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Obama , Hillary Clinton, And The Structural Flaw of the Vice Presidency:

I'm not the world's biggest fan of Barack Obama. But he did make a good point today when he noted the tension between Hillary Clinton's stated willingness to take him on as her vice presidential running mate and her earlier claims that Obama isn't qualified to be president:

"You all know the okey-dokey, when someone's trying to bamboozle you, when they're trying to hoodwink you?" Obama said to the crowd at the Mississippi University for Women. "You can't say that, 'He's not ready [to be president] on day one unless he's willing to be your vice president, then he's ready on day one.'"

Obviously, if Obama is genuinely not ready to be president, it would be irresponsible for Hillary Clinton to have him as her Veep. After all, the main job of a VP, as one former holder of the office put it, is to "wait around the for president to die" and be ready to succeed him at any time.

The underlying problem goes beyond Hillary Clinton, however. Like her, presidential candidates often have strong incentives to choose VPs who might give them an edge in the general election even though they are poorly qualified for the top job. To paraphrase General George Patton, people get chosen for the vice presidency whom neither God nor the Party intended to be president (I paraphrase from memory; if anyone has the exact quote please send it to me).

Several times in our history, this has led to disaster when a dubious Veep ended up taking the presidency after the president died. The most blatant example was when Andrew Johnson assumed the presidency after Lincoln's assassination and promptly began undermining Reconstruction efforts to provide equal rights for blacks in the South, a policy that may have lost the nation it's best chance to overcome the legacy of slavery and at least partially forestall the rise of Jim Crow segregation. Lincoln selected Johnson as his 1864 running mate because he needed a former Democrat and slave state politician to "balance" the ticket. Had he stuck with incumbent VP Hannibal Hamlin (a Maine Radical Republican), history might well have turned out a lot better than it did. I would argue that the succession of VPs Millard Fillmore (1850), John Tyler (1841), Chester Arthur (1881) and Lyndon Johnson (1963) also caused significant harm, though these cases are more debatable than Andrew Johnson.

There are several alternative ways to ensure that a president who dies or resigns is replaced by a politician from his own party without creating the risk of giving the job to a poorly qualified veep. For example, the Constitution could be amended to allow the next president to be chosen by a supermajority of the members of Congress of the president's party. I won't go through all the possible options here. But I suspect at least some of them are likely to be superior to the substantial risks created by the current system.

unhyphenatedconservative (mail):
The real question is if Obama picked Hillary as his VP, what his life span would be.
3.11.2008 1:13am
David Hecht (mail):
You may be correct. But for an alternative view of what would have happened had Hamlin succeeded Lincoln in the Presidency, I respectfully suggest the Harry Turtledove short story, "Must and Shall".

It would of course be gratuitous to point out that Hamlin himself was selected largely as a sop to the Radicals, not because Lincoln thought him a plausible successor.
3.11.2008 1:23am
Jason F:
You know, most of us aren't on a first name basis with (Vice) President Fillmore.

Given your opinions on the proper role of the federal government, I'm surprised you don't have Teddy Roosevelt on your list of Vice Presidents who caused harm upon succession.
3.11.2008 1:24am
Syd Henderson (mail):
Tyler, Fillmore and even Lyndon Johnson, I can see, but Arthur did a pretty good job considering the circumstances under which he was nominated. I'll admit that was a bit of luck for the country; they had every right to think he'd be terrible.
3.11.2008 1:26am
cac (mail):
Wouldn't a problem with your proposal be that if the president is assassinated you might well want someone with unquestioned right of succession able to step up to the plate and take over running the ship rather than wait for congress or whoever to work out who should be the successor?
3.11.2008 1:37am
Gulf Coast Bandit (mail):
cac: At that point, there'd be no need for a Vice President at all. I think what the original proposal would do is have the VP be a "caretaker" until the members of Congress pick a new President.
3.11.2008 1:45am
George Weiss (mail) (www):
just because the president makes decisions that you don't like doesn't mean he wasn't chosen using the best method available. Suppose that the party in office at the time of death of the president was unpopular? wouldn't that make your idea bad in that case?

one of the things that most alienates voters is the party system...

having a president selected by a proxy vote in the case of a deserted president like that just to maintain the proper party in office...instead of using the person rightfully elected to that office....would probably piss off lots of democratically minded people.
3.11.2008 2:02am
Ilya Somin:
Suppose that the party in office at the time of death of the president was unpopular? wouldn't that make your idea bad in that case?

It would still be no worse than the status quo. After all, VPs in the status quo also belong to the president's party.
3.11.2008 2:05am
Ilya Somin:
You may be correct. But for an alternative view of what would have happened had Hamlin succeeded Lincoln in the Presidency, I respectfully suggest the Harry Turtledove short story, "Must and Shall".

It's a clever story. But I have many disagreements with it. Moreover, the point of departure in the story is that Lincoln gets killed by the Confederates in August 1864, not by Booth in April 1865. The former scenario causes much greater anger by the North against the South than existed in our own timeline.
3.11.2008 2:07am
Ilya Somin:
Given your opinions on the proper role of the federal government, I'm surprised you don't have Teddy Roosevelt on your list of Vice Presidents who caused harm upon succession.

