Woman of Will and Wit
Certainly the past four years have offered plenty of opportunity to do just that, with mixed results. In some quarters, Quayle has reinforced an unenviable image as a caustic, possibly mean-spirited partisan. But even those who dislike her grudgingly acknowledge that the Second Lady has proved herself an effective political operative, at least the equal of her husband, as well as an indispensable ally. But now, as the campaign rushes to its conclusion, with the odds for re-election looking dim for the Bush-Quayle ticket, Marilyn may soon find the envelope she loves to push becoming markedly smaller. Which is not to say that she is about to fade into the political background.
At the moment, she will not consider any future that includes her husband's defeat. If she eventually pursues a career of her own, she insists it will not be at the expense of her family. After all, her most conspicuous moment in the campaign so far was her battle cry for "family values" at the Republican National Convention in August. She declared that liberals had been disappointed in efforts to push their feminist agenda "because most women do not wish to be liberated from their essential natures as women." Many women were outraged by what they saw as a veiled attack on mothers who work outside the home. But that was never her intent, says Quayle, who insists she was merely calling on women to exercise care in the balancing of job and family.
Family for the woman born Marilyn Tucker meant not only nurture but discipline and exhortations to succeed. Her parents, Warren and Mary Alice Tucker, both doctors in Indianapolis, raised their four girls and two boys to work hard and aim high. With each report card, the kids were required to sit down with their father for a private consultation. When it turned out that sister Sally was severely hearing-impaired, all the Tuckers learned to read lips as an act of solidarity.
Marilyn's parents also had some very definite ideas about moral instruction. They regularly listened as a family to tapes circulated by Houston fundamentalist Col. R.B. Thieme Jr., who preached an extreme right-wing doctrine that included warnings against satanic propaganda. Marilyn grew into a conforming yet precocious adolescent. She earned the nickname Merit, which she carried until well after college, for her proficiency in school. "Marilyn was a kind of a tomboy," says childhood friend Chris Katterjohn. "She was definitely not a fading flower. She was a formidable individual."
After graduating from Purdue University, she entered Indiana University Law School and worked in the state attorney general's office. It was in school that she met fellow law student J. Danforth Quayle. As Dan recalled it, "It was love at first sight." The romance caught Marilyn by surprise. "I hadn't planned on getting married. I wasn't going to have kids," she said. "I was going to practice law and make a name for myself." Nonetheless, 10 weeks after their first date, in 1972, she and Dan were married. In July 1974 she gave birth to son Tucker two weeks before the state bar exam. Still tender, she took—and passed—the test while sitting on a rubber doughnut.
Even so, she practiced law only briefly. In 1977, Dan began the first of two terms in the House of Representatives, moving up to the Senate in 1981. Marilyn quickly began playing an influential role in Dan's work. But she scoffs at the notion that she was deciding his positions for him. "Yes, I'd get briefing papers," she says. "It wasn't because I was reading them for him. He was reading them too."
To this day she continues to be dogged by the impression that behind her grin is a cold manipulator who can be ruthless when it comes to her own power and her husband's image. Once, Marilyn asked the National Park Service to open the Manassas Civil War battlefield in Virginia on a day it was closed so she could go riding with her daughter, Corinne. Then there was the time, according to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and David Broder, she decided that a large photo of Dan hanging in the Vice President's office made him look too chubby, so she look it down, kicked it and tore it up in front of astonished aides. As Marilyn sees it, though, the press is solely to blame for her negative notices and especially for the mockery that has been directed at her husband. "There was a determination early on that I was this hard-nosed puritan," she says. "They want to project the image that I lead Dan by the hand."
Like her predecessor Barbara Bush, Marilyn has a suite of offices near her husband's in the Old Executive Office Building, next door to the White House, but it is relatively modest in size. She has also tried to maintain as normal a home life as possible. Tucker, now 18, is a freshman at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, while Benjamin, 15, is a student at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, and Corinne, 13, attends the National Cathedral School. Though the Quayles are wealthy (their net worth is roughly $1 million), Marilyn has continued shopping at Price Club stores.
To her credit, Marilyn has also plunged into her public campaigns with impressive seriousness and enthusiasm. One cause she champions is disaster preparation, a choice that gave rise to more than a few guffaws when she first declared her interest four years ago on the heels of her husband's widely derided first vice presidential campaign. Yet since then, Quayle has earned the respect of disaster officials by her willingness to tromp through mud on glamorless fact-finding missions.
But her most passionate crusade has been in the battle against breast cancer. Even longtime acquaintances were startled by a speech she gave in Dallas in 1989, when she spoke for the first time publicly of her own family's experience with the disease. "Preparation is the only way some women can hold on to life," she told the audience, explaining why she now included mammograms as part of her regular physical. "I do it for commonsense reasons. I also do it in memory of a woman who didn't prepare. She was herself a doctor, a pediatrician, yet at the age of 55, when she found a lump in her breast, her own physician told her not to worry." When at last treatment was administered, it was too late. "The woman died a few months later," said Quayle, tears streaming down her face. "She was 56 years old. She was my mother."
Whatever the outcome of the election, the Quayles are likely to remain important players in the GOP. "The vice presidential debate showed that Dan Quayle is not the village idiot," says Kate O'Beirne of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. "Dan Quayle will be on the A team for 1996. And Marilyn Quayle is very much a political partner to Dan Quayle." On ABC's Good Morning America last week, Marilyn Quayle seemed to give credence to a bid by her husband for the White House, saying she hopes he will run in 1996, even though "from my personal standpoint I'm not sure it's something that I would want.
As for her own ambitions, Marilyn Quayle acknowledges that before the 1988 election she was thinking about getting back into practicing law. When her husband was tapped as Bush's running mate, there was some talk among Republican Party elders that Marilyn should be named to fill out Dan's unexpired Senate term until a by-election could be held. "I studied it pretty carefully," she says. In the end she decided against it. But if another opportunity comes along, the answer might be different. As she puts it, with a lighthearted loss of her flip, "There's a whole other world out there."
LINDA KRAMER in Washington, D.C.