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Quayle joins Bush in a curious quest for downward mobility

There, to paraphrase an immortal line from a presidential debate, he goes again.

Vice President Dan Quayle, giving way anew to the self-pity that always threatens to engulf both ends of the Republican ticket, is whining that he's up against it in his upcoming debate with Sen. Al Gore.

Poor him. He's only a public high school graduate, and he has to face a graduate of "the most expensive private schools in Washington, D.C."

It was not always so. In his acceptance speech, Quayle seemed to brag about his proletarian background _ "a small farming community in Indiana . . . a life built around family, public school ..."

Now, however, it's a drag.

It was the speech in which the vice president introduced what has become a truly grotesque theme in the campaign: a challenge to Clinton on the humble-status front. Both Quayle and Bush have suggested that vis-a-vis Gore and Clinton, they are underprivileged. Quayle evoked the pathos of his boyhood when he "shared a bedroom with my brother in our two-bedroom house." The pity of it.

Both Quayle and Bush are trying to reclassify themselves, so to speak. Although Quayle's grandfather was a newspaper publisher, which might have given him some standing in the community, Quayle has insisted on the modesty of his circumstances. Bush, an alumnus of Andover and Yale, is suggesting that in debates he is an underdog because that dirty dog Clinton went to Oxford. He makes withering comments about the "Oxford Debating Society" _ "I am not a member" _ and the effete and cowardly Oxonians who hung out with Clinton in the Vietnam years and with him inhaled the pernicious doctrine of "social engineering."

You would think that Bush and Quayle would resist challenging Clinton, whose father died before he was born and who spent some of his childhood in a home without plumbing and worked his way through college. He is an unassailable member of the lower middle class.

But Bush knows no restraint in his curious quest for downward mobility. Quayle was just trying to catch up.

The principal of Quayle's old high school is not amused, although he is trying to understand.

Says Van Bailey, who got his diploma from Huntington High two years after its most treacherous alumnus: "I was a little offended, but the more I thought about it, I thought it was a political ploy said in jest. Quayle is where he is right now because of his education. I hope he clears it up."

Spokesman David Beckwith said it was meant "tongue in cheek."

The vice president probably meant no harm _ he usually doesn't. He was just trying to prove he is a card-carrying member, like his leader, of what former Sen. J. William Fulbright calls "the swinish cult of anti-intellectualism."

Quayle could have figured that he would offend every public school graduate in this country, including your correspondent. If private schools are better than public schools _ and we concede nothing _ it would be because our "education president" is trying to make them so by his reprehensible doctrine of school choice. He is trying to revive the public schools by forcing them to compete with private schools.

Kicking a cripple is not a cure. It is simply a way to pander to Catholic voters by subsidizing their children in parochial schools.

At Huntington High, according to Principal Bailey, Quayle could have gotten as good an education as at Gore's prep school. No cold showers or Sunday evensong with the headmaster, but advanced courses aimed at college entrance.

At Girls' Latin School in Boston, which was a kind of educational boot camp, we, at age 11, trudged through Gaul with Julius Caesar _ with the baggage, the bridges, the ablative absolute, Vercingetorix, the Helvetians, the prisoners, the gerundives and the past imperfect. Our girls got the best scholarships, but our lives were worth nothing. We had to translate 50 lines of Virgil every night, and no visual aids or field trips.

We could have been bitter or insufferable. We unhesitatingly chose the latter. Were we guilty of "cultural elitism," the social crime Bush and Quayle want to stamp out? You bet.

And it goes on. You see bumper stickers from the brother school, Boston Latin (founded in 1635, it will have you know) that read "Sumus primi" _ we're No. 1.

Too bad our inexorable English teacher, Miss Gladys Heyl, never got a crack at Quayle. History might have been different had she been able to run him through her sentence-diagraming drill. Think what she would have made of one of his recent lunges at educational analysis: "What a waste it is to lose one's mind _ or not to have a mind. How true that is."

Universal Press Syndicate