Academic Record and Military Service Defended : Quayle Dogged by Unfavorable Stories

Times Staff Writers

On their first day as a campaign team, Vice President George Bush and his designated running mate, Sen. Dan Quayle, spent much of Wednesday on the defensive--answering questions about the background and qualifications of the young, little known man whom Republicans are about to nominate for vice president.

Bush told a news conference that Quayle, 41, a second-term senator, was chosen not only for voter appeal but also because of the record he has established as “a rising young star” during four years in the House and eight years in the Senate.

“I’ve listened to his peers, and the accolades from the senators, with whom he serves, speak eloquently of his standing to be one heartbeat away from the presidency,” Bush said.


Nevertheless, the Bush campaign was dogged by a variety of potentially embarrassing stories that quickly surfaced about the GOP vice presidential choice--including reports of a mediocre academic record, of nasty campaigning, of using influence to gain entry into the National Guard instead of risking the Vietnam-era draft and of a reputation as a lightweight in the Senate.

The questioning of Quayle’s background clearly put the Republicans in a defensive posture at the very moment they had hoped to start attacking the record of Democratic nominee Michael S. Dukakis. It fulfilled the predictions of those Republican officials who had warned that the campaign would lose valuable time against the Democrats if Bush failed to choose as his running mate a known quantity such as Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas or Rep. Jack Kemp of New York.

Quayle supporters strongly defended the young senator’s behavior, noting that many of the stories were being dredged up by former political opponents. Even some Democrats such as Rep. Andrew Jacobs Jr. of Indiana argued that nothing in Quayle’s background disqualified him from serving as vice president.

But Bush’s opponents quickly attacked the perceived weaknesses of his running mate.

Former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, the 1984 Democratic candidate for President, described Quayle as “light, very light.” And Bob Blaemire, a former political opponent, asserted: “He is not qualified to be one heartbeat away from the presidency.”

At DePauw Unversity in Greencastle, Ind., from which Quayle was graduated in 1969, professors remember him as a mediocre student who earned a C average and a D in political science. In fact, one professor remarked that he would “inevitably think of Dan Quayle” whenever he heard the school’s former president, Richard F. Rosser, remark that the world is run by C students.

“Nothing came out of his mouth that was worth remembering,” said Michael Lawrence, who was a political science professor at DePauw during Quayle’s era.

Opposition of Degree

In fact, Quayle’s record was so lackluster that the faculty voted 32 to 24 in 1981 against giving the newly elected senator an honorary degree. The decision was reversed, however, after Rosser argued that Quayle had already been invited to serve as a commencement speaker and that it would be embarrassing for the school to deny him a degree.

“Some of us raised the issue of why we are giving him an honorary degree,” Robert Sedlack, professor of English, recalled. “We felt he had been a mediocre student, had spent two undistinguished terms in the House of Representatives and had done nothing to distinguish himself in the first year in office as a senator.”

Republican political consultant Mark Helmke, who has known the senator since 1976, recalled that a DePauw professor had accused Quayle of having plagiarized some of his school work. But those DePauw professors interviewed by The Times said there was never any proof of plagiarism.

“There is nothing there,” said a professor who asked not to be identified. Helmke added: “It was nothing more than sour grapes and academic elitism.”

Boisterous Speaker

Quayle’s reputation as a mediocre intellect followed him from college into Congress, where he is known as a boisterous speaker whose face turns red and arms flap wildly when he gets excited about the issue being debated. Critics note that he frequently talks at length about issues whether he completely understands them or not.

A Reagan Administration official, who asked not to be identified, said that Quayle “doesn’t seem to think before he talks.”

In 1986, for example, when the Senate was debating a bill to reorganize the Defense Department, Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) interrupted one of Quayle’s speeches to propose a compromise on the issue being discussed--the creation of a procurement czar. Then-Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), ranking Republican on the committee, rose to accept the proposal.

Stunned Other Senators

But, after the matter had been settled, Quayle stunned everybody on the Senate floor by continuing to debate the subject--prompting Goldwater to tell him in an audible stage whisper to “sit down” and be quiet.