It's a good question. But I doubt that TR's policies were vastly different from those of McKinley. Both were foreign policy imperialists. On domestic policy, TR only favored a modestly greater federal regulatory role than McKinley did (and both paled in comparison to Woodrow Wilson, to say nothing of the New Deal).
3.11.2008 2:09am
Ilya Somin:
It would of course be gratuitous to point out that Hamlin himself was selected largely as a sop to the Radicals, not because Lincoln thought him a plausible successor.

That's true. But anyone Lincoln would have considered a plausible successor would probably have been much less antiblack than Johnson was.
3.11.2008 2:10am
Dave N (mail):
I think there is nothing wrong with the Vice Presidency as currently constituted. You don't have to be a fan of either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush to recognize that neither man chose his Vice President for any electoral reason.

Rather, each chose his Vice President because he wanted a strong Vice President to be a consiglieri and trusted lieutenant. You can think what you want about either Al Gore or Dick Cheney and recognize their role was not "political" in the tradional sense.

Hillary Clinton suggested Barack Obama because she is trying SOMETHING to gain momentum on Obama. Obama (and 99% of the politically aware) saw it for what it was.

Frankly, it makes sense to have someone immediately ready to succeed to the Presidency. In the final days of the Civil War--and in the final days of World War II--it was a strength of our system that someone immediately could step in, even if the post-Civil War President was the otherwise forgetable Andrew Johnson and the post-WWII President was the unappreciate Harry S Truman.
3.11.2008 2:19am
William Spieler (mail) (www):
My alternative would be "get rid of the VP, remove power to break ties in the Senate (if you can't get an honest majority to pass a bill, oh well), keep line of succession the same absent VP"
3.11.2008 2:20am
George Weiss (mail) (www):
Suppose that the party in office at the time of death of the president was unpopular? wouldn't that make your idea bad in that case?

It would still be no worse than the status quo. After all, VPs in the status quo also belong to the president's party.

Your suggestion in your post applies precisely where the dying president has chosen a vp from the opposite party. It is this precisely that you say has led to tragic circumstances. (and you suggest a proxy vote to prevent a different party from getting the presidency.

So I'm pointing out that the possibility of a opposite party vp assuming office can be good or bad-depending on the favorably of the party of the deceased president.

Similarly, there can be good or bad outcomes with keeping the through the status quo system of having the Vp usually (but not always) be the same party as the deceased president. (again, depending on whether we like the party of the deceased president..and depending on whether the deceased president indeed picked a vp of the same party to run with him)

The difference between the status quo and you idea is that your idea calls for a proxy vote to forcibly maintain the same party (for better or for worse)..while the status quo allows voters to decide directly whether maintaining the same party is a good thing or a bad thing.
3.11.2008 2:22am
LM (mail):
unhyphenatedconservative,

The real question is if Obama picked Hillary as his VP, what his life span would be.

If Hillary chose Obama, there'd be a footrace between the vast right wing conspiracy trying to drive her from office and the vast Clinton conspiracy doing likewise to him.
3.11.2008 2:28am
TGGP (mail) (www):
Andrew Johnson wasn't so bad. He was relatively sympatico with Lincoln's plan for Reconstruction. It was the crazy Radical Republicans who were screwing the pooch and tried to kick him out of office for firing a cabinet member. Of course, we would probably consider everyone back then insane.
3.11.2008 2:30am
Dave N (mail):
Of course, the counterargument to my own post is that America was truly lucky that FDR did not die a year sooner, and we did not end up with President Henry Wallace.
3.11.2008 2:42am
Shawn Levasseur (mail) (www):
I guess the example of a congressionally picked successor would be Gerald Ford, and compare him with could-have-been-President Spiro Agnew.

I'll disagree with Dave N's argument that Al Gore was not picked for political reasons. Al Gore's selection for Veep was a good one to appeal to voters, as Gore had gone through the primaries 4 years prior, gaining the national notoriety and the image as a legitimate candidate, without having to have slung any mud in that year's primaries against Clinton.

It was the perfect counter to Quayle. Who was picked supposedly due to his conservative credentials, but was a nobody to the majority of Americans, and was eventually defined by comedians' jokes about him.
3.11.2008 5:34am
Zywicki (mail):
Maybe she just thinks he'd be ready on day two.
3.11.2008 8:13am
Joe Bingham (mail):
Maybe she just thinks he'd be ready on day two.

Wins!
3.11.2008 8:27am
steven lubet (mail):
I don't know where you obtained the Obama quote, but anyone from Chicago would tell you that it's "the okey doke," (as Obama in fact said), and not the "okey dokey" (which would identify the speaker as a mark.
3.11.2008 8:49am
The River Temoc (mail):
Maybe she just thinks he'd be ready on day two.

That was no doubt meant as a snark, but it's exactly right. Look, Obama is in no way ready now. He has many naive views, especially on foreign policy. But he does have undeniable political and leadership skills. So what's wrong with choosing him as understudy in the hope that he'll gain a more sophisticated appreciation of things in due course?
3.11.2008 9:32am
jowfair (mail):
Two immediate thoughts:

a) The entire reason that the Veep tactic succeeds is the bet taken by the man's constituency that he will possibly succeed to the office. The President doesn't have to meet or listen to his second; he does have to be succeeded by him.

b) The last thing you need after the death or the assassination of a president is a nontransparent, backroom knife-fight between Congressional partisans. What happens, eg, when no supermajority forms? or how do you think those last marginal votes will be gotten?

