Friday, March 30, 2012

Electing the Vice President...2

The first Vice President of the United States (VPOTUS) wasn't sharing a ticket with the first President of the United States (POTUS), George Washington, but the second choice for president in the group of white men able and nominated for the job. The men that placed second in the presidential race became the vice president...this occurred between 1789 and the election of 1800.

During that election an attempt at a ticket was made (i.e. Thomas Jefferson/Aaron Burr and John Adams/Charles Pinckney) but without clarifying which candidate was running for which office. The Jefferson/Burr "ticket" tied. Jefferson and Burr had the same number of votes, but not saying who was president and who was vice president. The Constitution said in 1800, that the person, white male, with the second most votes will be the vice president, and if there is no clear majority the two individuals with the top votes will be voted on in the Senate. In 1800 there was an electoral tie. The House didn't want Burr, so Jefferson won the presidency after 36 ballots and Burr became the vice president. This confusion created the system that exists today. The electors would place votes for president and vice president separately. The 12th Amendment took effect in 1804, just in time for the November presidential election, a presidential ticket wins a State, the electors place one vote for president and one vote for vice president. These electors do not have to be faithful, meaning they can cast a vote however they want. Joe Biden for president and Barack Obama for vice president! The last time a faithless elector didn't follow the popular vote of their home State was in '04 when a Democratic elector voted John Edwards for POTUS and John Kerry for VPOTUS. The 12th Amendment really changed the vice presidency, before the amendment the 3 vice presidents of the United States were two future presidents, Adams and Jefferson, and a potential western empire founding father, aka Burr. Since then they have been ticket-balancing both geographically and ideologically, but all white males, of course.

The first 100 years of the post-12th Amendment vice presidents gave us the first to resign and near rebellious John C. Calhou and Martin Van Buren, the first since the amendment's passage to be elected POTUS as an incumbent v-p. Both served President Andrew Jackson as VPOTUS. But there was also Andrew Johnson, the ultimate balancing act for a ticket with Abraham Lincoln on the Union Party ticket in 1864...keeping the North and South together politically. Theodore Roosevelt, the political super-star ends the first 100 years under the Amendment. Both Johnson 17 and Roosevelt 26 became presidents, like Van Buren, but only one of these former vice presidents turned presidents won four more years.

Richard Nixon helped the vice presidency become less of a joke with his tenure. I'm sure he was the butt of the joke plenty of times as vice's part of the job. President Dwight D. Eisenhower (Ike) couldn't think of an important idea Vice President Nixon contributed to the administration during the 1960 election or as he put it: "If you give me a week, I might think of one." But by Walter Mondale's vice presidency in 1977 the office had entered modernity and a home to call its own. In 1988, the incumbent VPOTUS, George Bush, was elected POTUS, something not achieved since 1836 with Van Buren. The next opportunity for a sitting VPOTUS to run was in 2000 and he got the majority of the popular votes...but not the electoral votes. Vice President Al Gore, in 2000, was the most powerful vice president in history. His successor's power would eclipse his.

In 2000 when Texas Governor George W. Bush asked his father's former Secretary of Defense, Richard B. Cheney to head a committee to find the best candidate for the bottom of the ticket. Cheney reported back to Bush (would-be-43) that he, Cheney, was the best to be the v-p. And as the 2000 election goes, Bush/Cheney won the electoral votes of Florida and thus the presidency.

In the 2004 Democratic primary the first place winner, John Kerry, selected the man with the second most votes, John Edwards. Sound constitutional logic found in our own founding documents. But that ticket "lost"...Ohio is another story. 2008 provided the first non-incumbency since 1952 (President Harry Truman dropped out during the early primaries) and 1928 (future President Herbert Hoover was a member of President Calvin Coolidge's cabinet as secretary of commerce). Since Cheney wasn't running, both parties were trying to figure ou the top spot on the '08 tickets. The bottom ones come later.

On the Democratic side two individuals fought for the top of the ticket and voters dream of the second place finisher on the bottom. But it wasn't going to happen. Tradition of the president choosing his v-p trumped the obvious voter desire. But all is well with a President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But that dream ticket of the '08 Democratic primary season is still a dream in 2012. But it's fading as Vice President punches up his campaigning duties.

The Republicans in 2008 got to break ground with the party's first female on the ticket: Sarah Palin of Alaska.

Presidential candidates, non-incumbents, make their first presidential decision when they choose their vice presidential candidate. The reason it's a big decision is because this man or woman might be the president if something happens to the president. Palin shouldn't have been chosen. Hillary should not have been passed over (understandable from her perspective), and Cheney obviously gave himself too much power way before the GOP nominating convention in 2000.

Let the voters have a say in their choice for leadership. If a pre-12th Amendment primary election system is developed those that want a voice can be heard with their candidate and that candidate can be fighting for the top spot on the ticket and lose but become THE person to fill the spot on the bottom of the ticket because the people say so.

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