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Dear Howard Dean - Babe, if I may

08/26/02 12:00AM By Philip Baruth
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(Host) Governor Howard Dean's run for the presidency has entered its most crucial phase, according to commentator Philip Baruth: the phase where the attack ads start to fly. Philip has a few words of advice.

(Baruth) Dear Governor Dean - Howard, if I may. You're running for the presidency of the United States. Howard, the Big Enchilada. And I just wanted to take a couple of minutes today and offer my assistance in dealing with what's coming any day now: non-stop questions and attacks and guys following you around dressed in chicken suits.

You're a smart, smart man, Governor, and I like some of your moves so far. Like the way you keep telling people in Iowa and New Hampshire, Let's take the gun issue off the table, even as you keep it on the table and trumpet your A rating from the NRA. That's a thing of beauty.

But let's face it, Howard - Babe, if I may - this is your first excursion out of the Minor Leagues, and you need to be able to hit that Major League fastball the very first time out of the batter's box. So I thought maybe we could do some quick prep for your first set of debates.

First of all, you understand that the competition is going to paint you as a kooky Northeastern liberal, taking money out of the taxpayer's pocket with one hand and tearing down the foundations of traditional society with the other. And what's the easiest way to do that? Pair you off with the only self-avowed Socialist in the U.S. Congress - that's right, Babe, Bernie Sanders himself. They're going to lash you to Bernie the way Bob Dole got lashed to Newt Gingrich in 1996. Just picture it - attack ads with your face slowly morphing into the startling face of Bernard Sanders on a bad hair day. It's a scary thought even here in the Northeast. But think how that plays in Georgia, or Alabama.

Now your first impulse is going to be deny, deny, deny - you're going to want to claim that you've never actually been in the same county with Bernard Sanders. Bad move, Babe. Because that's when the other side hauls out this huge enlargement of a photo showing you and Bernie seated beneath the same cow at some milk-off in Thetford. And then you're caught in a lie, and that's pretty much all she wrote. Ask Al Gore.

But remember the key lesson of the Clinton presidency - the present tense is your friend. People beat him up for it, but that one little word is kept Bill in the White House when the going got rough. So when they pop the Bernie question, here's what you say, seven short words: There is no relationship with Congressman Sanders. Always keep it short and sweet, and technically true.

Well, I guess that about wraps it up for now. Thanks for the face time. And you know you can call me, day or night. You got my cell, right? Okay, Babe. Ciao.

Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont. His new book with Joe Citro is "Vermont Air: Best of the Vermont Public Radio Commentaries."
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