Further, Congressional members of the former president's party are the possibly the least responsible electorate possible - they'd have every incentive to elect a hyperpartisan member of their own ranks, to ram through memorial legislation as quickly as possible.
3.11.2008 9:34am
newscaper (mail):
I recognize your criticism but storngly reject your proposed fix.

*Nowhere* in the Constitution is there anything about political parties as the Founders were generally concerned about "factions" as they called them.

To explicitly enshrine political *parties* is a huge mistake, inserting further into the mix agencies who are neither government nor governed.

Terrible idea.
3.11.2008 9:45am
plainslow (mail):
I would like to see a President and a real Vice President. Like McCain, and Jack Kemp be VP and Secretary of the Treasury. With mc Cain overseeing. Give the guy some power.
3.11.2008 9:46am
Temp Guest (mail):
Since when is a woman who's only background is marrying into power and having her husband use Presidential pardons to bribe her into a Senate seat "experienced" enough to be President? Hill isn't even very good in the "dirty tricks" department that she evidently ran for Bill when he was "running" the country. Remember, she got caught in Travelgate, FBIgate, and the later coverups.
3.11.2008 10:00am
Qwerty:
I'm pointing out that the possibility of a opposite party vp assuming office can be good or bad-depending on the favorably of the party of the deceased president.

An opposite-party VP is an invitation to assassination, or an effort to manufacture a scandal that causes the President to resign or be impeached.
3.11.2008 10:02am
David Hecht (mail):
Professor Somin, I agree that there are differences between the scenario you posit and the Turtledove story. Indeed, he makes much of the far superior position of the American Negro in his alternate America. But there is no difference between the Turtledove scenario and yours in the most important respect: putting Hamlin in the White House after a Lincoln death removes the only obstacle there was to a draconian Reconstruction led by a Congress dominated by the Radicals.

I do not think you can easily dismiss the very real possibility that such a scenario would have led--as Turtledove argues--to a protracted period of Southern irredentism and ressentiment. The fact that we have managed to settle things down in this country after our two most divisive episodes (the Revolution and the Civil War) does not mean that it was automatic.

I would argue that--far worse for the Republic than any Vice-Presidential succession--a truly radical reconstruction would have been an example of the harm that occurs when the separation of powers breaks down and there is a period of absolute political dominance by one party. What have been the worst times for the Constitution? Arguably, Reconstruction (Congress dominated by a Radical Republican majority from 1864); the New Deal (Congress, the Presidency, and--after 1937--the judiciary all in the hands of a reformist majority); and the Great Society (ditto, 1964 to 1966).

The problem with Lyndon Johnson was not Lyndon Johnson per se: it was Lyndon Johnson, combined with a liberal Democratic majority in Congress and a supine Supreme Court inclined to approve its legislative excesses.
3.11.2008 10:02am
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
I think this may be the first time I've seen anyone suggest Millard Fillmore had actually done anything.
3.11.2008 10:03am
rafinlay (mail):
Why not just stop electing the VP as part of a ticket? Let the new president nominate his VP subject to confirmation as per the current procedure. I guess I would like to see a provision requiring an affirmative up-or-down vote within x days, but I would like that on all presidential appointments, anyway.
3.11.2008 10:09am
lieutenant dan (mail):
The Dan Quayle example is an interesting one. Does anyone, even the most conservative ideologue or the most devoted acolyte of Bush Sr., honestly think that Quayle was a good decision for VP? Can anyone see him being President?

I believe that Quayle did not deserve all the abuse and derision he received. But the man really should not have been placed on the ticket. He was clearly in way over his head, and I'm grateful that Bush Sr. didn't die during his presidency.
3.11.2008 10:28am
Bill Rudersdorf (mail):
I'd like to comment on the idea from the original post, that the Johnson presidency might have enabled the rise of Jim Crow legislation. Perhaps, but back when I read The Strange Career of Jim Crow by C. Vann Woodward and William S. McFeely, I was impressed that Jim Crow legislation followed only slowly after then end of Reconstruction, and was mainly a product of the late 1880s, still being expanded during the Wilson administration. (Wilson was quite a supporter of segregation; Wilson's enthusiastic filmed interview endorsing The Birth of a Nation was shown with the film). At any rate, there was a substantial time lag in the introduction of Jim Crow laws following the Civil War, much more than is usually supposed.
3.11.2008 10:29am
pluribus:

Lincoln selected Johnson as his 1864 running mate because he needed a former Democrat and slave state politician to "balance" the ticket


According to David Donald's biography, Lincoln did not exactly "select" Johnson as his running mate. The evidence is sparse, but it seems that Lincoln gave little thought to the question and was content to let the convention make the nomination. To assume that the presidential nominee unilaterally selects the vice-presidential nominee is presentism. That's usually how it is done now, but it wasn't always done that way in the past. (In 1956, Adlai Stevenson adopted a hands-off attitude toward the vice presidency and let the convention nominate Kefauver. although Kennedy also tried to get the nomination.)
3.11.2008 10:30am
Jay D:
I agree with newscaper. The Constitution is currently blind to political parties and should stay that way.

How about repealing the 12th Amendment? The runner-up becomes VP. The country thinks they are the second most qualified.

It would bring a tiny bit of balance as the President's opponent is the Senate tie-breaker.

The downside is that it would make it benificial for the President's opponents if the President were to happen to die.
3.11.2008 10:36am
michael (mail):



Whether a VP elevated to the Presidency fails or succeeds is subjective.

