Few words make me cringe as swiftly as “veepstakes.”
It’s an exciting-sounding word, used to describe something that’s not really exciting. It suggests that some sort of awesome prize is up for grabs, as if becoming a vice presidential running mate is like hitting a jackpot. In reality, it’s more like winning a lifetime supply of toothpaste. The vice presidency, like daily bushings, is important and necessary. Thrilling, less so.
Yeah, I know I’m being snarky and unfair. If the daily tracking pollagensia wants to turn this into its March Madness, fine by me. Mitt Romney will make his pick any minute now, and it will be a consequential moment. Maybe I just need to get into the spirit of ceaseless, two-bit speculation for two-bit speculation’s sake. It’s not like I have to mow my lawn.
I even had my own brief journalistic brush with the, gulp, veepstakes.
In June and early July 2004, then-Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack was on John Kerry’s “shortlist” of possible running mates, along with Dick Gephardt, John Edwards and others. For several weeks, even in pre-Twitter America, speculation swirled mightily. Iowans scoffed, but Vilsack, by all indications at the time, was in the hunt.
While he was the hunting, there was a sharp drop-off in the governing. We didn’t know where he was half the time. Like Romney’s possible mates, he was off auditioning on the trail. He would later brag about jetting to San Jose for a secret late-night dinner interview with Kerry, without any of us scribbling local yokels knowing a thing about it.
I think there are some lessons in that saga. For one thing, a VP pick that looks dynamite on announcing day may prove to be less so as time passes. Edwards was supposed to be the great handsome hope for Kerry in the south, where the Massachusetts senator won exactly zero states. He lost Edwards’ North Carolina by 400,000-plus votes.
Edwards also turned out to be a nakedly ambitious running mate who seemed to put his own political good ahead of the ticket. He wouldn’t even agree to use the Kerry campaign slogan. Turns out it was only a wafer-thin morsel of Edwards’ capacity for selfishness.
Pundits said Vilsack was a little-known snore. But there’s something to be said for a boring, competent and loyal pick, soothing and not scary. In the last decade, we’ve had shadowy puppet master, $400 haircut, Mama Grizzly and a big veeping deal. Interesting characters, one and all. But maybe we’re ready for a nice big scoop of bland. We still promise to brush afterward.