GOP vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle came to Utah on Friday to campaign for his ticket and to appear with Gov. Norm Bangerter, who himself seeks re-election.
Any presidential or vice presidential candidate is welcomed. It gives Utahns, sometimes left out of the national exposure, a chance to view them up close.Quayle's visit also gives Utahns a chance to consider the national news stories about his National Guard days. For most Utahns, the matter was way overblown.
Certainly, the national press pounded on Quayle for days without, it seems, bothering to track down the story itself.
Especially during the final two days of the National Republican Convention in New Orleans, national TV reporters were running around asking if Quayle was harming Vice President George Bush's campaign without bothering to go to Huntington, Indiana, Quayle's hometown, and ask former guard commanders if there was any truth to the rumors.
Well, it's been 10 days or so since the first stories about Quayle's enlistment into the guard were first reported. It appears we know what happened to the young 22-year-old Quayle in 1969. A family friend and employee did make a call on Quayle's behalf, a spot in the guard was held open for him, but there were vacancies and he could have gotten in without the call in the first place.
So it's clear Quayle will survive this mini-tempest and remain on the Republican ticket. The political question is still whether Bush's candidacy will be helped, harmed or unaffected by Quayle?
Only time will tell.
But the ironic part of all this is that the group most likely to take sides on the Quayle matter - the Baby Boomers who were draft age during the Vietnam War - is the group Bush hoped to influence the most in picking Quayle.
Bush says Quayle is a generational candidate; that Quayle will appeal to those his age, while at the same time herald a shift in leadership in America from the WWII generation to the Vietnam generation.
Such a symbolic candidate was, and is, a great idea. It's a chance for Bush to really make a statement, break away from aging Reagan, and reach out to the younger voting bloc. Unfortunately, Bush picked a man who brings with him some of the unpleasant realities of that war.
As could be expected from a man who didn't live through the Vietnam War in the way Quayle's generation did, Bush misunderstood the motivations of those times.
There may have been some young men who honestly joined the National Guard because they really wanted to. Perhaps their fathers were guardmen and they wanted to follow in those footsteps. Maybe they wanted the extra money or excitement of military service the guard brings. Maybe they wanted to serve their country in that part-time basis.
But for most - and I did live through that time and had a number of close friends in the guard and reserve - young men joined the guard and reserve because they didn't want to be drafted into the war. It was as simple as that.
Joining the guard was an honorable way to avoid the war. You still served your country, you just didn't have to risk shooting people or getting shot yourself to do it. And, like Quayle, you could continue your schooling or your career.
In short, the guard and reserve were a way to get through the war years with as little shake-up in your personal life as possible.
Younger Americans, who read about the Vietnam War in history books, won't think much about Quayle's military career. Older Americans who resented the war protestors won't think much about it.
But many Baby Boomers may. Men who fought in Vietnam will have some opinions - for or against. Men who waited in long lines to sign up for the guard and who wore wigs to cover their long hair during their military weekend drills will have some opinions. Men who protested against the war, ducked the draft or otherwise evaded the war will have some opinions.
Whether those opinions, after all these years, are strong enough to influence their votes this November must wait to be seen.
It's clear that Quayle's selection by Bush is making people think about some things they haven't thought of in a while. And I don't think Bush had that in mind when he picked Quayle as a running mate.