"In Ayn Rand's wonderful book Atlas Shrugged, the main question throughout the book is 'Who is John Galt?' The question everyone now is asking is, 'Who is Dan Quayle?'"
—Reporter in a newspaper article for the New OrleansTimes Picayune
Dan Quayle was the otherwise forgettable vice president of the otherwise forgettable first President Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush. Originally a senator from Indiana, he became well known after George Bush named him as his running mate. Most famous for essentially being a non-entity catapulted into the spotlight, and for making several Malapropers and/or misinformed remarks; the most common caricature of him is essentially as politics' Ralph Wiggum.
He famously was judging a spelling bee and told a child who had gotten the answer correct that it was wrong, then proceeded to "correct" them to the wrong version. That this was a single incident in which Quayle was reading from an answer card prepared by a teacher was irrelevant—he quickly became forever known as the man who spelled it "potatoe".
Quayle made a comment in which he claimed that the show Murphy Brown was disreputable because of its positive portrayal of a professional woman who chose to be a single mother. The show's producers responded by airing an episode in which Murphy dealt with the criticism, featured several real-life single parents, and generally took the high road in dealing with the speech (both in terms of the fictional character and the show itself)... until the very end of the episode, when they showed a dump truck backing up to Quayle's official residence and dumping a load of the obvious vegetable while a radio commentator notes that Quayle should count himself lucky he didn't misspell "fertilizer."
In the 1988 vice-presidential debate, Quayle, then only 41 years old, compared himself to John F. Kennedy, who at 43 years old when he won in 1960 had been the youngest presidential candidate in American history. A very famous reply by Democratic vice-presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen occurs, where Bentsen said:
The nomination of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as Republican vice-presidential candidate to John McCain in the 2008 Presidential Campaign raised the issue that Palin may have been yet another Quayle-type candidate, someone brought out of obscurity who wouldn't outshine the presidential candidate. This may have backfired, as Palin not only did just that, but her propensity for misspeaking earned her comparisons to Quayle for a whole different reason; indeed, conservative pundit David Frum said the comparison wasn't fair to Quayle.
Democratic counterpart Joe Biden's propensity for misspeaking was brought up in the same election, but not nearly as much: Biden is well-known to be a very smart guy with serious, proven policy credentials who happens to let his mouth run faster than his brain sometimes; the same could not be said for Quayle or Palin.
Dave Barry was fond of referring to Quayle as the best security George Bush could have, on the basis that nobody would assassinate Bush if it meant Quayle as president.
There was also a common joke (most famously related by then-Senator John Kerry) that "If Bush is shot, the Secret Service has orders to shoot Dan Quayle."
It also has been used for Vice President Dick Cheney. The people who hated George W. Bush saw him as an idiot whereas they saw Dick Cheney as genuinely evil.
Likely dates back to Nixon at a minimum, who joked that "no assassin in their right mind would kill [him]" because it would result in President Spiro Agnew. Popular but notoriously corrupt, Agnew became only the second Vice President to resign from the office in American history, and the first to resign under threat of criminal chargesnote specifically, tax evasion, though he was later accused of accepting bribes as well, which coincidentally took place less than half a year after the Watergate scandal first broke and may have cleared the way for Nixon's downfall less than a year later.
National Space Council chairman Quayle failed astronomy forever: "Mars is essentially in the same orbit [as Earth]....Mars is somewhat the same distance from the Sun, which is very important. We have seen pictures where there are canals, we believe, and water. If there is water, that means there is oxygen. If oxygen, that means we can breathe."
The thing about that quote is, every single one of those statements is true, From a Certain Point of View. Mars' distance from the sun is, well, not similar (the Martian year is 687 days), but it is within the Sun's habitable zone, where liquid water could regularly exist. People did think they saw canals on the Martian surface when they first studied it. There is water on Mars, frozen in the permafrost, and water molecules do contain oxygen atoms which can be liberated by electrolysis (and, hence, breathed, without the need to carry your own oxygen supply to Mars from Earth). Presumably Quayle read a lot of pulp SF as a kid.
Some more quotes that aren't really that excusable:
"Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child."
"It's time for the human race to enter into the solar system."
