Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

The Quayle Theory of Vice-Presidential Selection

The process of selecting Vice-Presidential candidates is one of the most mysterious processes for outsiders to American politics. It is rife with stories of “backroom” deals, exchanges of influence, access to major donors, and seeking someone who balances the appeal of a candidate within their own party. It is often also about finding someone who can follow orders, and will even subsume their own views and opinions in favor of the “top of the ticket”, the Presidential Candidate.

Though all of this is true, I think there may be something else at play in the selection of a candidate for the Vice-Presidency of the United States. I have named this theory, not after the first time it was applied, but after what I think was its most obvious application… Dan Quayle.

For those of you who may not remember (or have tried desperately to forget), Dan Quayle was the Vice President to George H.W. Bush, from 1988 to 1992. Even the Wikipedia article about him makes fun of him, and though it is flagged for too many quotations (most of them of Dan Quayle), it is not flagged for bias. The article claims that it was thought that George H.W. Bush was “impeachment proof”, simply because no one in their right mind, or even not in their right mind, wanted to hand the Presidency of the United States over to Dan Quayle.

And that, at its core, is the Quayle Theory of Vice Presidential selection. That, as the Presidential Nominee, you choose someone who is so anathema to your radical opposition that, no matter what you do, they would still rather have you as President than your Vice President.

Thankfully, this does not always mean we get Vice-Presidential nominees who are junior Senators from Indiana who think that “it is time for the human race to enter the Solar System” or that potato is spelled potatoe, or that Phoenix is in California, or that Chicago is a State (not a city).

According to this theory, each Presidential Candidate must look closely at the most radical elements of their opposition, and choose a Vice Presidential Nominee that their opposition will despise even more than themselves.

In the case of George H.W. Bush, his most radical opposition was from intellectual liberals and moderates. So, he chose someone who thought Mars and the Earth shared an orbit, and who began a public argument with a fictional character (Murphy Brown, played by Candice Bergman) about out of wedlock pregnancy.

And so, liberals were praying for George H.W. Bush’s continued good health, not working to impeach him. No one considered taking a shot at him. He was the safest President in history.

Bill Clinton’s major radical opposition was from the religious right, and from separationist libertarians. So, he chose as his running mate one of the most liberal members of the Senate, who had an image of being a “big government tree-hugger”. He still got impeached, but not seriously… and no one made any serious attempts to harm him while he was in office.

George W. Bush found his major radical opposition, at least before the war, to be from anti-corporation liberals… and so he chose the former head of Haliburton to be his running-mate. The same choice worked fine when the anti-war activists became the major radical opposition… because if anything Vice-President Cheney is more pro-war than President Bush. Even with as controversial a presidency as George W. Bush has had, there have been no attempts to impeach him, (even in a Democrat controlled Congress) and no public attempts on his life. Simply put, no matter how much his radical opposition would like to see GW Bush out of office… they would rather have him as President than Dick Cheney.

Now, let me state this very clearly before I get a visit from some Secret Service Agents. I am merely pointing out a trend in American politics. I am not attempting to advocate that anyone seek to do harm to anyone, much less any political figures, and certainly not the President. Violent solutions to problems are against my faith. Now, if a few agents still want to come and talk to me, I would be happy to make you tea. My tea service is renowned…

There are many other examples of the Quayle theory in the history of the American Presidencies, but I think you get the drift… and by focusing on the last three administrations, we can see the truth of it in our own reactions to said Presidencies. I for one have and continue to wish wonderful good health to each of these Presidents, because they have been and continue to be much better choices than their running-mates.

I think there is another aspect to this theory as well, and that is that every once in awhile the Vice President is required to remind the American People why the President is a better choice. Dan Quayle went out and said that he wished he could speak Latin, so he could better converse with the people of Latin America. Dick Cheney used the word my young soldiers and sailors refer to as the “f-bomb” on the floor of the Senate. Al Gore took credit for the internet on CNN in an interview with Wolf Blitzer.

Not everyone has applied the Quayle theory. Sometimes there are overriding factors, such as the “party unity” reason that John F. Kennedy chose Lyndon B. Johnson… and the “experience and connections” reasons that Ronald Reagan chose George H.W. Bush. Notice any trends in the Presidencies that resulted from these choices? And what about Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon? Nixon tried the Quayle Theory with Agnew… but you have to make sure your Vice-President does not have to resign before you do.

So, as Senators McCain, Clinton, and Obama begin to think about possible running mates, watch for whether and how the Quayle theory is applied in that selection. Perhaps you will see John McCain nominate someone who is ultra-conservative, to not only appeal to the conservative base but also to insure that liberals will be praying for McCain’s good health and disposition (please God don’t let it be Huckabee…).

Clinton might nominate someone perceived to be much more liberal than her image… someone who opposes the war vehemently, who is perceived as inexperienced, and who perhaps has some connections that conservatives find threatening… hmm… didn’t she say something about Obama as a running mate this morning?

Who might Obama be looking at… Well. That one is a bit harder, considering how anathema he already is to most of his radical opposition. He has that in common with George W. Bush. But perhaps someone from completely outside the normal political system… maybe a liberal minister or someone considered very activist. I wonder if former Executive Director of Amnesty International USA and Former President of the Unitarian Universalist Association Rev. Dr. William Schulz is looking for a gig…

And yes, this article is slightly tongue-in-cheek… but only slightly!

Yours in Faith,


3 Thoughts on “The Quayle Theory of Vice-Presidential Selection

  1. I hate to leave a quibble on a post I liked, but even if you meant it as a joke, Gore didn’t claim to invent the internet. See snopes.com or any number of sources on that myth. As far as I know, the rest of the silly and appalling things you say veeps did, sigh, they certainly did.

  2. Will,

    Thank you so much for the correction. I am changing the wording in the article from “invented the internet” to “took credit for the internet”, which seems much more in line with the actual interview with Wolf Blitzer that I was referencing… and I think still fits in with the kind of gaffes that VP’s tend to make. It was political hyperbole run amuck.

    Thank you for the correction!


    “But it will emerge from my dialogue with the American people. I’ve traveled to every part of this country during the last six years. During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country’s economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system.”

    Yours in Faith,


  3. Pingback: Celestial Lands » Blog Archive » A Vision of Fear or of Hope?

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