Dan Quayle derides the defense policies of Michael Dukakis as ``a litany of retreat.'' It's no wonder he feels that way: The Republican vice-presidential nominee and the Democratic presidential candidate could hardly be further apart when it comes to matters military.
A look at Senator Quayle's record during his 7 years in the Senate shows that he is one of the most hawkish members of Congress. Indeed, on arms control matters, he is more conservative than President Reagan.
Quayle has, for example, voted against every major arms control effort initiated by Congress, has regularly supported major new weapons systems, and has steadily pressed for high levels of defense spending.
He has not, however, been a mere shill for the Reagan administration. Many of his positions have been shaped by a fiscal conservatism that has set him in conflict with some administration policies. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, for example, Quayle has concentrated on cost-containment, criticizing the way the Pentagon buys things.
On veterans issues, Quayle's conservatism has led him to support and oppose White House policies - either way to the consternation of veterans organizations.
This year, for example, Quayle voted against funding for veterans outreach centers (supporting the administration's position), against elevating the Veterans Administration to cabinet-level status (opposing the administration), and against legislation that would have given veterans the right to take the VA to court when benefits are denied (supporting the White House). Each vote constituted a black mark on the tally sheets of many veterans' groups.
``I guess there could be a couple of people in the Senate who are worse'' on veterans issues, complains Barry Kasinite of the 35,000-member Vietnam Veterans Organization of America, ``but Quayle is near the bottom.''
Moreover, his skepticism of arms control agreements has left him in a gadfly's role where Reagan administration arms control efforts are concerned. He led the early opposition to the INF Treaty, though he ended up reluctantly voting for its ratification. He has expressed skepticism about the ongoing talks to cut US and Soviet stockpiles of long-range nuclear weapons by 50 percent.
``I would think Jesse Helms would be to his right,'' says Kim Holmes, a defense analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. ``But on defense matters, [Quayle] is one of the most conservative members of the Senate.''
Not surprisingly, a man with a record such as Quayle's provokes strong reactions from both ends of the political spectrum. Conservatives generally run to Quayle's defense, asserting that he is a diligent politician who has chosen to concentrate on a few selected areas, that he does his homework, and that he makes a good case for his positions on the Senate floor. ``He goes to the conferences with all the defense experts, he reads the material, he listens, he asks pointed questions,'' Mr. Holmes says.
Some liberals, on the other hand, are quick to lampoon Quayle as a lightweight, a man with an aptitude for hiring clever staff, and a man who does little more than learn his lines well.
``I think a lot of people rolled their eyes when they heard about the Quayle announcement,'' says John Isaacs, a lobbyist for the Council for a Livable World, an arms control organization. ``I don't remember him doing much in the Senate until the last couple of years.''
If it seems that way, Quayle's defenders respond, it is because he had spent the preceding years learning the Senate ropes and steeping himself in the complex defense issues in which, in recent years, he has made his name.
In 1984, for instance, Quayle headed a comparatively low-profile Armed Services Committee task force that investigated Pentagon procurement practices and recommended a number of legislative proposals to encourage competition and the participation of small businesses in defense contracts. By the next year, that panel had been transformed into a full-fledged subcommittee on procurement, with Quayle as its chairman.
During the following two years, as reports of profligate Pentagon waste were publicized, Quayle forged bipartisan alliances to reform procurement procedures.
``He's a hard-line conservative,'' asserts one White House lobbyist, ``who knows how and when to cooperate with the other side.''