Vice President Gore and former vice president Dan Quayle talked civic uplift to different audiences here yesterday, with both men pledging to emphasize the moral dimension of the White House if they succeed in their current campaigns.
"Character matters," Quayle told a National Press Club luncheon. "People can tell who has it and who doesn't. . . . The theme of my campaign is raising a nation, raising our children, raising our standards at home and abroad. . . . The first order of business for the next administration is to restore standards to the White House."
Gore, addressing the Progressive National Baptist Convention at the Washington Convention Center, quoted extensively from the Bible and sounded off on a favorite target of Quayle's -- off-color entertainment. Children, he said, should have more to look forward to than "going home to the `Jerry Springer Show' or some other trashy program."
While the themes were similar, the applications were markedly different. Quayle applauded the $792 billion tax cut bill that has passed the House and Senate in different forms, but said Congress should go further and cut personal income tax rates by 30 percent across the board.
Gore denounced the "risky tax scheme aimed at those at the top who already have much . . . just at the time when it [the economy] is starting to work for those on the bottom."
Both speeches focused on values, but Quayle, struggling to shake the view that he has only an outside chance of winning the Republican nomination, offered a couple of implied criticisms of some rivals.
Asked if he thought Texas Gov. George W. Bush was qualified to be president, Quayle said, "He'll have to answer that question. I will be ready on Day One" -- the same boast Bush's father made when he began his bid for the White House. In a dig at the Texas governor and President Clinton, Quayle added: "I don't believe we need another president who has inexperience in the conduct of foreign policy. There's only so much you can get from reading and briefings."
In answer to another question, Quayle said there was an obvious distinction between himself and such other conservative contenders for the GOP nomination as Patrick J. Buchanan, Gary Bauer and Steve Forbes. "I'm the only one who has been elected to office," he said.
Quayle, who has little money in the bank, is viewed as being in some jeopardy if he fails to make a creditable showing in the Iowa GOP straw poll Aug. 14. But Quayle said: "I wouldn't read too much into it. It's a two- or three-day story."
Gore told the predominantly African American Baptist group that "I affirm my faith to you here" and share the belief that our purpose on Earth is "to glorify God."
Relaxed in front of the crowd of thousands, Gore said he learned early the importance of civil rights. "I thank God that I was raised by parents who loved justice and who understood fairness and who fought for progress," he said. Then, describing an encounter his father, the late former senator, had with a racist Tennessean who used the "N-word," he vowed: "I want to create a future where nobody knows that term."
The Baptists stood and cheered when Gore promised that as president he would make preschool available to all children, make classrooms smaller, buy modern textbooks and recruit more black teachers. His 35-minute address included support for more anti-AIDS funding and a $1-an-hour increase in the minimum wage, and criticism of managed-care officials who, he said, "don't have a license to practice medicine and don't have a right to play God."
Quayle ranged over a variety of topics in his speech but focused repeatedly on foreign policy.
Telling the audience he had canceled a previous Press Club date to attend his son's wedding in Shanghai to a Chinese woman who has never visited the United States, Quayle said China would likely provide the main challenge to the next president. He said the recent declaration by the president of Taiwan that it wanted to be treated as a sovereign country, rather than an estranged province of China, was "jarring."
"I do not support the idea of independence for Taiwan," he said, "but it is a democratic entity. We must make clear to the rulers in Beijing that this issue must be settled peacefully."
Repeatedly deriding Congress's penchant for spending, Quayle said the best campaign finance reform would be to impose term limits of 12 years in the House and Senate. Acknowledging that passage of such a constitutional amendment would be difficult, he said he favored cutting off pension and health care benefits to members of Congress who serve longer than those limits. "That would get their attention," he said.