I've been vetted for it before, and I surely made more short lists than the late Harold Stassen. But they always passed me over for contenders with shinier buttons — somebody from a more populous state or from a region more important electorally, somebody with the charisma of, say, Stephen Wright, somebody not so obviously a crank, not so incontestably an old sorehead.
I did one time get an after-the-fact courtesy call from Milton Shapp, a name you'll not remember, but it was an awkward matter with him, a proposition that he didn't know how not to take seriously; and from Mo Udall, way back in the Jurassic, I got a whimsical verbal semi-promise of further consideration if he made good headway in the primary voting, which he did not, taking a thumping that prompted his famous observation: “The people have spoken. The bastards.”
George II said the one quality he required in a running mate was optimism, and it shouldn't surprise you that that's the consensus. They all want happy-warrior veeps who see the decanters half full and who, when you pull their strings, say positive-thinking things like “Yes we can” and “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”
Optimism, maybe an exaggerated, obviously phony optimism, is the first characteristic they want, but the second, running not far behind, is no sense of humor. Nobody wants a wag veep. Every joke, every quip offends somebody, and winning campaigns aren't built on alienating constituencies. You especially don't want Huckabee-type jokes on such topics as assassination attempts, farm animals screwing, and people having flagpoles shoved up their butts.
Understand, they want you smiling — but the smile they're after is the kind you get from a pit viper. With no more real warmth or mirth behind it than Howdy Doody's. On the opposite end of the smile spectrum from Admiral Stockdale's, threatening imminent collapse, when he first ventured out into the bright light, looked around anxiously, and asked, “Who am I? What am I doing here?”
You don't get a cadaver smile like that just by wishing you could. You have to go through rehab, and one of the rehab tests subjects recovering quipster types to such vice-presidential gaffe humor as Veep Agnew's Fat Jap riff or Veep Quayle's immortal observation that “Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things.” Laugh and they'll taze you — low voltage at first but the needle jumping on up there. With incorrigible Bro.-Gov., I reckon they'll need Ole Sparky.
Caligula once chose his horse to be his running mate, or the imperial equivalent, and, though horses are known for their good common sense, and either Smarty Jones or Big Brown might draw more votes to the ticket, if mere numbers are your priority, I'm pretty sure I've got a better handle on political administration than either of those rascals or indeed any of their equine brethren. I've never known a jockey, either, at least not personally, whom I thought would make a good vice president.
Horse or rider, wag or loon, I think I could take 'em, and I submit these points of recommendation from the ol' moi vita:
• I know how to spell potatoe.
• Again with Veep Quayle, I stand by all the misstatements I've ever made.
• I don't have a dog, but if I did, I wouldn't do him the indignity of trying to ride him to the vice presidential nomination as Nixon did that poor cocker spaniel.
• Given the opportunity, I've never outed one of my own country's spies just to remind everybody of what a prick I can be, and wouldn't.
• I've never brought shame and disgrace on myself, my family, my running mate, my party and the human race by seeking professional help at a mental health facility, as the wacko Thomas Eagleton did.
• When projectile hurling at state dinners in Japan, I've always tried my best to miss the head table.
• I've never gone around saying I invented the Internet, and wouldn't, even if I thought there might be political profit in it. I had no hand in bringing forth the World Wide Web. It was already approaching middle age — no longer called the Information Superhighway — before I even knew what it was. In fact, I still don't know what it is — ones, zeroes, strings, gigs, voodoo — except in the teleological sense.
• I've never shot any of my bird-hunting companions in the face and then blamed them for it. I've never shot anyone of Alexander Hamilton's stature in a duel, or anyone else of lesser stature, in a duel or not — except for Edward Waddell that time with the BB gun, for which I received the appropriate scared-straight reform-school yodda and later the full pardon from President Clinton.
• I'm fluent in the essential political-campaign Espanol, such as “Preciate your vote, amigo.”
• I've never belittled the vice presidency as some holders of the office have, calling it a bucket of warm spit and “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.” A job that pays well, has no duties, and they can't fire you from sounds pretty sweet to me.