By Pete Kotz
on Mon, Sep 29, 2008 at 3:03 PM
I can’t recall the year, but it was sometime in the mid-‘90s. Dan Quayle was in Columbus, Ohio as part of a book tour to peddle his autobiography. I was among the media geeks summoned to chronicle this very minor moment in American history.
At the time, Quayle had been cast aside by the Republican Party. Bush I’s attempt to channel John Kennedy by making this Ken doll senator his vice president had failed miserably. The public, quite simply, thought Quayle was a moron -- though in a benign way, like that nice neighbor you tend to avoid for fear that each minute of conversation will cause a corresponding drop in your IQ.
After the book-signing, Quayle hosting a brief Q&A with the media geeks. He answered the initial questions the way many politicians do: You ask question X, and he responds with a prepared monologue, whether it relates to the question or not.
But it wasn’t long before Quayle ran out of pre-fab rhetoric. The questions were still coming, yet he was now forced to page answers from his own mind. His face tensed with visible panic, his truncated sentences spilled out in a random selection of half-thoughts. He had spent a lifetime being coached by expert handlers. Without these people, the man could barely speak.
Up until that moment, I never believed our leaders were as stupid as they seemed on TV. But here was a former vice president, taking softball questions from reporters just going through the motions. We all knew that our “Has-Been Politician Visits Ohio” stories would attract a collective audience of eight readers. It’s not like we came with sharpened spears. We just wanted to get in and get out.
But Quayle could barely keep up with this perfunctory exchange. He literally looked like a deer in the headlights, though the deer would probably fair better on a middle school sociology exam. That’s when I knew: Dan Quayle was truly stupid. I walked away feeling sorry for the guy.
I hadn’t thought of this episode in years until I begin seeing Sarah Palin interviews. I hate to say it, but I think she’s Dan Quayle, The Sequel.
Can I ask a favor? Forget, for a moment, your partisan proclivities. Just watch the video above. Catch the stumbling and half-baked logic. Watch how she tries to jam pre-paid sloganeering into awkward spaces. See how empty and forced her face becomes during those moments where she must rely on the resources of her own mind.
I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing Dan Quayle in a pink suit.
I have a friend with a very sound thesis on politics: He believes the president should be smarter than him. And that’s the problem I have with Palin. I can think of perhaps a dozen people I know who could better matched wits with Katie Couric. Regular people who simply think about the world, keep abreast of events, are capable of citing specific legislation, and have composed thoughts of their own on all these matters. One’s even a chronic pot head.
So when a vice presidential candidate can’t intellectually keep pace with my friend the pot head, I get a little worried.
But there is an upside to this situation. Maybe Palin will be the last of the stupid presidential candidates.
Ever since Reagan, America’s been enamored with dumb guys. Though conservatives tend to lionize him through the rear-view mirror, we forget that he too could barely speak without a script (and ran up deficits and corruption on par with Bush II). His gift was acting, playing the grandfatherly president—FDR meets Henry Fonda.
Republicans believed they’d struck lightning. Let’s keep hiring the dumb guy who looks good on TV! So they brought on Quayle, then Bush II, and now Palin. Alas, their acting chops were strictly community theater.
Quayle, fortunately, never had the opportunity to spectacularly self-combust. Bush, unfortunately, was given ample opportunity to melt down the world, which his policies nearly did last week. It all leads to that kind of “Holy Shit!” moment where people say, “Hmm, maybe we should stop hiring stupid guys.”
And this cannot be good for Sarah Palin. Because after seeing her speak off the cuff a few times, there’s a good chance you’ll be repeating after me: “I think that lady just might be stupid.”