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"I believe we are on an irreversible trend towards more freedom and democracy, but that could change."

"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 Orleans Times-Picayune

James Danforth "Dan" Quayle (born February 4, 1947) is an American politician who was the otherwise forgettable vice president under George H. W. Bush. He was a little-known senator from Indiana before Bush Sr. tapped him as his running mate in 1988, and he became a non-entity catapulted into the spotlight. He promptly used that spotlight to make several malapropisms and misinformed remarks, giving him a reputation for verbal gaffes that he could never shake. The most common caricature of him is as a political Ralph Wiggum.

A list of his most (in)famous quotations include:

  • His first gaffe on the national stage took place in a 1988 debate against his opposite number, Democratic VP candidate Lloyd Bentsen. Quayle was asked whether his age would be a factor — at 41 years old, he would be a remarkably young vice president. Quayle responded that it wasn't an issue in 1960, when John F. Kennedy won at age 43 despite being the youngest presidential candidate in American history at the time (and noted that both he and Kennedy had first entered Congress at age 29). Bentsen did not take kindly to this no-name non-entity comparing himself to freaking JFK, and he gave this famous retort:
    Bentsen: Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.
  • His most infamous gaffe was when he was judging a spelling bee and spelled the word "potatoe". More embarrassingly, the child initially gave the right spelling before Quayle decided to "correct" it. Quayle later explained that he had felt uneasy but that it was spelled incorrectly on the answer card a teacher had given him, and he was bound to follow it.note  Nobody cared, let alone believed him, and he quickly became forever known as the man who spelled it "potatoe".
  • He was something of a Captain Obvious, with lines like:
    "Quite frankly, teachers are the only profession that teach our children."
    "For NASA, space is still a high priority."
    "We are ready for any unforeseen event that may or may not occur."
    "Who is to blame for the riots? The rioters are to blame. Who is to blame for the killings? The killers are to blame."
    "Hawaii has always been a very pivotal role in the Pacific. It is in the Pacific. It is a part of the United States that is an island that is right here."
    "Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things."
  • In other instances, he was... unclear and inarticulate:
    "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."
  • One of his most contested quotes was: "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." This is often thought of as another one of his gaffes, this time scientific. But a lot of what he said here is a garbled recitation of scientific speculation; there is technically water on Mars (it's just frozen in the permafrost), people did think there were "canals" on the Martian surface (albeit a long time ago), and Mars is technically within the Sun's habitable zone (similar to Earth), meaning liquid water could theoretically exist there. It would just take a hell of a lot of work to make the electrolysis to liberate the oxygen atoms in the water to create a breathable oxygen supply. He's a politician; who can expect him to know about science? Oh, wait, he was the chairman of the National Space Council. Sigh.
  • He commented that Murphy Brown was disreputable because of its positive portrayal of a professional woman who chose to be a single mother. He took a lot of heat for the implication that single motherhood was bad — and that it was, to use his words, "just another 'lifestyle choice'", implying that it was a consequence of female promiscuity. Candace Bergen, who played Murphy Brown, understood it differently and agreed with Quayle on one key point: that it was wrong to dismiss fathers. The series itself responded with an episode in which Quayle's comment happened In-Universe, showing Murphy herself and several real-life single parents dealing with the criticism. It generally took the high road — up until the very end, when it showed a dump truck backing up to Quayle's official residence and dumping a load of potatoes.
    Radio commentator: He's lucky he didn't misspell "fertilizer".

Quayle soon became the butt of many jokes on the comedy circuit in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It led to a few "new" quotes being mistakenly thought to have been said by the real Quayle.For example  Even his fellow politicians got in on the act, with one of the meanest coming from then-Senator John Kerry: "If Bush is shot, the Secret Service has orders to shoot Quayle."note  He would later become the main point of comparison when future vice-presidential candidates turned up with sparse resumés and a tendency for gaffes, most notably John McCain's 2008 running mate Sarah Palin. (Palin was such a prolific malaproper that conservative pundit David Frum thought such a comparison was unfair to Quayle.)