At the end of his term, Truman's approval ratings were in GWB territory, but with the perspective of time many see Truman as one of the great 20th Century presidents ranking just below TR, Wilson FDR and Reagan.

Despite Vietnam, LBJ accomplished what JFK didn't have the skill to do; get the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts thru Congress.

I also have a soft spot for Tyler, despite his later secessionist tendencies. The guy had 15 children, the last born when he was 70. That doesn't make him a great president, but it's worth noting nonetheless. :-)
3.11.2008 10:41am
Cincinnatus (mail):
Wow, I didn't know that the baloney about "balancing the ticket" went back that far.

The president should choose a nominee while under the assumption that he'll be assassinated. That would be a mean sunomabtch who knows how to screw his enemies. Yeah, Dick Cheney makes the cut.
3.11.2008 10:43am
iowan (mail):
The VP has to be in place at the time of election and the governed need to do it. I like the Idea of selecting a VP and assigning the VP one of the cabinet positions. As a Voter I would the be voting for someone strong on Economics, enviroment, foreign releations etc. I like that
3.11.2008 10:48am
Orielbean (mail):
Remember that Bush didn't really pick Cheney; he picked Cheney to find him a VP and Cheney said "I know just the guy for the job."
3.11.2008 10:55am
Mojo:
A few points from a humble historian...

All this talk of really horrible VPs and no one has mentioned Aaron Burr, the man who made guns synonymous with the position? (Okay, he had resigned by the time of the famous duel with Hamilton. And I'm still looking for a punchline to "Aaron Burr, Spiro Agnew and Dick Cheney walk into a bar...")

What about Agnew? Jailtime for ducking the IRS?

Here's a fun what-if: President Eagleton (McGovern, '72, before the electroshock story came out).

We might also recall that the VP occasionally is a powerful figure behind-the-scenes. LBJ springs to mind; so does Cactus Jack Garner (FDR I and II). Calhoun during J.Q. Adam's term was notorious for using his presiding powers to interfere with Senate business --a tactic that led to the Senate ultimately stripping the VP of what was left of his day-to-day responsibilities.

But the issue at hand: was Millard Fillmore a horrible President? Arguably no. Taylor was refusing to negotiate further on Clay's (and Douglas's) compromise legislation involving California's admission to the Union. If Taylor remains alive, there's a reasonable chance that the Fire-eaters persuade the South to begin secession ten years earlier. Fillmore effectively staves off the war for a decade, though for better or worse is highly debatable.

Andy Johnson: firing Stanton was not the only item in the articles of impeachment. Johnson's hostility to former slaves and his willingness to pardon so many former Rebels were the real issues. But the man had no ability to lead, and his rumored public drunkenness destroyed what respect he did possess in the North.

Arthur: Arthur the President is not Arthur the Stalwart. He backed the Pendleton Act, after all (although the language was changed so that in the short-to-medium run it actually increased patronage).

TR: Bully! The GWB of his day, only much more effective. It was a shame that McKinley had to die, though, he wasn't a bad President (except for the mega-high tariffs).

But back to the main point already: there aren't a lot of alternatives to the current scenario that don't invite hanky-panky or violence. I suppose stipulating that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court be allowed to take over as President (and not being allowed to seek the office in the next Presidential election) might be a plausible solution, but does that make the position of CJ that much more political? Also, what would we do with a Taft that had already served two terms? (Give it to the next-senior justice?)
3.11.2008 10:59am
lieutenant dan (mail):
Orielbean, do you think that means Cheney knew what he was doing when he involved himself in the decision? That is, was he manipulating Bush by volunteering himself to help pick the VP, when in fact he maneuvered himself into Bush's choice?
I'm not a Bush-hater, but from what I've seen this is plausible.
3.11.2008 11:00am
Milhouse (www):
How about just recalling the Electoral College to fill any vacancy that occurs during its tenure? These are the people whom the public elected to choose a president for them; if they had the wisdom to do it once they should be trusted to do it again. And knowing that they were electing a president rather than a space-filler would certainly influence their choice.
3.11.2008 11:04am
byomtov (mail):
I think any procedure that determines who will take office if the President dies must be such that the successor is known ahead of time. Waiting until after an assassination, for example, to pick a successor is a recipe for disaster.

Similarly, if the choice is the President's, it should be known before the election. It's an important policy decision, and it makes sense that voters should have the opportunity to take it into account.
3.11.2008 11:38am
PLR:
Here's a fun what-if: President Eagleton (McGovern, '72, before the electroshock story came out).

President Eagleton would have been the most entertaining president of the 20th Century. Amazing public speaker.
3.11.2008 11:53am
EIDE_Interface (mail):
Bill Clinton was VP!
3.11.2008 11:56am
rafinlay (mail):
BYOMTOV: The same could be said of all major cabinet posts, yet we elect a president without knowing his choices for State, Treasury, Defense, AG.... If this is so important, we should elect a complete slate.
3.11.2008 12:08pm
snoey (mail):

The Dan Quayle example is an interesting one. Does anyone, even the most conservative ideologue or the most devoted acolyte of Bush Sr., honestly think that Quayle was a good decision for VP? Can anyone see him being President?

That may have been the point. After Iran-Contra, he was excellent impeachment insurance.
3.11.2008 12:13pm
MarkField (mail):

Wow, I didn't know that the baloney about "balancing the ticket" went back that far.


