The insecurity Vice President Dan Quayle betrays when facing a television camera is not evident in a one-on-one interview. Seated at his desk in the White House and talking about the economy, Quayle appears well-informed, knows what he wants to say, and says it effectively. This doesn't mean that Quayle offers new insights about the economy or its problems: His thinking is about what you would expect from a pro-free market, pro-deregulation, pro-business, conservative Republican.
With Bush fighting a medical problem and Quayle just a heartbeat away from the presidency, the tendency among journalists and other critics has been to bash Quayle as an intellectual cipher.
That's the wrong approach, although it's easy to disagree with Quayle and to worry when he says he's impressed with supply-sider Jude Wanniski, and also consults with Arthur Laffer, two of the economic gurus who helped sell Ronald Reagan on what Bush once called "voodoo economics."
It seems to me the media ought to report what Quayle is thinking to the extent it can be learned. Here's a start _ a sampling of Quayle's economic views, from an interview set up at my request:
On taxes and recession: "Low taxes are equal to Republicanism. . . . A capital gains tax (cut), especially in this environment, would certainly generate more revenues. I mean, we've got a recession on our hands, we've got a situation where there is not the economic activity that we should have."
On the Federal Reserve: "You've got to have a monetary policy _ and I think that (Fed Chairman Alan) Greenspan understands this _ that is compatible with economic growth and expansion of our economy."
On the environment: "The Clean Air Act . . . was the first significant piece of environmental legislation that's passed in 13, 14 years, a Republican piece of legislation. But yet, my Competitiveness Council is going to be very careful about how you go in and regulate this, and not put unreasonable costs on the economy that would be counterproductive."
On Japan: "I view Japan as the linchpin to security and stability in the Pacific region. . . . On the other hand, since Japan is an economic superpower, she needs to act like one . . . (and) that means that there has to be a clear understanding that (since) she has access to our markets, we ought to have access to their markets."
On America's role in the world: "I don't think that anybody, at least I'm certainly not, and I know the president's not willing to abdicate that status of being No. 1 to anyone."
Apart from Wanniski and Laffer, who are Quayle's economic advisers? The vice president also mentioned Martin Feldstein, a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, a mainstream conservative. Quayle's most important outside sources, he said, are business leaders who can tell him better than economists "how the clock is ticking."
On the inside, Economic Council Chairman Michael Boskin is a day-to-day consultant. Quayle also has relied on White House aide Lawrence Lindsay, now awaiting confirmation as a Fed governor, and to a lesser extent on Greenspan.
History shows that presidents, when the burden of the Oval Office is thrust upon them, invariably gravitate to the center. Quayle places too much faith on supply-siders who have already left the nation with a legacy of deficits and debt. A vice president seeking an economic education, and desiring to erase widespread doubts about his capabilities and potential, should begin by picking the brains of a wider spectrum.
Washington Post Writers Group