But why has Quayle's gaffe been fodder for American comedians ever since the incident, yet Barack Obama's repeated gaffes are ignored, or shrugged off as a simple verbal mistake? After all, I thought in politics that a political career is largely about image, and gaffes like Obama's would be devastating to his candidacy if he was any other politician.
Even more interesting is that Dan Quayle, despite his boyish looks, was a well-informed, politically savvy young man.
During most of his term as Vice President, Dan Quayle traveled around the world representing the president of the United States. He had meetings with heads of state, gave speeches to all types of groups, and Dan Quayle managed to avoid any serious gaffes.
June 15, 1992, however, would be the day of the gaffe that would ruin his political career.
The day began with Quayle flying out of Washington for a speech in New York. Quayle told the Manhattan Institute that New York was a mess because the liberal political policies of the past 40 years had failed.
Quayle, however, knew little about his next stop, but a visit to Trenton was needed to help spotlight the city’s Weed and Seed program, which still provides anti-drug education to grade schoolers while they also are being watched by adults until their parents get home from work.
The visit in Trenton was the Munoz Rivera School, where Quayle spoke with some women involved in the anti-drug program. He saw a drill team perform and looked in on some self-esteem classes before his aides started hustling him off to another classroom for a staged spelling bee.
The idea was to have Dan Quayle read words off of some flash cards, and have the kids spell them on the blackboard.
An aide asked, "Has anyone checked the cards?"
"Oh, yeah," responded another. "We looked at them and they’re just very simple words. No big deal."
William Figueroa, age 12, a sixth-grader from the Mott School in the South Ward who had been bused to Munoz Rivera to take part in the vice presidential event, knew how to spell potato, and he wrote it in a legible script on the blackboard when Quayle announced his word for the spelling bee.
Quayle looked at the blackboard, then at his contest card, and gently and quietly told the boy, "You’re close, but you left a little something off. The "e" on the end.
"So William, against his better judgment and trying to be polite, added an "e" and won applause for it from those assembled in the classroom, including Mayor Doug Palmer.
The misspelling wasn’t mentioned until the end of the press conference afterward, when one reporter asked Quayle, "How do you spell potato?"
"I gave him a puzzled look, and then the press started laughing. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized anything was wrong," wrote Quayle in his 1994 memoir.
None of the staff had caught it, or told him. Dan Quayle was caught off guard, and began to rattle something about not getting into spelling matters, to fill the air.
The following morning the front-page story in the newspaper was about how the Vice President couldn't spell potato, and how he was basically an idiot.
On national television the scene in the Trenton classroom was playing over and over. Comedians loved it, and the David Letterman Show called The Trentonian newspaper the morning after seeking help locating young Figueroa so he could be invited on the show.
The young man did indeed join Letterman's show, saying to David Letterman on the air, "I knew he was wrong, but since he’s the vice president I went back to the blackboard and put an "e" on the end and went back to my seat." He then added, "I know he’s not an idiot, but he needs to study more. Do you have to go to college to be vice president?"
[edit on 31-7-2008 by LLoyd45]