Dear Dan Quayle: The former vice-president is about to become a newspaper columnist. Some words of advice from an experienced practitioner

So you, too, are going to be a columnist. Welcome to the fraternity.

As you know, columns are the only things anyone reads in the papers anyway. It's where the public finds the writer it agrees with, who will make its day, start it off growling against unwed mothers or Tory fetishists. Gorbie does it; if offered enough money, Maggie would do it; why shouldn't you? At least it gives you a chance to strike back at your brethren, who so long and so cruelly lampooned you, set you up and lured you into a famous misspelling, twisted your every word to suit their own baby-boomer ends.

I hope you know what you're getting into. Ours - as you should know, since your family's been in the newspaper business long enough - is a cut-throat, dog-eat-dog world. Columnists are paid to be horribly consistent. On this paper, one poor chap has to be funny day in and day out, another has to be sombre and apocalyptic once a week. It's not easy. But at least you will have no difficulty finding subjects. The rosy-cheeked world into which you were born, and which you always seemed to pretend still existed, back when you were First-Baseman Georgie-Porgie's Vice-President, is no longer. I suspect daily change is not what Americans had in mind when they voted for Our Bill. So maybe they'll listen to you and you'll get to run for the Real Job in '96.

At least you've started off on the right foot. Creator Syndicates, your new employer, strikes me as the ultimate marketing organisation. If God's behind you, what do you care that some will snicker? The two or three times our paths crossed, I found you anything but stupid. A bit earnest perhaps, a bit too brightly washed behind the ears, but with your heart and your facts in the right place.

But you will have to accept that there are people, over here, over there, who find it silly to talk about eternal verities. Your first column, which is being syndicated worldwide, tackles family values, a subject on which most of your colleagues will not long want to dwell; nor do they know much about them. But they're real enough, if talked about more than practised.

Your boss, one Richard Newcombe, calls you 'the most articulate man to emerge from 12 years of Republican rule'. You might want to get him to tone that down: Ronnie was one hell of a raconteur and George's only trouble was that he didn't know where he was from, the silver-spoon East Coast or raunchy Texas. You were always plain Indiana Hoosier, an apple-pie man. Stick to that.

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