"We have a firm commitment to NATO; we are a part of NATO. We have a firm commitment to Europe; we are a part of Europe."
"I believe that we are on an irreversible trend toward freedom and democracy, but that could change."
"What a waste it is to lose one's mind. Or to not have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is."
"The Holocaust was an obscene period in our nation's history. I mean this century's history. But we all lived in this century. I didn't live in this century."
However, he did NOT say "I was recently on a tour of Latin America, and the only regret I have was that I didn't study Latin harder in school so I could converse with these people." That was a joke made about him which everybody eventually attributed to him actually saying that (a similar situation to Sarah Palin and "I can see Russia from my house").
There exists a Where's Wally? parody entitled Where's Dan Quayle? which challenges readers to spot Quayle in different locations, including the Republican National Convention and a Palm Springs golf tournament. You can't make this stuff up.
A puppet of him made frequent appearances on DC Follies.
In the TL-191 series by Harry Turtledove, Jake Featherston's Confederate vice-president is an amiable nonentity called Don Partridge, a Shout-Out to Quayle who spends most of his time making up ribald jokes. The last book suggests that his demeanour was at least in part an act, though.
This ranking is probably a joke, and a bit of an artifact/tradition at that; Quayle was VP at the time the first Civilization game came out (in 1991), when the joke would've been obvious, and since then it's just persisted.
Civ 4 also uses his quote "The future will be better tomorrow" for the technology Future Tech.
The Tiny Toon Adventures episode "Washingtoons" had Buster and Babs Bunny seek his help to prevent the Moral Guardian villain from wiping their "toonniness". In this episode, Quayle is portrayed as Stupid Good who runs around his room all giddy yelling "Buster and Babs are in my room!" (though at least there were no Murphy Brown or potato jokes).
He appeared (somewhat) in an episode of Super Dave's cartoon, when Dave met the President. Quayle acts like a young child throughout the segment...while Dave gives him a piggyback ride.
Quayle: Horsey, horsey!
Super Dave: That's enough from you, Mr. Vice President.
The Red Dwarf episode Legion mentions several future supergeniuses whose surnames are ironically those of people known in the present for being stupid, including (singer Noddy) Holder, (impressionist Bobby) Davro and (Dan) Quayle.
In the Eerie Indiana episode "No Brain, No Pain" that came out during the Bush-Quayle years, one character threatens to destroy another character's brain, saying he's about to get "vice-presidential".
Fallout 2 has Daniel Bird, vice-president of the American shadow-government, the Enclave, who volunteered as a test-subject for a biological weapon, and ended up severely brain-damaged when the experiment when haywire. When the Player Character meets him, all he does is standing around idly in his office and sprouting random lines, which are more or less paraphrases of or directly lifted from some of Dan Quayle's statements.
Doonesbury, in keeping with its portrayal of Bush as a literal Invisible President, depicted Quayle as a floating, disembodied feather (the implication being that he's a "featherbrain"). One series of strips dealt with the hypothetical death of President Bush (from choking on his Trademark Favorite Food, a pork rind) and Quayle's swearing in.
Capitol Critters featured the President's cat as a villain for the mice characters. The vice-president's cat is a clumsy doofus with a tie and a haircut similar to Quayle's.
The following tropes are associated with Dan Quayle:
Never Live It Down: During the roughly 4 1/2 years (between being named as GeorgeHWBush's running mate to the time his time as Vice-President ended; he managed to get at least 3 of these: the comment during the 1988 Vice-Presidential debate that led to his Democratic counterpart; Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen, delivering his famous "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" retort; the MurphyBrown speech in which the point he was trying to make about the problem of fatherless homes was lost in the reference to the sitcom; and shortly after that came the "potatoe" incident.
Preppy Name: Quayle's full name is James Danforth Quayle; and when he first became George H.W. Bush's running mate, many in the media assumed this was a result of his family heritagenote While Quayle's maternal grandfather was Eugene Pulliam of the Pulliam newspaper fortune; by the time he was elected Vice-President, Quayle's net worth was just under $1 million; with CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather having a habit of adding "III".In Quayle's 1994 book, Standing Firm (covering his time as Vice-President); he mentions that he was actually named after a fraternity brother of his father that was killed in WorldWarII.