It goes back to day 1 (Washington/Adams). One northerner/one southerner was a very common way to balance the ticket, and they did it deliberately.
3.11.2008 12:23pm
Andrew Janssen (mail):
I've always wondered how much of Arthur's support for the Pendleton Act came from the need to shut up the people who were accusing him of having incited Guiteau to shoot Garfield, and how much came from the fact that Arthur learned a year after he succeeded Garfield that he was terminally ill and had nothing to lose by supporting reform.

Presidential trivia: Chester A. Arthur was the last incumbent President to submit his name for renomination and not obtain it; and had the second-shortest post-presidency career, dying about nine months after leaving office. James K. Polk had the shortest, dying four months after leaving office.
3.11.2008 12:36pm
Jay D:
Great idea Milhouse!

It reminds me that it is the Electoral College who actually cast a vote for VP. If they vote for some incompetent dweeb, it is their fault if they don't take their responsiblity seriously.
3.11.2008 1:02pm
Cal (mail) (www):
I would argue that the succession of VPs Millard Fillmore (1850), John Tyler (1841), Chester Arthur (1881) and Lyndon Johnson (1963) also caused significant harm, though these cases are more debatable than Andrew Johnson.


A few people have made these points already; I'm just filling in a few details.

Fillmore signed off on the Compromise of 1850 when Taylor had planned to flatly refuse. I'd say the country needed those ten years. Webster's famous March 7th speech in favor of the Compromise was extremely influential. Schoolchildren memorized his speech and grew up ready to fight for a concept of a unified country. The ten years also saw a boom in cotton that allowed England time to build up a surplus, which made them less dependent on the South and willing to be less aggressive about intervention for the first years of the war.

Garfield's assassin, a nut job, shot him because he believed that Arthur, a "Stalwart", would help other Stalwarts. Instead, Arthur said "I owe my vice-Presidency to Mr. Conkling (Head of Stalwart), but I owe my Presidency to the Almighty" and signed off on the Pendleton Act, which reduced party power in government jobs.


Andrew Johnson had no political skills and little political support. But it's a gross misstatement of history to argue that his position on Reconstruction was any different from Lincoln's, as Johnson was doing his best to implement Lincoln's own objective, the "ten percent" plan. Lincoln opposed Wade Davis, and wanted a non-punitive reconstruction.

Tyler is probably the best example of a "bad" Vice President, in that he was a Democrat in all but name. Even so, the country survived quite nicely. That said, Harrison was nothing more than an empty suit put in place so that Clay could run the country through him.

However, the entire premise of the question is pretty much shot, so actually answering it seems pointless.
3.11.2008 1:13pm
hitnrun (mail) (www):
I would suggest there not being a Vice President on the electoral ticket at all, and instead having it be an appointed office of the executive branch, albeit immune from both Presidential removal and Senatorial confirmation. It would become a day-one tradition to name the VP, or maybe even legalize the choices of President-Elects in case of a pre-inaugural disaster.

This would depoliticize the office while allowing the President to select the person he would most like to succeed him if he were to die.
3.11.2008 1:14pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
"How about repealing the 12th Amendment? The runner-up becomes VP. The country thinks they are the second most qualified."

Worst idea in the thread.
3.11.2008 1:26pm
Tim (mail):
Having Congress do anything in this area would be a disaster. After all, they still have not addressed the problems of succession pointed out by the 9/11 attacks.
3.11.2008 1:27pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
The whole concept of "qualified" for president or vice president is frankly silly.

How do we define "qualified"? We have had succesful presidents from a variety of backgrounds. Likewise failures. Poor performance in office is merely 20/20 hindsight.

For instance, John Quincy Adams had been a diplomat, US Senator and Secretary of State. His post presidential service in the House of Representatives was noble. He was arguably the most "qualified" man ever to be president. Yet, he served one lackluster term.

US Grant, Taylor and Eisenhower were highly succesful generals. Are generals qualified? Grant was a horrible president. Much worse than the "unqualified" Andrew Johnson who had been a Senator and military governor.

Lyndon Johnson had been a congressman and not merely a US senator but a highly effective Majority Leader. (Think being Majority Leader is easy, just look at Reid and Frist.) He was not qualified only by a "I don't like the policies he followed" or "his poicies were failures" standard.

Or look at Richard Nixom. Congressman, US senator, Vice President. He was smart and tough to boot. Was he qualified? Of course. But he still did not turn out too well.

Turning to VP, most here despise Dick Cheney. He was White House Chief of Staff, Congressman, Secretary of Defense during a war, CEO of a large company. On paper, who was more "qualified"?

Electing a president is just as much a crap shoot as picking a VP. At least there is a good chance that the VP will never be president.
3.11.2008 1:28pm
Proud to be a liberal :
How can one think that Reconstruction was worse for the constitution than Plessy v. Ferguson &constitutionally-permitted segregation?

After all, Reconstruction brought us a constitutional end to slavery (13th amendment), the right to vote for African-American men (15th amendment), and the fourteenth amendment. What's wrong with them? And if it weren't for the fourteenth amendment and Brown, we might still have segregation.

And let's not forget that Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justice Brennan were appointed by Republican president (and not a vice president) Dwight Eisenhower.
3.11.2008 1:46pm
Truth Seeker:
LM:
unhyphenatedconservative,

The real question is if Obama picked Hillary as his VP, what his life span would be.

