Wednesday, June 11, 2008


About the Vice President

Our founding fathers, who wrote the original constitution in 1787, created an elective office, the President, to replace an hereditary chief of state, known as the King. They also created a second elected office, the Vice President, to replace another hereditary official, the Crown Prince, or whatever that person was called in various European countries. The only function of a Crown Prince in a monarchy is to succeed a King when he dies or is deposed by an angry public. The Crown Prince has no obvious influence on government policy as long as the King is in charge. When the King is gone, the Crown Prince becomes the new King and sets his own policy. He may or may not follow the policies of his predecessor.

In the same way, the founding fathers supposed that the Vice President would be simply a "president in waiting." If a President dies, resigns, is impeached, or otherwise leaves office before the end of his term, the Vice President takes over. The existence of the Vice President saves the country the cost and bother of a mid-term Presidential election. In 1787 national elections were costly and difficult to carry out.

Until 1993, Vice Presidents had next to nothing to do about national policy. The President ran the government, selected the cabinet officials, appointed judges, signed or vetoed laws, and all the other things that Presidents do. Vice Presidents were found to be useful at election time. To augment the coalition supporting a particular person as President, a Vice President who was supported by a different coalition was chosen to be the running mate. Examples are Kennedy and Johnson, Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, Truman and Barclay, and Roosevelt and Truman. In each case the Vice President appealed to a segment of the population that was not drawn to the President.

In 1993, Bill Clinton became President with his choice for Vice President, Al Gore. Both Clinton and Gore were from the South. Both men were charter members of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a group of conservative Democrats who were eager to avoid the mistake of 1972 when the Party chose the "liberal" George McGovern to run against an incumbent Richard Nixon who was running for reelection. As Vice President Gore was given many responsibilities that previous Vice Presidents had not had. Gore was chosen not to balance the ticket but to continue Clinton's policies if Clinton were to leave office prematurely.

George W. Bush continued Clinton's scheme for a Vice President. His Vice President, Dick Cheney, has had more influence on policy and more power than any previous Vice President, including Al Gore. In fact, some writers allege that Cheney is the real leader in the Bush administration and that George Bush is just a spokesman.

I think it is an unfortunate precedent that Bill Clinton established in choosing a Vice President who would take on an important part of his administration. A Vice President should, instead, be ready to make changes and to follow a different policy from that of his predecessor. Everyone makes mistakes, Presidents included. A Vice President can, without embarassment, admit and correct the mistakes of his predecessor as long as he or she was not involved in making the mistakes.

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