An old political joke has it that there were once two brothers, one who ran away to sea while the other became vice president, and neither was ever heard of again. That cynical but for long essentially accurate view of our nation’s second highest office hasbeen undermined in recent years by the realization that the man typically described as “a heartbeat away” can be an overpowering personality such as Lyndon Johnson, a nolo contendere defendant such as Spiro Agnew...or Dan Quayle.
Dismissing Dan Quayle has been easier than understanding him. Political opponents have found it more congenial to laugh at his verbal gaffes while supporters have blindly applauded his championship of “family values” and “competition,” while both sides have scarcely bothered to examine what, if anything, is behind the appearances.
Joe Queenan’s IMPERIAL CADDY redresses the balance in a quick moving, tongue-in-cheek fashion, examining Quayle’s career with an accurate and deadly perception of the foibles and failings of our political process. Queenan combines a review of other hapless presidents in waiting with interviews with professional Quayle watchers to build a rounded view of the office and the man.
Ironically (a word that clings to Dan Quayle and his career) the end of the Bush presidency makes Queenan’s book more, not less, interesting and important. Now out of office, Quayle is the putative standard bearer of the GOP’s conservative wing and currently his party’s best-known national figure. He seems clearly poised for a run in 1996, and there is the possibility that the man who spells the vegetable “potatoe” could have a chance for a final laugh on his many detractors.
As Queenan makes clear, Dan Quayle is not an isolated phenomenon. He is a politician, and a successful one. In this country, there’s always next season, and Quayle’s probably in spring training right now. IMPERIAL CADDY is the best scouting report we have.