The Vice Presidential Debate; Bentsen and Quayle Attack on Question of Competence to Serve in the Presidency

The Vice Presidential Debate; Bentsen and Quayle Attack on Question of Competence to Serve in the Presidency


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October 6, 1988, Page 00001Buy Reprints

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Senators Dan Quayle of Indiana and Lloyd Bentsen of Texas clashed angrily last night during a Vice-Presidential debate in which each insisted that he could handle the burdens of the Presidency.

Pressed repeatedly about his qualifications for high office, Mr. Quayle argued that his years in the Senate, where he has served since 1981, made him far more able to deal with military, foreign policy and budget questions than Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts, the Democratic Presidential nominee.

''Qualifications for the office of Vice President or President are not age alone,'' said the 41-year-old Mr. Quayle. ''You must look at accomplishments, and you must look at experience.'' [ Transcript, page B20. ] Bentsen Cites 'Maturity'

Mr. Bentsen said the issue before Americans was which of the two men could serve as President should ''tragedy'' strike.

''You have to look at maturity of judgment,'' said Mr. Bentsen, 67. ''And you have to look at breadth of experience.''

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The emotional high point of the nationally televised 90-minute debate came quickly after Mr. Quayle had asserted, ''I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the Presidency.'' 'You're No Jack Kennedy'

Mr. Bentsen replied in a somber tone: ''Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.''

The cutting remark drew both applause and hoots from the audience gathered at the site of the debate, the Omaha Civic Auditorium.

Mr. Quayle, obviously angered, said, ''That was really uncalled for, Senator,'' to which Mr. Bentsen replied, ''You're the one who was making the comparison, Senator.'' Mr. Bentsen added that Mr. Quayle and Mr. Kennedy were ''so far apart'' in their goals for the country that Mr. Quayle's comparison had been inappropriate. The Reagan Record

Throughout the debate, the nominees argued the strengths and weaknesses of the Reagan Administration, with Mr. Quayle contending that ''the liberal Governor of Massachusetts'' would roll back the economic gains of the last eight years.

Mr. Bentsen, referring to the thorny Federal budget deficit, retorted, ''If you let me write $200 billion of hot checks every year, I could give you an illusion of prosperity, too.''

Mr. Quayle, under icy control during much of the debate, returned to carefully prepared answers about his qualifications when pressed three times as to what he would do immediately if required to assume the Presidency. Finally he said the question itself was ''hypothetical'' and therefore unanswerable. Decorations for a Debate

The 10,000-seat auditorium where the debate took place had been condensed into a 2,000-seat theater decorated for the occasion in red, white and blue. Only 100 seats were available to the public at large, the rest having been reserved by the Democratic and Republican campaigns.

Mr. Quayle looked at times confident, at times impatient and at times edgy as he answered questions posed by four journalists: Judy Woodruff of PBS, the moderator; Tom Brokaw of NBC News; Brit Hume of ABC News, and Jon Margolis of The Chicago Tribune.

The Republican nominee spoke in measured, seemingly rehearsed although occasionally halting phrases. But he gave an impassioned reply when Mr. Margolis suggested that he had not always been forthcoming with news organizations inquiring into his past.

''I am and I stand here before you tonight as the most investigated person ever to seek public office,'' Mr. Quayle declared, staring straight into the television camera.

He said ''thousands of journalists'' had pored over every aspect of his life, including his admittedly lackluster academic record at college. ''It's not whether you're an average student,'' he said, ''it's what you're going to do with your life.''

Mr. Bentsen's manner throughout the debate was also clearly rehearsed, if somewhat smoother. And, until his apparent flash of temper over Mr. Quayle's comparing himself to President Kennedy, he appeared reluctant to depart from familiar lines taken from his campaign speeches. Third Such Debate

The debate was the third in the nation's history between major Vice-Presidential nominees, and almost certainly the most important of them. Recent polls suggest that Mr. Quayle's presence on the Republican ticket has been damaging the standard-bearer, Vice Preside