No Sympathy

I’m reading lots of angst over the pick of Alaska’s governor for VP. For a Republican, she seems decent, especially her anti-scandal stance. Very refreshing, coming from the Right.

But people all over the political map are worried if McCain croaks from a fifth bout with skin cancer or something. I have no sympathy, really. Every major cabinet position gets filled with personal choices shortly after the inauguration and must be approved by a majority of the US Senate. The Vice-President, in contrast, is chosen by a usually unelected candidate in secret meetings, and undergoes no approval process by either the voting public or the elected representatives of the people.

Americans have elected presidents fifty-five times. The Vice-President has taken over the office of President nine times before the next election cycle arrived. Five times in the first year, twice in the second, twice in the third.

My suggestions are as follows:

– Permit the voters in the primary process to choose VP candidates.

– Or amend the constitution to eliminate the office or refine the election method.

– Tell the presidential candidate he accepts the people’s choice, any way it works.

Barring any public stance on any or all of these points, I vote that those dismayed with a potential President Palin hold their opinions.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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14 Responses to No Sympathy

  1. I would like to thank you, Todd, for your kind words as regards Governor Palin, and for your wise words regarding the vice presidency and the number of times in which dead presidents have croaked while in office.

    For my part, I would only add three things:

    1. It is doubtful that McCain will croak any time soon. I’d give him at least four years, at which time (if he is wise), he would decide not to run for re-election.

    2. I have noted that the vice-presidency is a perfect office for on-the-job training. A good number of vice presidents have gone on to make excellent presidents, and have gotten their training on the way. They have the advantage as well of a de-facto apprenticeship, and at the very least can observe and avoid mistakes made by their predecessor.

    3. I am not so sanguine in my observations as regards inexperienced presidents getting on-the-job training. Such “learning experiences” have included WWI and the League of Nations (Wilson), The Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis (Kennedy), and our abandonment of the Shah of Iran and the resultant mess there for the last 30 or so years (Carter). I’ve had quite enough, thank you.

  2. Michael says:

    So those who disagree with you, no matter how well versed they are in politics and history, should keep quiet? Not a chance. I frequently agree with you, but you you’re as wrong as you can possibly be here.

  3. Todd says:

    Michael, not at all.

    What I attempted to say is that if people are alarmed about prospective VP’s becoming president, the American people have means of making a remedy on the situation.

    Governor Palin may, by most judgments, seem to be a poor choice for US executive material. Pointing to her shortcomings seems a convenient approach to a system that has given us Dick Cheney and Dan Quayle, to name two recent examples.

  4. The Founding Fathers were smarter than the present political establishment gives them credit for. Originally, the Constitution was written such that whoever finished second in the presidential election became vice president–and in my opinion the restoration of this method is the solution to be pursued. In this scenario the VP becomes a kind of watchdog over the president rather than a partner in crime such as we have now.

    Alas, along the way, the Constitution was amended to allow for the current practice, which is obviously very friendly to the two party oligarchy.

  5. Jim McK says:

    The problems with the runner up strategy were exposed very quickly. Each party ran two candidates to gain both positions. When Jefferson was elected,Aaron Burr ran with him. “Burr tied Jefferson with 73 electoral votes, making him eligible for one of the Nation’s two highest offices and sending the election into the U.S. House of Representatives. After 36 ballots, Jefferson was elected President and Burr elected Vice President.”

    The present system was instituted to prevent that from happening. Who do you think would win an Obama, McCain, Clinton, Huckabee race?

  6. Todd says:

    I think the VP should be elected separately from the presidential ticket. At minimum, primary voters should select the VP, not the unelected candidate, and not without congressional approval, at bare minimum.

  7. Liam says:

    The problem is that no one *wants* to run for VP when the top spot is open. It’s has all of the negatives with few of the positives as an office. So I would venture the problem is with the office rather than the selection system per se.

    I am not sure if proportional voting in the primaries would be a solution in the American system, much touted as a panacaea as it has long been among us goo-goos for reasons I won’t dilate here. Americans tend to strongly prefer making selections in series rather than jointly (in fact, that’s the source of the problem you’ve identified here), and I distrust trying to change from on high that political culture on the ground.

    Congressional approval of *candidates* for the VP slot strikes me as enormously strange, but if you explain your thoughts I’ll give them a straight hearing.

    One problem no one discusses that I would like to see solved: the ability to recall the Speaker and the Senate Majority leader from leadership office by national vote. All House offices are exceptionally local, albeit one man/one vote. Thus, House leadership positions don’t change much unless the voters in the home district of the leader vote them out or give them a bad scare, which is rare in today’s era of computer-shaved gerrymandering. Having an external national check on those leadership offices will help balance out the risk of captivity of a chamber of Congress.

    If we could make the Speakership a nationally elected office, that might be a good source for a temporary Acting President – pending elections to fill out the remaining term of the presidency if it has more than a year to run, et cet.

  8. Todd says:

    “Congressional approval of *candidates* for the VP slot strikes me as enormously strange, but if you explain your thoughts I’ll give them a straight hearing.”

    Every cabinet officer must be approved by the Senate. One might argue the modern VP is more critical. But actually, I would prefer to vote separately for president and the VP.

  9. Liam says:

    But Todd, those are appointments by an *elected and inaugurated* president? How would that work for *candidates* who have not been elected?

    Are you saying simply to make the VP no longer elected by the people but only like the situation when the office is vacated (where both houses of Congress vote)? In that case, the issue is that, where the speaker is of a different party, she/he has an incentive to block nominees.

    There’s a reason the VP is not like the cabinet – the Congressional leadership is not automatically vested in using cabinet positions to leap to the presidency.

    I don’t think we’ll ever get a credible shot at voting separately for VP until the office is changed to something desirable to run for in its own right.

  10. Todd says:

    ” … until the office is changed to something desirable to run for in its own right.”

    It would seem Dick Cheney has already made it into an office of significance. The fact that the VP is in the direct line of succession to the presidency would seem to make it a desirable slot. A one-in-six shot, according to history. Easier than being number seven in a primary race–and cheaper, too.

  11. “One might argue the modern VP is more critical.”

    Yes, that argument could be made, but alas maybe we’ve just glanced the nature of the real problem: the way that the VP position has taken over far more duties than the Constitution prescribed. The VP isn’t really supposed to matter that much, except to break a tie in the Senate.

    Interestingly, the “party of small government” (Walt Whitman Bridge for sale for $1) is the one that has given the VP the biggest role yet.

  12. Liam says:


    The VP only has as much power or influence as the President allows. As John Adams found out, a President doesn’t have to let the VP do a single blessed thing other than preside over the Senate.

    A President who doesn’t get to satisfy his or her caprice with regard to the choice of VP is much more likely to put that VP in the position of Adams rather than Cheney. Remember, HST only met once with FDR while he was VP….

    It was only with Carter-Mondale that Presidents starting choosing to delegate real authority to VPs. But it’s entirely a matter of their caprice, not the constitution (and you’d have to amend to constitution to change that).

  13. Rob F. says:

    Hi Todd,

    This isn’t the first time you’ve posted on this subject, so I’ll just repeat what I said last time as a reminder. The constitution already mandates that the college of electors vote for the president and vice-president on separate ballots. All that would need to change is the state law regulating how the legislature and governor appoint the electors.

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