Can Quayle Manage the Elephantine Tent?
Ronald Reagan was a gregarious president, in double consuetude: sociable and communicative, yes, but also embodying the third, botanical definition of the word: "growing in groups that are close together but not densely clustered or matted."
By Stephanie Herman
April 15, 1999
Reagan led a gallimaufry of 80s Republicans -- an assemblage of poor, middle-class, and blue-bloods; of voters, constituents and congresspersons; of social liberals, fiscal conservatives, libertarians, theocracists and the marginally aware; who, though unified under Reagan, were never "densely clustered." They varied on affirmative action, on religion, on welfare, on the trickle-down theory, and most prominently on the GOP's pro-life stand.
In fact, Reagan's integration and harmonization powers were responsible for the meekly modulated pitch of the Rockefeller Republicans' pro-choice views. Reagan was, indeed, a gregarious president.
Dan Quayle wants to be a gregarious president, too.
He's off to a good start. Kyle McSlarrow, his campaign manager, likens Quayle to the Gregarious One, telling Tucker Carlson he may be the only primary hopeful "who can put the complete Reagan coalition -- economic and social conservatives -- back together." OK, that's not so surprising; it's McSlarrow's job to get the man elected. But Quayle's foreign policy experience and willingness to slash taxes do ingratiate him to his friend Christine Todd-Whitman and her east-coast crowd -- Guiliani, Snowe, Pataki, Collins, Frahm; while his social/cultural values and religious convictions absolutely solidify a bond with the heartland's religious right. His demeanor is warm. His message is believed. His integrity is unquestioned -- and it ought to be; he's weathered more pot-shots for his views on family sanctity than Bill Clinton will ever receive for violating them.
But to truly walk in Reagan's shoes, Quayle must neutralize his east-coast colleagues as they incessantly call for the removal of the abortion issue from the GOP platform. Just a few weeks ago, Governor Pataki again bemoaned the inclusion of pro-lifers under the Elephantine Tent.
"The swivel chair experts are saying that we need to abandon our principles in order to win elections," Quayle told the California Republican Party at their spring convention in Sacramento. "That's not the way to win. It's a recipe for disaster, and I won't be part of it. The way to win is to have the courage of your convictions. That means doing what is right, not necessarily what happens to be popular..."
Oh, but Quayle wins twice when standing on conviction, because his convictions usually are popular. Recall his infamous Murphy Brown speech, given when Bergen's show was at the height of its popularity and his public image at its low. "Read the Murphy Brown speech today," writes Carlson in The Weekly Standard, "and it seems not only strangely familiar -- a number of the themes in it have subsequently been apropriated by the Clinton administration -- but also, and this may be more surprising, pretty good, even eloquent in places." Appropriation by the poll-driven Clinton administration is definitive proof that Quayle's views on the family are in sync with the electorate's.
So is Quayle onto something defending the pro-life platform? Yes, actually. Pataki and other pro-choice Republicans are still operating under the misguided belief that abortion rights are what women want, ignoring recent polling data showing 53 percent of American women are pro-life.
This news shocked the pro-choice organization sponsoring the poll, the Center for Gender Equality. Upon its release in February 1999, CGE president Faye Wattleton called the results "disturbing." Disturbing because women are guilty of "wrong thinking" on abortion, signaling another incremental post-feminist gain? Not exactly. It's disturbing because 53% is a majority of the female electorate, and a weakening of the ten-point gender gap Democrats have enjoyed the past four election cycles. And while only 47 percent of American women are still pro-choice, an exit poll conducted last year by the Campaign for Working Families found that only 41 percent of voting Americans, men and women, supported the right to choose abortion.
The Republican Party would be downright Foolish, absolutely Fatuous, utterly Feeble-minded to abandon the pro-life platform now! Foolish, fatuous, feeble-minded -- the same adjectival clothing Democrats used to enshroud Quayle as vice-president... and cut from the same cloth they'd love to embroil round the GOP in 2000.
In his speech to the California Republicans, Quayle was correct to make a distinction between what is right and what is popular. It's a distinction President Clinton and Al Gore have been wholly unable to grasp. But when what's right melds with what's popular, a presidential candidate should seize upon the obvious political synchronicity. In doing so, Quayle is uniting his party's pragmatists and moralists, and the pro-choice Republicans -- out of the loop again -- will surely realize their political Y2K hopes rest on much more than abortion.
This article copyright © 1999 by Stephanie Herman and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.