by being excluded, but I doubt it. Instead, the importance of the issue is that restrictive clubs symbolize the essence of sexism: a view of women as somehow less worthy than men. For women, Burning Tree is no isolated case. It's acres and acres of the same old stuff.
Burning Tree has chosen to pay a tax penalty and remain a male-only club -- the only one in the Washington area. For that reason, the club has a symbolic importance. Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), no fiery feminist, understood that when he quit Burning Tree -- an indication he may run for president.
Quayle seems determined to remain a Burning Tree member. May we take this as indication that he will never run for president? If so, I'll caddie.