If Hillary chose Obama, there'd be a footrace between the vast right wing conspiracy trying to drive her from office and the vast Clinton conspiracy doing likewise to him.


My first thought was of Vince Foster.

There's always the chance the Clintons would do anything to regain the presidency. Power corrupts.
3.11.2008 1:51pm
Bretzky (mail):
This seems to be one of those issues in which changing the Constitution would simply be outsmarting ourselves. The VP selection and presidential succession processes are not perfect, but you are never going to get a perfect system for either. Both systems work. We've made it over 200 years with them the way they are (I know the succession process was amended not too long ago, but the VP as second-in-line has remained since the first presidential election). This is just one of those issues that is not worth tinkering with the Constitution over.
3.11.2008 1:55pm
Qwerty:
I would suggest there not being a Vice President on the electoral ticket at all, and instead having it be an appointed office of the executive branch, albeit immune from both Presidential removal and Senatorial confirmation.

As a voter, I want to know who the VP will be before I vote for the President, especially if the candidate for President is old and in uncertain health.
3.11.2008 1:57pm
Kim Scarborough (mail) (www):
I would add that we were seriously flirting with disaster while the not-very-healthy FDR had Henry Wallace as his VP. Wallace was probably the only mainstream American politician who was an out-and-out Communist sympathizer, and it's frightening to imagine what would have happened had FDR died before the 1944 election.
3.11.2008 2:12pm
Kim Scarborough (mail) (www):
It seems to me that the smartest thing to do would be just to abolish the VP and make the Secretary of State next in line. That's the most President-like of the cabinet officials, and it has enough responsibility that it's difficult to imagine somebody nominating a complete idiot to the post (unlike some VPs).
3.11.2008 2:18pm
Asher Steinberg (mail):
I think LBJ was a better President than Kennedy. Can't see how he caused "significant harm." There's Vietnam, but who's to say whether Kennedy wouldn't have done just the same thing? All the big pro-Vietnam touts in Johnson's administration were Kennedy people - McNamara, the Bundys, etc.
3.11.2008 2:56pm
Doc W (mail):
"...we were seriously flirting with disaster while the not-very-healthy FDR had Henry Wallace as his VP..."


You mean a bigger disaster than FDR? Wow.

Someone earlier suggested TR, Wilson, and FDR as among the great 20th century presidents. Ok, then what we need is fewer "great" presidents.

Neither the president, nor the federal government itself, was envisioned in the Constitution to be all that important in he overall scheme of things. A few limited powers, and otherwise the states were sovereign. I suggest that if the federal government were reined back in to within its constitutionally mandated role, and if we stop obsessing about controlling the whole world outside our borders, then it's not so important who the president is, much less the vice president.

We're not choosing an emperor--not quite yet, at least.
3.11.2008 3:00pm
Elsy (mail) (www):
it is a political strategy the Clintons are playing with.

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3.11.2008 3:01pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
You do need someone of the president's party ready to step in. Maybe the Sec. of State. I have watched states where the governor and Lt. Governor are elected separately, and when they are of different parties, things get messy. The governor will often not travel outside the state, because when he does, his Lt takes over and often does what he can to implement his party's agenda. Executive rules and the like can often be trashed when the Governor returns, but when the Lt Governor signs bills into law, they stay on the books. So, I have watched a legislature wait until the majority's Lt Governor takes over for a couple days, then pass the bill, and he signs before the Governor returns.
3.11.2008 3:06pm
LM (mail):

Wow, I didn't know that the baloney about "balancing the ticket" went back that far.

Yeah, I hear Lincoln had some weakness in the red states.
3.11.2008 3:37pm
Simon Oliver Lockwood (mail):
Re: The pick of Quayle

I remember a column by Kenneth Adelman pushing Quayle as VP choice -- weeks before Bush picked him. Adelman cited Quayle's Senate work on defense and education issues -- giving him gravitas in both security and domestic matters.

Given his performance as candidate and VP, the analogy I came up with to describe Quayle was the hotshot hitting prospect who gets called up from the minor leagues too early, goes 2 for 37, and never gets his confidence back.
3.11.2008 4:10pm
Crunchy Frog:
Bruce Hayden: That was raised to high comedy during the California Governership of Jerry Brown. Every time he left the state (which was often), his Republican Lt Governor Mike Curb immediately started undermining him, signing bills he didn't want, and vetoing bills he did.
3.11.2008 4:22pm
BD:
The only "structural" problem I see is that, since we are only choosing someone who MAY become president, there tends to be a disparity of quality/qualifications as between the VP and the president. However, I frankly don't see this as a big problem anymore. The vice presidency is now seen as a worthwhile office and legitimate steppingstone to the White House. This, coupled with the preeminent role national security now plays in the nation's affairs, makes it unlikely any successful presidential nominee will regard it as in his political interests to tap a complete nobody to serve as veep.

In fact, the trend over the last 30 years or so has been in favor of highly-qualified Veeps. The last real cipher was Agnew. Since then, we've had Rockefeller (NY guv), Mondale (12-year veteran senator); Bush I (a major Washington insider); Quayle (12-year vet of House and Senate); Gore (16 year vet); and Cheney (a major heavyweight).

