Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Appointed Vice President

Gerald Ford is not the first appointed vice president.

Okay technically, or constitutionally, he is. The 25th Amendment fixed the ever vacant vice presidency problem which had been going on every now and then since 1841. That's what section 2 of the amendment did: president nominates and a majority of both chambers of Congress confirms.

We know politicians seek the office of vice president even if they won't admit it. James Polk was trying for the vp nomination before he stumbled on to the bigger nomination back in 1844. Those that don't seek the office usually accept the nomination, kind of taking one for the team. Theodore Roosevelt was that way. The extremely popular New York Governor, recent war hero from the Spanish-American War, was banished to the vp slot to keep in check by party leaders. Who would think the vice presidency could put TR in some kind of position of power? Oh, right Mark Hanna.

Presidential candidates eventually took on what party bosses were doing and selected their own vice presidential candidates. John Kennedy offered the vice presidency to Lyndon Johnson after their rivalry for the top nomination in 1960. The Kennedy brothers didn't think LBJ would accept, but he did.

Sure the national conventions have been confirming the vice presidential candidates via delegate votes. In the days of uncertain convention outcomes, it took more than one ballot to find a party's nominee for the bottom of the ticket. And yes when the people go to the ballot boxes in November they are electing a slate of electors to vote for their ticket of choice, each ticket containing a top (president) and a bottom (vice president). Thank you 12th Amendment. The vice president is the only other national office elected by the entire country. But we're usually just thinking of the person running for that other national office when we vote.

The vice presidential candidate historically was someone who balanced the ticket geographically or ideologically. The candidate usually filled out something that was missing on the other end of the ticket. In 1976 Jimmy Carter was the true Washington outsider and Walter Mondale was the exact opposite, perfect match. William Jefferson Clinton of Arkansas broke the mold on balancing geography in 1992 by selecting his home state's neighbor state's son, Al Gore of Tennessee.

We the voter accept the presidential candidate's choice pick as his or her's first real presidential decision pre-election. The presidential candidate believes that the person he or she selects will be able to do the job of president. The presidential candidate fought long and hard for the nomination, to get the people's vote, and the vp candidate is chosen not by the people but by the person who survived a test by the people.

We've accepted this way of selecting the nation's second highest office. And yet nine times in our history has the vice president ascended to the presidency. In 1841 when John Tyler became the first vp to become president upon the death of William Henry Harrion just 30 days into the new administration, the Constitution did not specify the ascendancy. The 25th Amendment's section one clarified all that by saying "In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President." It took so long to realize the importance of the office and transition of power.

Perhaps we have accepted the practice of selecting vice presidential candidates for too long. We may have had some good picks like Robert Dole, Walter Mondale, George Bush, Al Gore, and Jack Kemp. We've also had some which we question and did not turn out so good.

In 2008 the tradition of an undemocratically chosen vice presidential candidate continues with the selection of Senator Joe Biden of Delware for the Democrats and Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska for the Republicans.

Barack Obama makes his first presidential decision by selecting a running mate. An African-American male on a presidential ticket is a new thing. The country can handle change but not such a dramatic change as not having a white male somewhere on the ticket. So Obama chooses Biden, over the person who in the Democratic nominating contest received the second most number of votes to the nominee. Almost half of those that voted in the Democratic primary/caucus elections. Very undemocratic.

John McCain makes his first presidential decision after Obama. Ah, it's all politics. Well McCain can't pick another white male for his ticket when he's going up against the history making ticket of Obama/Biden. Breaking one hundred fifty-two years of an all white male ticket, the Republican vice presidential pick is recently elected governor Palin. McCain's attempts at politics (i.e. women's vote, he's a maverick, etc.) instead of selecting someone who is qualified for the presidency shows the seriousness of why the vice presidency needs to be in the hands of the people.

The qualifications of the vice presidency are exactly those of the presidency. The people should have a say in who that potential leader is. Some say the president needs to be able to work with his or her vice president and so the candidate must make the pick. No. The vice president needs to be selected because they are the second best qualified to be president after the presidential candidate.

In 1988, Dan Quayle was not the second best qualified person to be president after George Bush. Quayle was a senator farther right than Bush ideologically and youthful when compared to Bush and the oldest president Ronald Reagan, then the incumbent. Sarah Palin is not the second most qualified within the Republican Party to be president. She's not from Washington. She represents change as a female. That's what mattered to McCain.

The vice presidential candidate should be selected by the voter just as the presidential candidate is. The general election would remain the same, but it's how those people end up on the ticket which should be changed. One way would be for the primary voter to have a ballot labeled "president" and one labeled "vice president," all candidates in the running would be on both ballots and could only be voted for once. The person with the most number of votes for president becomes the candidate for president and the person with the most number of votes for vice president becomes vice president.

Another way can be similar to the process of electing the president and vice president pre-12th Amendment. Before the passage of the 12th Amendment in 1804, the man with a majority of votes became the president and the man with the second most number of votes became vice president. This is why our first two vice presidents are highly qualified men and both went on to be elected president in their own right. After the amendment passed and changed how we voted, the office of the vice president was no longer filled by men of similar caliber to that of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

So in a primary, the person who comes in second to the person with the most votes becomes the vice presidential running mate. In 2004 after John Kerry toyed with the idea of a bipartisan ticket with McCain, Kerry selected John Edwards, the man who received the second most number of primary votes. Yes, in 2008 this did not happen. Hillary Clinton was not considered even though she had the second most number of votes to Obama. Worrying about the role of a former president in a new administration was too much to worry about. Yes why would Obama not want one of the smartest men to occupy the White House as the spouse of the vice president? Avoiding that question and the person who received the next most number of votes, Obama went in another direction with his selection in Biden.

We must prevent this undemocratic process from continuing. We need to make sure that the people's voices are heard. We need to prevent daring political moves at the expense of potentially dangerous and inexperienced possible-presidents from coming to power. We need to return the appointed presidency back to men like Gerald Ford.

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