Quayle the Younger: A Poor Start to a Political Career

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I didn't know that former Vice President Dan Quayle's son, Ben, was a candidate for Congress until I heard about his controversial video campaign advertisement. Running as a "conservative" Republican in Arizona-- as opposed to what, you might ask here -- Quayle evidently wants his potential constituents to know that he believes that President Barack Obama is the "worst president in the history" of the United States. Worse than James Buchanan. Worse than Herbert Hoover. Worse than Jimmy Carter. Worse than Bill Clinton. Worse than George W. Bush. 

The second thing I learned about the young candidate-- one of ten vying for the state's 3rd Congressional District -- was that he was denying reports that he had blogged for what ABC News described as "a saucy website featuring gossip and racy photos from Arizona's nightlife scene." And then I heard that Quayle copped to writing for the site -- which means he initially lied-- and finally I read where when confronted by the legitimate controversy (take a look) he blamed the media and his political foes for what he called a "coordinate effort to assassinate my character."

Now, I was not a huge fan of Dan Quayle. Back in 1988, the year of Willie Horton, can we all now agree that he was woefully unprepared to be a heartbeat away from the presidency? But I didn't feel for him the animosity and ridicule that so many Americans did -- and probably still do. This is especially true in the false light of ancient memory. So what that he couldn't spell "potato" correctly? Dick Cheney sure could spell potato all right -- and look at what trouble he caused as vice president. Instead, and perhaps naively, I always thought of Quayle the Elder more as a victim -- of circumstances, of politics, of a sort found readily in literature; the man-child who was in way over his head.

Whether or not Ben Quayle can turn things around and prove that he is built for the rigors of politics, my esteem for Dan Quayle, the old man, has dropped off the charts in the past few weeks as a result of the boorish behavior of his campaigning son. Quayle the Younger, the legacy, has managed in just the span of a few short days to pull a Nixon-- the lie, the cover up, the media smear, the counterattack -- without ever having made it to the Congress in the first place! And he has done so while at the same time paying for television time to cater to some of the basest elements in politics today.

You would think a candidate who grew up in or near the White House -- Quayle was born in 1976 and just starting his teen years on January 20, 1989 -- would be capable, even eager, to show a little more courtesy and respect toward any of its future occupants. You would think Ben Quayle's unique experience would counsel against him resorting to cheap hyperbole. You would think there is still some public honor and dignity between and among America's first (and second) families.

Nope. Ben Quayle is off to a terrible start. And from his famous father not one single public word-- at least none that I can find. That's no way to continue or to rebuild a political dynasty. You can't blame the son for the sins of the father. But why can't you blame the father for the sins of the son? In other words, and to paraphrase that famous bumper sticker about the conservative religious organization, maybe old man Quayle should have focused a little more on his own damn family while he was at the White House.

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Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News, and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.

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