The big crowd oozes slowly into Arizona State University's Gammage Auditorium. It's early morning, and in a few minutes Vice President Dan Quayle will speak.
An appearance by Quayle on a politically active campus would spark dozens of protests. There are few dissidents at ASU. It is a student body made up of varying shades of conformists.
A group of ten students bearing placards lines the concrete walk leading to the auditorium's student entrance.
What Is Quayle's Handicap? Himself," one sign suggests.
Make Me Vice President. That's a Real Idiot's Job," declares another.
When You Start the Next War, Will You Go, Too?" asks a sign carried by a young woman.
Phoenix Suns vs. Portland Trail Blazers
TicketsWed., Nov. 2, 7:00pm
Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators
TicketsThu., Nov. 3, 7:00pm
Arizona State University Sun Devils Hockey vs. University of Michigan
TicketsFri., Nov. 4, 7:05pm
2016 Charles Schwab Cup Championship
TicketsWed., Nov. 9, 9:00am
The students want to confront Quayle. The speech is billed as the highlight of his Arizona visit. On the day before, Quayle played a much-publicized round of golf in the afternoon and appeared at a Republican fund-raising dinner in the evening. This morning, we are treated to some keen detective work by the United States Secret Service. The agents spot the students and don't like the looks of their signs. Secret Service agents rarely like anything.
Sensing the possibility of embarrassment, they reroute Quayle into Gammage through a door on the opposite side of the building.
Spared the spectacle of the insults printed on the signs, Quayle is in buoyant spirits. The vacuous grin that has become his trademark is present as he walks onstage in the big hall designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. He wears a blue suit with a white shirt and a red tie.
The student band seated in the pit below the stage plays loudly.
This is the coziest of political tableaux. Waiting onstage for Quayle is the university's president, Lattie Coor, and retired Senator Barry Goldwater.
Coor was appointed president last year by lame-duck former Governor Rose Mofford. Coor's credentials to assume command of the 40,000-student campus consisted solely of the fact that he was the oldest son of one of Mofford's old friends.
For Mofford, such a move was not a surprise. She made it a practice during her brief period as governor to do favors for old friends.
Goldwater slouches in a chair onstage. He holds a cane in his right hand. He wears sand-colored comfort shoes. Now in his 80s, Goldwater is revered by the Paradise Valley and Phoenix Country Club sets. To them, he is the genius behind the Republican conservative movement.
Recently, Goldwater startled friends and other acquaintances by announcing that, at 80 years plus, he was planning to marry again.
Goldwater has undergone several surgical procedures in recent years. He has had a heart by-pass. Both hips as well as a shoulder have been replaced.
Best thing about Dan Quayle," Goldwater growls during his brief opening remarks. He went to school in Scottsdale and his grandfather was a very successful newspaper publisher." Goldwater was referring to Eugene Pulliam, the late publisher of the Arizona Republic and Phoenix Gazette. Both newspapers had made elaborate arrangements to assure that this event was staffed by teams of reporters and photographers.
Throughout the morning, staffers from the two newspapers scurried about, wearing serious faces, taking copious notes and looking as efficient as possible. They behaved with such seriousness you had the impression they felt their every move was being rated by the vice president.
Quayle steps to the microphone. He doesn't have to wait long for the polite applause to die down.
Barry referenced my growing up here in the Valley," Quayle says. Well, I remember how my dad used to bring me out here on Saturday nights to see the ASU football games." Quayle pauses slightly. Then, in a loud voice, he delivers what he apparently considers to be a key line: I've been a Sun Devil fan for a long time and I still am!" Quayle looks over his shoulder toward Goldwater.
Now, he repeats the classic lines from Goldwater's acceptance speech at the Republican convention on July 16, 1964.
I would remind you that extremism in defense of liberty is no vice," Quayle says, quoting that most famous of Goldwaterisms. Let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." Applause rolls over the auditorium. The young Republicans recognize Goldwater's words immediately.
They applaud. Somehow, they consider that these words constitute a brilliant political declaration.
But, of course, they are living in a dream world. There never was any prime time for Goldwater except in the minds of right-wing Arizonans.
In the period of his highest visibility, Goldwater was never more than a national joke and a political embarrassment.
