Former Vice President Dan Quayle came to Washington yesterday to advance his "campaign of ideas" for the Republican presidential nomination but conceded his frustration that the clownish reputation from his early days in the national spotlight continues to plague his efforts.
In a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, Quayle detailed tax changes and reforms in health insurance and labor law designed to ease the economic burdens on young families and enable one parent to spend more time at home.
Responding to the widespread concern that too many youngsters are growing up without parental guidance, Quayle said, "We must change the condescending attitude against mothers who may choose to temporarily set aside their careers to care for their children in the home." Mothers and fathers would have more time for parenting, he said, if his proposals for a 30 percent across-the-board tax cut, for ending the "marriage penalty," allowing full deduction of individual health insurance premiums and flex-time arrangements at work were made law.
The speech was the latest in a series in which Quayle--like other trailing candidates trying to catch up to Texas Gov. George W. Bush--is seeking to distinguish himself by specific proposals from the broad thematic approach Bush has taken.
"We believe the GOP is an intensely ideological party, with a passion for ideas," said Quayle campaign manager Kyle McSlarrow. "We certainly had no notion what a juggernaut George W. would turn into, but Dan firmly believes that regardless of the polls, when people start comparing candidates, he can win on the basis of his ideas."
Quayle said in a post-speech interview that his confidence has been bolstered by the reaction in living rooms in Iowa and New Hampshire. But he conceded that the poll- and money-driven process that seems to be working in Bush's favor is making it hard for him to get any traction with his ideas. And he admitted that past supporters in his home state of Indiana and longtime allies across the country have defected to Bush and others because of their doubts about his electability.
Steve Merksamer, who was chief of staff to former California governor George Deukmejian (R), said, "I have the highest respect and admiration for Dan Quayle personally. He has been right on many issues and he has been courageous in taking difficult and principled positions." But Merksamer, now part of Steve Forbes's campaign team, said, "At the end of the day, people have concluded that Dan is not going to get over the cartoon-type image of him that was created years ago. It is completely unfounded, unjustified and unfair, but nonetheless it is out there. Among Republican activists, there are lots of people whose hearts are with Dan Quayle, but a lot of heads that are saying, 'You can't go with your heart.' "
When the comments from Merksamer, one of those longtime allies, were read to Quayle, he said, "I know exactly what he's saying. I'm up against it all the time--the whole electability issue that was premised on my introduction [as the vice presidential candidate] in 1988." Then, Quayle stumbled through a series of media interviews at the GOP national convention in New Orleans and had to weather rumors that he might be dumped from the ticket he had just joined.
Because of that reputation, Quayle said, "I know I have to win early. But if I win early, think of the surge of sentimental support there's out there for me."
Quayle is far from alone in seeking to press an issue agenda as a way of putting pressure on Bush. Almost all the other 10 trailing candidates have laid out proposals on everything from taxes to missile defense. But except for Forbes, who is able to finance his campaign and already has begun advertising his ideas in the early caucus and primary states, they have struggled to capture public attention.
Quayle argued in the interview that if the Texas governor wins the nomination on the basis of "glitz and polls but not substance," he may prove vulnerable against the Democrats in the general election. "If you run just saying I'm a better person than the other fellow, you're gonna lose," he said. When he and Bush's father, President George Bush, ran for reelection in 1992, "they just wanted to say George Bush was a better man than Bill Clinton, but they didn't say why he would be better for the country."
So Quayle keeps slogging away as the "candidate of ideas." This week, he is publishing a book, "Worth Fighting For," in which he lays out at length his thesis that the cultural wars that began in the 1960s provide the context for today's political battles. "The Clinton-Gore team has celebrated obstruction and lying," he writes, "and it has embraced those who, since the 1960s, have ceaselessly pounded away at honor, duty, country and the rule of law, routinely trashing as outdated and hopelessly quaint the values the rest of us hold dear."
Over the last six months, Quayle has mixed into his campaigning and fund-raising a half-dozen speeches outlining both broad "vision" statements and specific policy proposals.
In an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal last January that has been mined repeatedly in his speeches, he put forward a detailed tax and entitlement reform program. His tax plan would reduce marginal rates for married couples to 10 percent for incomes below $44,000, to 20 percent up to $160,000 and to 28 percent for higher incomes--an average reduction of 30 percent from current rates. He called for "Freedom Accounts" that would divert 30 percent of payroll taxes into individual savings funds and allow people to contribute an additional $10,000 a year for tax-free buildup of retirement savings.
Quayle began the year with a broad indictment of Clinton administration foreign and defense policy and sharpened his criticism in particular areas.
On China, he said the policy he had supported in the Bush administration--"a policy that encouraged trade with a minimum of sanctions and sanctimony"--had "a worthy objective, but upon reflection, it is clear to me that the Chinese took advantage of that opportunity." He said the United States should not support Chinese entry into the World Trade Organization until the Chinese end their threat to Taiwan and make "significant changes" in their trade policy.
On Kosovo, he said Clinton's policy had been a "series of blunders," including the belief "that an air campaign alone could achieve his ill-defined political objectives." Last week on "Meet the Press," Quayle still insisted that intervention was not "in our national interest . . . this is going to continue to be a mess. . . . Within six months . . . you will see that this is not the victory it is being called today."
Researcher Ben White contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Dan Quayle spoke Monday at the American Enterprise Institute, proposing tax relief for young families to allow one parent to spend more time at home.