Quayle more or less disappeared from the public eye after Bush Sr. lost reelection in 1992. He declined to run for president in 1996 because of illness, and while he briefly sought the Republican nomination in 2000, he soon withdrew. But he turned up unexpectedly in 2021, when it was revealed that outgoing Vice President Mike Pence (also from Indiana) had asked his predecessor Quayle whether the VP had the power to refuse to certify the 2020 election results (as outgoing President Donald Trump insisted he did), and Quayle told him no — in no uncertain terms. Given that this helped avoid a constitutional crisis, pundits started questioning whether they had to thank this man for saving American democracy.

The following tropes are associated with Dan Quayle in portrayals of him in media:

  • Malaproper: He fell into this periodically, and became famous for it.
  • Memetic Mutation: Was on the receiving end of "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."
  • 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 he came from a rich family because of his name.note  CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather had a habit of calling him "James Danforth Quayle III". Quayle's autobiography mentions that he was named after a fraternity brother of his father who was killed in World War II.
  • Small Reference Pools: During the four-plus years between being named as George H. W. Bush's running mate to the end of his time as Vice President, at least three of his above-listed gaffes will almost always be mentioned when he's referenced in the media: "You're no Jack Kennedy", the "Murphy Brown speech", and "potatoe".

Dan Quayle in media:

  • In 13, all of the characters go to Dan Quayle Junior High School, home of the Quayle Quails.
  • In Bloom County, the mere mention of his name will terrify Bill the Cat into sweating (damn useful for making a cat-sweat hair tonic).
    Milo: (to Bill) President Quayle! (to Oliver) He's sweating.
    Oliver: I'm sweating.
  • In chapter 12 of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, he apparently spelled it "ransome".
  • The short-lived 1988 show Mann & Machine, set 20 Minutes into the Future, often referenced "President Quayle".
  • There exists a Where's Waldo? 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.
  • 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, though, suggests that his demeanor was at least in part an act.
  • In Civilization, he is listed as the worst leader in human history. Worse than Æthelred the Unready, Warren G. Harding, and Emperor Nero. It's a Running Gag; the first Civilization game came out in 1991, when Quayle was still VP, and they've kept the joke running ever sense. Civ 4 also uses a quote of his for the technology Future Tech: "The future will be better tomorrow."
  • The Tiny Toon Adventures episode "Washingtoons" had Buster and Babs Bunny seek his help to prevent the Moral Guardian villain from wiping their "toonniness". Quayle is portrayed as Stupid Good, running around his room giddily yelling, "Buster and Babs are in my room!" No mention of Murphy Brown or potatoes, at least.
  • In Fear, Loathing and Gumbo on the Campaign Trail '72, an Alternate History scenario, Quayle is a National Guard sergeant called up to reinforce the army in Vietnam due to the war escalating there again after 1972. He becomes nationally known as a war hero, then gains new notoriety for leading a mutiny of troops protesting their inhumane treatment.
  • In the Super Dave cartoon, Dave meets him while visiting the President and finds him to be a Manchild, who even gives Dave 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 Donnie Darko the conservative teacher Mrs. Farmer announces her intention to vote for 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. He 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 stand around idly in his office and spout random lines, which are more or less paraphrases of Dan Quayle's lines — if not lifted directly.
  • 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 a pork rind) and Quayle's swearing-in.
  • Capitol Critters featured the President's cat as a villain for the mouse characters. The vice-president's cat is a clumsy doofus with a tie and a haircut similar to Quayle's.
  • Dilbert took many shots at Dan Quayle in its early years, ranging from saying he doesn't know how to put pants on by himself to suggesting he was created by The Muppets.
  • An early episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 had the bots discuss dreams. Servo mentions having a nightmare about a senator from Indiana becoming Vice President.
  • One of the singles on Oingo Boingo's final album (as Boingo, which is also the name of the album) is "Insanity," an eight-minute "The Reason You Suck" Speech to the world, complete with an absolutely brutal snipe at Quayle (especially poignant, as Boingo was released only four months after he had left office):
    The white folks think they're at the top, ask any proud white male.
    A million years of evolution? We get Danny Quayle.
  • He appeared As Himself on an episode of Major Dad to speak of the importance of honoring American service members.
  • John Heard plays a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Quayle in My Fellow Americans.