Shortly after Goldwater made his speech at the Republican convention, one of Lyndon Johnson's bright speechwriters came up with a devastating reply:
Extremism in pursuit of the presidency is an unpardonable sin," the speechwriter wrote for LBJ. Moderation in the affairs of the nation is the highest virtue." Johnson beat Goldwater in an absolute landslide.
Goldwater, the candidate, was revealed to be a combination of the worst Southern racists, right-wing military extremists and crazed, anti-Communist fringe members. He was even one of the right-wing diehards in the Senate who stuck with Senator Joseph McCarthy to the end.
Throughout his botched presidential campaign, Goldwater was always ready to dabble in any irresponsible demagoguery that promised votes.
Here is what makes his appearance with Quayle so fascinating on this day. They are a pair of Arizona lightning rods. In his day, Goldwater was considered to be just as much of an intellectual lightweight as Dan Quayle is today.
I was sitting midway back on the main floor. Make no mistake about it, this was a crowd that admired both of them.
As Quayle stumbled through his shopworn speech, I was fascinated by the tableau created by this Arizona political triumvirate.
Quayle and ASU President Coor hold their jobs by accidents of birth.
In his golden years, the Goldwater story is being heavily rewritten. Before our eyes, he is being transformed into a legend.
If there is ever a hall of fame for Arizona political figures, Goldwater will be the first inducted.
The Goldwaterites would have us believe he was a roughhewn, John Wayne type who strode his own path. They would have us believe he was also one of the great military pilots of the century.
In actuality, Goldwater was the wealthy grandson of a Jewish department store owner. He became the hero of racist forces in our society and went on to pass himself off as an Episcopalian.
He was an Air Force reserve general who became a close ally of powerful defense contractors. There was never any grand war record to boast about. The only thing that was ferocious about Goldwater was his politics.
Goldwater used to take delight in telling bigoted audiences that only low education and low intelligence were the real causes of poverty. He never explained how he would have made it after a single year of college if a top place in Goldwater's department store had not awaited him.
His greatest claim to fame was his development of a product he called antsy pants," a line of men's undershorts decorated with ants that Goldwater advertised in the New Yorker magazine.
What is there to be said about Quayle after the heavy-duty smooching delivered to his cheek by Bob Woodward and David Broder in that remarkable Washington Post series? It is a sustained piece of writing so vapid as to defy the imagination.
The fact that Quayle is vice president says even more about George Bush's erratic thinking.
About ten minutes into Quayle's speech, at 9:37 a.m. by my watch, Goldwater voted with his feet. Without looking up, he arose from his chair and walked across the stage, leaning heavily on his cane. Goldwater disappeared from view. He was not to be seen again.
A few minutes later, Quayle realized that Goldwater had defected.
Lattie Coor, the school president, knew it, too. He sat staring at Quayle with his mouth open in horror.
Oh well," said Quayle, that's Barry."
And that's Dan. That's Lattie, too. Some trio.
A question-and-answer period followed.
Students and faculty members lined up in the two outer aisles and spoke their questions into microphones set up and guarded by Secret Service men.
You might be interested to know what kind of questions they asked. No one asked about the poor. No one inquired about race relations. None of these young Republicans seemed concerned about the millions who are unemployed and without hospitalization insurance.
One man was incensed that government funds were being wasted in the spending of tax dollars on homoerotic art.
Another complained that the Bush administration was not protecting people's Second Amendment rights to possess AK-47 automatic weapons.
Quayle cautioned against going overboard on this point.
My dad was a member of the NRA," Quayle said proudly, and they taught me how to handle a weapon." Lest anyone doubt where he stood on the issue, Quayle added: I believe a person commits the crime, not the gun." Another man asked if it was true that the space program was falling behind schedule.
A woman who claimed to be a member of the faculty complained about the lack of funds for education and the low salaries for teachers.
(She was apparently unaware that President Coor only this month hired a new football coach for approximately $500,000 a year. This certainly indicates that for faculty members with the right talents, the sky is the limit.)
I am absolutely convinced," Quayle said, raising his voice, that our education system is the finest in the world." This was greeted by thunderous applause.
Sensing this was the proper time to end the session, Quayle raised one arm skyward and shouted:
Go, Sun Devils!" With that, he walked swiftly off the stage. The visit of the vice president to the students of Arizona State was finished.
OUR OWN OLIVER STONE ... v1-29-92
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.