If one were in search of a reform that might improve the caliber of future VPs, I would suggest perhaps amending the Constitution to permit vice presidents to serve as senators (assuming they were independently elected by a state whose own Constitution permitted this); or as cabinet officers. This might make the office more appealing a larger number of highly qualified candidates.
3.11.2008 4:26pm
Loren (mail):
So I'm pointing out that the possibility of a opposite party vp assuming office can be good or bad-depending on the favorably of the party of the deceased president.

We've had opposite party VPs three times in history: Adams-Jefferson, Jefferson-Burr (technically not opposite-party, but certainly opponents), and Lincoln-Johnson.

I think the outcomes of all of those pairings alone should be enough to dissuade us from the idea that opposite-party tickets are a good thing.
3.11.2008 4:34pm
michael (mail):


You could start an interesting little thread with a discussion about which tickets in history actually had a more qualified VP candidate than the man who topped the ticket. In recent history, Lloyd Bentsen comes to mind. I also recall a lot of people feeling that Cheney and Leiberman were much more attractive than the standard bearers in 2000.
3.11.2008 4:38pm
Paul B:
Ilya's judgment on American history leaves lots to be desired.

John Tyler may not have been much of a President, but would 70 yr old Wm Henry Harrison been any better? Given the minor importance of the national government at that time, would it have mattered who was President from 1841-1845?

Fillmore worse than Taylor? Taylor was the Louisiana slave owner, and career Army officer without any sense of politics, who managed to lead the South to the brink of secession. His miraculous death in 1850 has led a few observers, even in recent times, to suspect foul play. Fillmore was second only to Steven Douglas in getting the Compromise of 1850 passed that saved the country from dissolution and in hindsight, bought the North 10 more years of rapid growth before actual secession and civil war.

Arthur, worse than Garfield? Garfield in his role as Speaker of the House was one of the central figures in the major scandal during the Grant administration. His election only showed that voters have short memories.

McKinley no different than TR? Puhleeze. While the Spanish-American War occurred during McKinley's term, he was clearly pressured into a war by the imperialist wing of the Republican Party. Many historians explain McKinley's view of going to war compared to TR by pointing out that McKinley experienced war at its 19th century worst as a Union captain at the Wilderness Campaign, as compared to TR's shame at having a father who paid to avoid service in the Civil War. And there is absolutely no evidence to show that McKinley would have engaged in TR like efforts domestically during what we now think of as the beginning of the Progressive Era.

As to LBJ vs JFK. it's hard to say. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was on its way to passage prior to JFK's death. There is no reason not to believe that JFK would not have been the beneficiary of a landslide in 1964 as the result of running against Barry Goldwater. As to Vietnam, who knows?

In any case, I think the era of consensus Cold War politics was coming to an end with or without LBJ in the White House. The race riots that started in the summer of 1964 would have occurred regardless of who was in the White House. LBJ's character flaws may have made things worse, but it is not clear that the problems of the 60s would have played out better in a second Kennedy term.
3.11.2008 5:22pm
Dave N (mail):
We've had opposite party VPs three times in history: Adams-Jefferson, Jefferson-Burr (technically not opposite-party, but certainly opponents), and Lincoln-Johnson.
Actually four, since John Tyler really was not much of a Whig.

On a separate note, while I agree the trend has been toward highly qualified Vice Presidential picks in recent years, it hasn't always been the case. John Kerry chose a one-term Senator (John Edwards) as his running mate--and Edwards didn't even put North Carolina in play.

As for Dick Cheney being chosen as GWB's running mate, my pet theory has been (though I have no proof) that George W. Bush had settled on Georgia Senator Paul Coverdell as his running mate. Coverdell had formerly headed the Peace Corps, which worked well toward the 2000 "Compassionate Conservative" theme, was hugely popular in Georgia, and would have been a great asset campaigning in Florida.

Coverdell died less than 2 weeks before the Republican National Convention (of an unexpected cerebral hemorrhage) and GWB was essentially forced to "punt"--leading to the nomination of Dick Cheney as VP.
3.11.2008 5:36pm
Dave N (mail):
Adding to Paul B's note, TR became Vice President for two reasons:

1) The Republican "bosses" in New York state wanted him out of the Governorship sooner as opposed to later. and the Vice Presidency would marginalize him.

2) Vice President Garret Hobart died in office in 1899 (I have read that he and McKinley formed a mutual admiration society and had he not died, it is unlikely he would have been dumped from the ticket.

On a separate note, while John Tyler deserves many of the slings and arrows cast in his direction, he also deserves the credit (if there is credit due) for insisting that upon the death of the President the Vice President fully becomes President.
3.11.2008 5:55pm
jtgarrett:
I have to add my voice to those who completely disagree with the notion of adding any mention of political parties to the Constitution. Parties are a convenient way to pigeonhole and categorize similar candidates, but I've always been uncomfortable with the degree to which our political system has become bound to them.

Additionally, a provision such as you suggest wouldn't work in the (admittedly unlikely) case that an independent candidate ever assumed the presidency.
3.11.2008 6:02pm
MarkField (mail):

Given the minor importance of the national government at that time, would it have mattered who was President from 1841-1845?


