Quayle wants to be the top potato

31 January 1999

In 211 years of the United States presidential election history only George Washington was returned unopposed for the post in 1789 and 1792.

John Adams was elected Vice President and he subsequently succeeded Washington in 1797.

In November next year Americans will be electing their 43rd president. Though it is still nearly two years away, there is no shortage of candidates who have already offered themselves to be America's chief executive in the new millennium. One of them is Dan Quayle.

You are forgiven if you asked Quayle who? Even in the US his name is not exactly a household name. However, he is well remembered by Americans as the man who could not spell potato. Quayle, 51, a lawyer, now wants, against all odds, to be America's next top potato. He told CNN's Larry King Live last week that he wanted to live in the White House.

Quayle who? He became a favourite target of-talk-show comedians and his detractors when he served as Vice President under President George Bush from 1988-1992- thanks to a series of embarrassing gaffes, such as when he told a primary pupil during a visit to a school in New Jersey that "Potato" is spelled with an "e" at the end. The pupil told him in his face that he was a bad speller.

Following the eruption of the Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton sex scandal early last year, Quayle, whose wife, Marilyn, has long been considered one of his key political advisers, said that "adultery will be the question for anyone running for president in 200C, smugly adding: "I can pass that test.."

Quayle's announcement came two weeks after Elizabeth Dole (she definitely can spell potato having been a scholar at Harvard), the wife of the former senator and defeated Republican candidate against Bill Clinton in 1996, hinted that she might run for president.

The favourite candidate among the Republicans is the popular governor of Texas, George W. Bush, who has not as yet made up his mind. The eldest son of former president George Bush will be a formidable candidate against Gore, the front runner among the Democrats. Bush is known as a "compassionate conservative" which makes him acceptable to a broad number of Americans besides those within his own Republican party. His other advantage is he also speaks Spanish , a great asset in American politics these days.

Gore will claim some credit for the general improvement in American life since he joined the Clinton administration which began in 1993.

In American presidential history there were many Vice Presidents who eventually occupied 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Amongst them were Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and George Bush. Well, I think a dozen out 42 made it to the top.

Before Bill Clinton from Arkansas, Andrew Jackson, another Southerner from Tennessee, was the only president ever impeached though he was not convicted. A single vote saved him.

The fate of Clinton is still being debated. I do not expect him to be convicted even if accusations of perjury and obstruction of justice are proven because the Republicans do not have a two-thirds majority in the Senate. Furthermore, the Democrats will never help the Republicans convict their man in the White House because they do not believe perjury over sex, even before a grand jury, and his other attempts to conceal his liaison with Monica Lewinsky warrant his sacking, thus overturning an election result.

The Senate - at the time of writing - divided almost precisely along party lines, had voted to summon Monica Lewinsky and two other witnesses for depositions in the impeachment trial of Clinton. It also voted against dismissing the charges against the President. However, as I said, Clinton would survive because the Republicans could never muster anything approaching the 67 votes required to convict him, unless of course, Lewinsky or one or both of the two other witnesses drop a bombshell, a real dynamite. Otherwise Clinton, though guilty, would not be punished!

On a personal level, I was an intern in Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson's office in the spring of 1962. My assignment in Johnson's office was chronicled in the Washington Post, and one or two Malaysian newspapers and other periodicals. LBJ, as he was popularly known, became the first president to visit Malaysia in the late 60s, and in honour of his visit to the Felda scheme in Labu, it was renamed Kampong LBJ.

Had Clinton come as planned to the Apec meeting in Kuala Lumpur last December (canceled only at the very last moment purportedly because of the impending US-Iraqi crisis), he would have been the second US President to experience our famous hospitality.

Instead, his Vice-President, AI Gore, came. He gored us and made his name infamous in our country for a fortnight.