LOOKING back over the two conventions, one is struck by a contrast. Michael Dukakis is better at choosing and managing people than is George Bush. Governor Dukakis had two personnel problems to resolve at the Democratic convention. He had to harness Jesse Jackson to the party's campaign without giving him the vice-presidency or control over the platform and campaign strategy. And he had to find a plausible candidate for the second place on the ticket.
He was successful in both. He gave to the Rev. Mr. Jackson the prominence at the convention and the role in the coming campaign which as the folk hero of the black community Jackson earned. But he also managed it without diminishing his own leadership.
And his selection of Lloyd Bentsen as his running mate was wise. The senator from Texas is conservative enough to help move the image of the party toward center, which is itself a prudent maneuver in these times. And Senator Bentsen is the very picture of mature political wisdom. He looks like what he is, a veteran of the political wars. He exudes political experience. You know that if history should call upon him to take over the presidency, he would not do anything foolish.
George Bush had only one personnel problem at his convention, picking his running mate. His choice was neither wise nor successful. The wisdom of a choice like that is measured by the results. Here are some of the results of the choice of Sen. Dan Quayle for the vice-presidential nomination:
The story of Senator Quayle's 1969 choice of the National Guard over waiting for a notice from his draft board preoccupied the convention and was still front-page news four days after the delegates had gone home. The Bush plan had called for using the convention as a launching pad for opening an immediate offensive campaign. Mr. Bush and his associates were put on the defensive. They have lost at the very least four days of effective campaigning.
The furor over the National Guard affair caused many Republicans, and others, to take a further look at the young senator from Indiana and wonder whether he was a good choice for the vice-presidential nomination in other respects.
In advance of the decision on Mr. Quayle, Bush declared that he would choose a running mate qualified to take over the presidency. But now the general assumption is that he chose Quayle because Quayle is conservative enough to satisfy the people who put up most of the money for a Republican presidential campaign and also appeal to the new voters of the ``baby boom'' generation.
A question is being asked. Why? The mere asking passes judgment on the choice. Bush had a wealth of potential running mates. Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, or his wife, former White House chief of staff Howard Baker Jr., just resigned Secretary of the Treasury James Baker III, and Jack Kemp all have admirable qualifications.
The choice of Quayle blunts the defense issue for the Republicans. The Bush campaign had intended to make a big thing of the charge that Dukakis is ``soft on defense.'' But picking a political ``hawk'' who votes for every big defense appropriation but preferred the shelter of the National Guard to the risk of being drafted for combat in Vietnam weakens the case.
Finally, and perhaps most important of all, the affair raises a question about Bush's political judgment. How presidential is a man who chooses an untried, unproven, and national unknown for his running mate when he might have had a Dole (either one), a Baker (either one), or Mr. Kemp?
In the Bush camp they are saying it is a minor matter soon to be forgotten. In the back rooms where the veterans of the Republican Party gather, they see it differently. They suspect that Bush, by picking Quayle, has blown the campaign and the election.