Presidents with vices

THIS is the year when Americans will be consciously voting for a vice-president. In the old days, one voted for president and that was that, but nothing is simple anymore. A few days ago, one of my friends down at the town tennis courts said, ``It would be easier to vote for Dukakis if Bentsen were running for president.'' He may have meant the ticket would work one way as well as another. Or he may have been thinking of how the president would look standing next to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

George Bush tried to clear things up for his running mate in a speech to the veterans. Dan Quayle, he implied, is qualified to be vice-president because he didn't burn the American flag. It makes a clean and simple qualification, but in Senator Quayle's case there always seems to be some confusion between competence and patriotism.

The puzzled public has been told at least 500 times that vice-presidential nominee Quayle looks like Robert Redford. Before the convention, however, no one ever told Mr. Redford he looked like Mr. Quayle. This may mean only that more people go to the movies than visit golf courses.

Quayle at 41 isn't exactly young. He only seems young. What the news media got at the convention was an impression of immaturity. At a time when Quayle should have been scared, overawed, or impressed with the great responsibility being thrust upon him, the first words of his acceptance speech were a vapid ``I can see we're going to have a lot of fun in this campaign.''

Anyway, there may have been good reason for nearly all of the 13,000 reporters at the Republican convention suddenly circling hapless Quayle. Maybe it is because they thought when Mr. Bush opened his mouth they could believe just exactly what they were getting. When Quayle opened his, nobody could believe it.

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