Also, a congressional source remembers an incident in a closed committee meeting in which Quayle stood to propose an amendment but started to read from a paper on a different subject. He never realized it was the wrong paper until an aide approached and gave him the right one.

Nevertheless, his colleagues report that Quayle is informed on defense issues and is known as a legislator who does his homework, relying heavily on the advice of his professional staff. In fact, the Congressional Quarterly, in a promotion for its book, “Politics in America,” once cited him as one of the most underrated members of Congress.

“He works hard; he’s not lazy,” one Democratic critic acknowledged.

‘Had to Prove He’s Smart’

Helmke contends that Quayle’s critics often assume he is a lightweight because good-looking people are often stereotyped as unintelligent. “He’s always had to prove he’s smart,” said Helmke. “He’s like a beautiful woman who has to prove she has brains.”

Although many of his political opponents describe Quayle as a genuinely nice guy, Blaemire says the senator is not above using nasty tactics to win an election. Blaemire was political director for Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.), whom Quayle unseated in 1980 with considerable help from the fundamentalist right wing.

Blaemire, who was interviewed by telephone, provided The Times a copy of a brochure printed by Quayle’s Senate campaign which he said misrepresented Bayh’s stand on a number of issues said to be “of concern to the Christian community.”

Control of Youth Camps

The brochure suggests that Bayh supported “promotion of homosexuality,” “sex education for elementary students” and “federal control of all church youth camps and conference grounds.”

In addition, Blaemire said that right-to-life groups accused Bayh of being a “baby killer"--a charge that Quayle never disavowed. “We expected Quayle to disavow the baby killer charge, but he never did,” he said.

But Jacobs, a Democratic congressman from Indiana who has served with Quayle, rejects allegations that Quayle conducted a mean campaign in 1980 and insists that the young Republican disavowed the most slashing attacks on Bayh by the National Conservative Political Action Committee.

“He is not a mean person,” Jacobs said.

Quayle joined the Indiana National Guard in 1969. He served for six years while, at the same time, going to law school and working in a variety of state government jobs, including one in the governor’s office.

‘Cheap Shot’ Charged

At a news conference with Bush, Quayle said he thought it was “a cheap shot” for his opponents to charge that, by joining the Guard, he was seeking to escape service in Vietnam. He noted that his younger brother joined the Marines at the same time that he signed up for the Guard.

“I did not know in 1969 that I would be in this room,” Quayle said.

When asked in television interviews Wednesday night whether someone had acted on his behalf to get him into the Guard, Quayle paused, took a deep breath and then said:

“You’re going back 20 years. Let me say this: I was very interested in getting into the Indiana National Guard. I am sure that I let a number of people know that I was interested in getting into the National Guard.”

Quayle did not specify to whom he had talked about his desire to join the Guard, but he said he was “almost certain that the governor or lieutenant governor were not involved in that.”

He added that, if his Guard unit had been called up for active duty, he would have “been proud to serve in Vietnam.”

“I don’t think there is a problem there,” said Bush Chief of Staff Craig Fuller, referring to Quayle’s military service. “He chose a way to serve his country.”

Marijuana Used Denied

Like other politicians of his generation, Quayle has been asked often whether he ever smoked marijuana. Although the senator has denied using it, he once pondered the advantages of legalizing marijuana, according to Helmke.

In 1977, Helmke, then a reporter for the Ft. Wayne News Sentinel, wrote a story saying that Quayle, a staunch conservative, had told him he was considering whether marijuana should be legalized. After the story appeared, Quayle told him he had concluded it was a bad idea.

“It was mere speculation,” Helmke recalled. “It was all very iffy--something to think about and something to talk about over lunch. There was nothing to it.”

Although Helmke never asked Quayle whether he had experimented with marijuana, he is convinced that the senator is telling the truth when he denies it. “That was not Danny’s bag,” he said.

Staff writers Keith Love, David Lauter and Richard E. Meyer contributed to this story.