Maleski for vice president

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(Host) Recently Howard Dean’s presidential campaign moved into overdrive. But with frontrunner status comes frontrunner problems, such as keeping vice presidential picks confidential. That’s when a campaign needs serious help. Here’s commentator Philip Baruth, with another of the many fantastic adventures of the Urban Troubleshooter.

(Baruth) Picking a vice president is a lot like picking a muskmelon at a farmer’s market there’s ripe ones, and there’s rotten ones, and the only way to tell the difference is to try to give them a quick thump-and-a-squeeze when no one’s looking. Because if the media spot you checking out someone in particular for the job, they’ll scream it from the rooftops and then you look fickle if you wind up going with someone else.

So every savvy presidential campaign has a covert operative sifting potential veeps, to maximize the surprise. No one in modern history, of course, has accomplished this more effectively than Dick Cheney. When he was hired in 2000 to find a Veep for George W. Bush, Dick Cheney finally settled on a man who’d had two heart attacks and two DWI convictions a man named Dick Cheney and believe me, people were surprised.

So when the Dean campaign surged into passing gear a few weeks back, I knew it was only a matter of time before I got the call. When it came, I was at Hannafords, pushing one of those carts with the brightly-colored plastic car on the front for your kid to sit in. I didn’t have my four-year-old with me, but I always use the kiddie carts anyway. The hood of the car works like the prow on an ice-breaking ship in the Arctic Ocean, and in my business you can’t let the other carts slow you down.

I pulled the cellphone antenna out with my teeth. “Don’t tell me,” I said, glancing at the caller ID, “you need a veep, and you want it kept quiet.”

Then a voice spoke. I can’t put a name to this voice right now, but let’s just say he’s so high up in the campaign he has his own sherpa and a bottle of supplemental oxygen. “They told me you were good,” the voice said, “but you’re really good.”

“I know a trick or two,” I told him. “For instance, I know you’ve already got your guy in mind. And I know who he is.”

I did too. Most people thought it was a coincidence that the Dean people had been playing U2’s song “It’s a Beautiful Day” non-stop on the campaign trail. But I knew it was a subtle overture to the man they had their eye on – VPR Eye-on-the-Sky weatherguy Steve Maleski.

It made all kinds of sense. Bill Clinton’s Double Bubba strategy proved that balancing the ticket was an old-school idea. The key today is showing the world that you like yourself enough to pick a guy exactly like yourself. So Dean was going with another scary-smart Vermonter.

“Bingo,” the voice on the phone whispered. “Maleski’s perfect. He’s mysterious, yet familiar. Olympian, yet he’s got that common touch. Put him in a greasy spoon with pig farmers in Iowa, and the guy can talk serious weather. Can you make it happen?”

And that’s when I took the second cellphone out of my jacket. I’d had Maleski on hold for the last twenty minutes. I made a quick introduction, and then held the two tiny phones face to face in one hand. By the time I hit the seafood aisle, the phones were making beautiful music together. I reached for the fake-crabmeat, then thought why not celebrate, and reached instead for the fake-lobster. Next stop? I was thinking to myself, Lincoln Bedroom, baby. Lincoln Bedroom.

Philip Baruth is novelist who lives in Burlington.

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