Lloyd Bentsen Dies at 85

Longtime Texas Senator and Clinton Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen has died.

Lloyd Bentsen Photo Lloyd Bentsen, a courtly Texan who represented the state in Congress for 28 years and served as President Clinton’s first treasury secretary, died Tuesday morning, his family said. He was 85.

Bentsen, also the Democratic 1988 vice presidential nominee, died at his home in Houston. It was during that campaign that he told rival Dan Quayle in a debate, “You’re no Jack Kennedy.”

His distinguished political career took him from the humble beginnings of a county office in the Rio Grande Valley in the 1940s to six years in the U.S. House, 22 in the U.S. Senate and two in the Clinton Cabinet, where he was instrumental in directing the administration’s economic policy.

The Quayle zinger, almost certainly Bentsen’s least honorable public moment, will likely be the thing for which he is most remembered. That’s a shame, as he was by all accounts a decent man and a solid public servant.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. As a republican, I think Bentsen got it right with his zinger. With no disrespect to Quayle, he wasn’t a Jack Kennedy. Just as Bentsen was no LBJ. You can take it as an insult or a compliment.

  2. Len says:

    Actually, I believe the “Quayle zinger”, as you call it, was one of Senator Bentsen’s finer moments. Let’s look at it in context

    Dan Quayle had been asked three times during the 1988 vice presidential debate why he felt he would be qualified to assume the office of president if he were called upon to do so. Each time, he had evaded the question. Finally, on the third attempt:

    QUAYLE: I will be prepared not only because of my service in the Congress, but because of my ability to communicate and to lead. It is not just age; it’s accomplishments, it’s experience. I have far more experience than many others that sought the office of vice president of this country. I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency. I will be prepared to deal with the people in the Bush administration, if that unfortunate event would ever occur.

    BENTSEN: Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy. (Prolonged shouts and applause)

    Senator Quayle, well aware that he had been seriously burned, objected…

    QUAYLE: That was really uncalled for, Senator. (Shouts and applause)

    BENTSEN: You are the one that was making the comparison, Senator – and I’m one who knew him well. And frankly I think you are so far apart in the objectives you choose for your country that I did not think the comparison was well-taken.

    Least honorable moment? I don’t think so. I wish we had had some moments like this in 2000 and 2004.

  3. James Joyner says:

    yaj: There was a cartoon at the time with Bentsen saying “You’re no Kennedy” and Quayle having a thought balloon picturing Teddy Kennedy and saying “Thank you!”

    Len: I understood the context. Quayle took the question as an attack on his lack of experience and went into defensive mode. Quayle was awful in that debate and didn’t seem able to answer to obvious questions.

    Still, the line–which was certainly prescripted–was insulting and unbecoming a man of Bentsen’s stature. A memorable zinger, to be sure, but unseemly. Especially since it was obvious to anyone watching the debate that Bentsen was far more qualified, in terms of experience, than Quayle.

  4. JPSobel says:

    I listened to that debate on the radio. The “…you’re no Jack Kennedy” line came across reasonably well; tough but not overly mean.

    However, the zinger from Mr. Benson’s that caught my ear was this exchange:

    BROKAW: Senator Bentsen, you were a businessman before you entered the U.S. Senate. Let me offer you an inventory if I may: Lower interest rates, lower unemployment, lower inflation and an arms control deal with the Soviet Union. Now two guys come through your door at your business and say, “We’d like you to change,” without offering a lot of specifics. Why would you accept their deal?

    BENTSEN: You know, if you let me write $200 billion worth of hot checks every year, I could give you an illusion of prosperity, too.

  5. McGehee says:

    As I remember the 1988 campaign, some people thought Dukakis’ selection of a Texan to be his running mate was already a little too obvious a reference to JFK/LBJ.

  6. I’m sorry, I still don’t see this as a below the belt hit. Quayle brought up the reference. It involved Quayle and not his family. Quayle’s thin skin on “that was uncalled for” was not the best response.

    Where I part company with Bentsen is that the reason Quayle was no Kennedy was not on his ‘objectives’ other than the objective for a republican vs a democrat to be president. I think Kennedy showed a lot of intelligence, political savvy (yes you can question how much was bought vs honestly earned but that’s another debate) and in short, JFK had a lot more on the ball that Dan. Not that Dan or JFK were really the caricature the MSM portrayed (Dan was better and JFK wasn’t as good), but I think an honest assessment of the two men would rank JFK as more able than Dan.

    As I referred to before, LBJ was a better politician than Bentsen even though they were both senators from Texas. There is no shame in not being number one when you are already shown to be good enough to make it into the senate.

  7. Herb says:

    Oh well, another politican gone. The people will no longer have to worry about his hand in their pocket.

  8. Roger says:

    Classy, Little Shrub. Very nice.