Given that this period included the annexation of Texas -- which Tyler pushed as an Administration measure -- I'd say it mattered a lot.
3.11.2008 6:30pm
Dave N (mail):
And adding to Mark Field (to those still bothering to read a thread that is 8 hours old), the Tyler Administration managed to do it via a statutory annexation when a treaty with the Texas Republic doing the same thing could not get a 2/3 vote in the Senate.
3.11.2008 9:17pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Given that this period included the annexation of Texas -- which Tyler pushed as an Administration measure -- I'd say it mattered a lot.
But was that good or bad? Not as clear as you would think. I know a number of people in Colorado who would likely wish it hadn't happened, given their experiences with Texans.
3.11.2008 10:39pm
MarkField (mail):

But was that good or bad? Not as clear as you would think. I know a number of people in Colorado who would likely wish it hadn't happened, given their experiences with Texans.


Good or bad, it certainly mattered, and that was the point I was making. If you asked me any time in the last 7 years if it was good, I'd be hard pressed to say yes.
3.11.2008 11:41pm
Rich Rostrom (mail):
Some clarifications:

1) Taylor and the Compromise of 1850.

His opposition is a legend without actual support. Taylor, as a Whig, believed the President should veto only unconstitutional laws. Also, the newspaper regarded as the administration voice supported the Compromise.

2) The last President to be denied nomination for another term was Lyndon Johnaon in 1968.

3) J. Q. Adams and Calhoun were politically separate when elected in 1824; Calhoun soon allied with Adams' adversary Jackson. In the next term Calhoun broke with Jackson.

4) Tendencies in VP nominations: Of the last 16 Democrat VP
nominees, 13 were sitting U.S. Senators, and two were former Senators now incumbent VP.

5) Lincoln never clearly stated his Reconstruction policy. Johnson did not actively oppose black rights, but he allowed ex-Confederate Southerners (and Democrats) to dominate the initial stage of Reconstruction.
3.12.2008 10:44pm
Pedro (mail) (www):
Hillary and Bill Clinton have made a significant issue about how the press is treating Hillary unfairly in their hyper-critical reporting on her and their "softball" reporting on Barak Obama. Hillary maintains she has been fully investigated by the media and Barak hasn't!

As the Tony Rezko trial begins in Chicago, Clinton and her surrogates are linking Obama to Rezko and the media is speculating about whether Obama will be called to testify as a witness in the case. Obama has always admitted he received $85,000 in contributions from Rezko which Obama has now donated to charity rather than keep.

Yet the civil fraud trial of Bill Clinton for defrauduing Hillary's largest donor in 2000 into giving her campaign more than $1.2 million, pending in Los Angeles courts since 2003, is now preparing for a November, 2008 trial. The discovery that is now proceeding after a February 21 hearing, and the pending trial, have NEVER been announced by the mainstream media.

Hillary was able to extricate herself as a co-defendant in the case in January, 2008 after years of appeals to be protected by the First Amendment from tort claims arising out of federal campaign solicitations she made. Her abuse of the intent of California's anti-SLAPP law after the California Supreme Court refused to dismiss her from the case in 2004 is emblematic of her contempt for the Rule of Law.

Hillary will be called as a witness in both discovery and the trial according to the trial court Judge who so-advised Hillary's attorney David Kendall when he dismissed Hillary as a co-defendant in 2007. A subpoena is being prepared this month and will be served personally on Hillary, along with Chelsea, Pa Gov. Ed Rendell, Al Gore and other well known political and media figures.

Yet the media has refused to report about this landmark civil fraud case- brought by Hillary's biggest 2000 donor to her Senate race, regarding allegations that were corroborated by the Department of Justice in the criminal trial of Hillary's finance director David Rosen in May, 2005. That indictment and trial was credited as resulting from the civil suit's allegations by Peter Paul, the Hollywood dot com millionaire Bill Clinton convinced to donate more than $1.2 million (according to the DOJ prosecutors and the FBI) to Hillary's Senate campaign as part of a post White House business deal with Bill.

The media - except for World Net Daily- has also suspiciously refused to report on Hillary's last FEC report regarding her 2000 Senate campaign, filed in January 30, 2006. In a secret settlement of an FEC complaint by the plaintiff in Paul v Clinton, Peter Paul, the FEC fined Hillary's campaign $35,000 for hiding more than $720,000 in donations from Paul, and it required Hillary's campaign to file a 4th amended FEC report.

In that report Hillary and her campaign again hid Paul's $1.2 million contribution to her campaign and falsely attributed $250,000 as being donated by Paul's partner, Spider Man creator Stan Lee, who swore in a video taped deposition he never gave Hillary or her campaign any money.

Lee did testify to trading $100,000 checks with Paul to make it appear he gave $100,000 to Hillary's campaign (admission of a felony) but none of that has been reported by the "overly critical" media!

Where is the outrage from Obama that the press is engaging in a double standard relating to his possible role in the Rezko trial and his refunding the $85,000 contributed to his campaign by Rezko- which Obama has always admitted taking. The media makes no mention of Hillary's role as a witness in Bill's fraud trial for defrauding Hillary's largest donor- and Hillary's refusal to refund the $1.2 million she illegally received from Paul, which she has denied taking from Paul ever since the Washington Post asked her about Paul and his felony convictions from the 1970's before her first Senate election in 2000?legally received from Paul, which she has denied taking from Paul ever since the Washington Post asked her about Paul and his felony convictions from the 1970's before her first Senate election in 2000?


Visit Hillcap.org for videos and info. See the video that had over 6 million hit which was taken out, and back again in youtube. Let the truth be told.
3.13.2008 2:39pm