Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pointless Presidential Pfacts #49 - "Mailing It In"

While Washington and Adams 2 delivered their annual messages to Congress, Jefferson broke with tradition and established sending the annual message which would then be read by a clerk to the joint-session. This was the tradition until Wilson when he addressed a joint-session, something I'm sure Theodore Roosevelt would've loved to start up again just a few years before Wilson. Bully!

Pointless Presidential Pfacts #48 - "A Skutnik Moment"

The first time a president cited a guest seated next to the first lady at a State of the Union was in 1982 when Ronald Reagan lauded Lenny Skutnik (like Sputnik) a government employee who helped save victims of a plane crash. Since then presidents have invited guests which have become known as the "Lenny Skutnik" moments.

Lenny Skutnik at the 1982 State of the Union Address next to First Lady Nancy Reagan.

(Vice) Pointless (Vice) Presidential (Vice) Pfacts #47 - "It Has Nothing to Do with 47% of Anything Except a Warm Bucket of Spit"

The 47th vice president is the incumbent, Joseph Biden of Delaware. President Barack Obama is the 44th POTUS but only the 43rd man to be president. President Grover Cleveland's two non-consecutive terms established how we count our presidents since Cleveland was the 22nd POTUS and his popular vote losing successor, Benjamin Harrison, was the 23rd POTUS and when the two had a rematch in 1892 Cleveland became the 24th POTUS instead of simply being known as just the 22nd POTUS.

For the vice presidency, there has not been a non-consecutive vice president to serve. But the reason there are more vice presidents than presidents, and only by 3, is because some vice presidents have served more than one president, some have been dropped and replaced by another, and then with the passage of the 25th Amendment, some have been appointed to fill a vacancy.

Only two vice presidents have served two different presidents. George Clinton was the first as Thomas Jefferson's second vice president, and first elected under the 12th Amendment, and while President Jefferson left office, Vice President Clinton was reelected to a second term with the newly elected James Madison. Clinton would also become the first vice president to die in office in 1812 as President Madison was seeking reelection that year. Interestingly, Clinton's replacement Elbridge Gerry would be the second vice president to die in office. The other vice president to serve two different presidents was John C. Calhoun. He was elected vice president with a majority of votes in 1824, unlike the presidential winner. Calhoun ran on 2 tickets in the same race so he was guaranteed to win enough votes to be the vice president. John Quincy Adams became president in 1825 and by the 1828 election the incumbent vice president was running against the administration. The ticket of Andrew Jackson and Calhoun won but the would become so antagonistic toward each other that Vice President Calhoun resigned, becoming the first to do so, and win election to the Senate to better combat President Jackson.

Vice President George Clinton.

While Clinton and Calhoun are the only two vice presidents to stick around for more than one president, some vice presidents haven't even been asked back for another term. Vice President Burr was not on the first ticketed election in 1804, Clinton was the first vice president to replace another in a second term of a presidency. Since Calhoun resigned in 1832, President Jackson got a new vice president for the second term, Martin Van Buren. Jump to 1860 when Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin won the general election with a plurality of the popular vote, but four years later President Lincoln would win 55% of the vote but without Vice President Hamlin. For his reelection, Lincoln ran on the Union Party ticket which represented not just the unity of the States and the Federal Government but the political factions within. So he chose a southern Democrat that remained loyal to the Union during the sectional crisis, a.k.a. the Civil War. That Democrat was Andrew Johnson of Tennessee. Ulysses S. Grant would get a new vice president for his second term. Franklin Roosevelt would have 3 different vice presidents over his four runs at the office. Gerald Ford was the last incumbent to drop the incumbent vice president for a new one. But FDR is the last to drop a vice president and win with a new one and Ford was the first to try since.

Gerald Ford being sworn-in as Vice President.

Ford is also a product of the 25th Amendment. After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, the threat of nuclear war brought the presidential line of succession into focus. Throughout the history of the presidency the vice presidency never had a remedy for a vacancy. Whenever the office was vacant it wasn't replaced until the next election and for some that was a whole four years. Such a thing could not happen in the Cold War era, so by 1967 the amendment was ratified. Just six years later in 1973, the amendment would be invoked and Gerald Ford would be the first appointed vice president. Then as President Ford, he too would appoint his own vice president, the moderate Republican Nelson Rockefeller...before dumping him in '76 for the more conservative Bob Dole.

Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, Senator and Vice Presidential-Nominee Bob Dole, President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Gixing Fovernment - President Pro ELDERLY

The office of the President Pro Temp or Pro Tempore has been around since the beginning. Essentially the vice president, or deputy, to the President of the Senate, aka the Vice President of the United States.

The President Pro Temp, or PPT, is even part of the presidential line of succession. It's switched positions many times with the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Cabinet Secretaries, but since 1947 it has remained 3rd in line behind the VPOTUS and the Speaker and just before the Secretary of State.

Starting in 1890 the Senate started electing the senior senator of the majority party to the office and since 1949 has stuck to that tradition. It's a strange tradition to reenforce when the presidential line of succession was just rewritten two years prior and it was the early years of the Cold War. It would take an assassination and a vacancy in the vice presidency where a Constitutional Amendment would be needed and so came the 25th Amendment in 1967. One of the four sections of the Amendment state that the president must appoint a vice president if the office were vacant. The line of succession during the height of the Cold War in the 1960s was something of importance in maintaining the continuity of government.

The United States faced similar situations 2002 when the government was reorganized again with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. However while the line of succession was always considered during the early years of the "War on Terror", the Senate didn't break with tradition when it came to electing their leadership and thus third person in line for the presidency was an old man who's age was showing.

Yes, the line of succession has never gone beyond the vice president but since it is there it should be taken seriously. The President Pro Tempore should become the Senate's power equivalent to that of the Speaker. (And yes, the Speaker is equal to the President of the Senate as leaders of the 2 houses). The PPT should earn the pay check and have more of a role...even though they already don't do anything. The VPOTUS and the PPT hardly ever preside over Senate session. That's what freshmen are for...at any institution. The Senate leadership of President Pro Temp, Majority Leader and Majority Whip (aka Assistant Majority Leader) should mirror the leadership of the House with the Speaker, Majority Leader and so on.

The current PPT is Patrick Leahy of Vermont and at 73 years old doesn't look his age like his most recent predecessors like Daniel Inouye of HI, Robert Byrd of WV, Ted Stevens of AK, and Strom Thurmond of SC. Now some perspective, when Senator Byrd took the office of PPT for the first time in 1989 he was 72 and as the power shifted back-and-forth between Republicans and Democrats so did the occupant of the Office of the President Pro Tempore, so by 2010 (the year Byrd passed away) he was 93 years old when he last held the office. As our recent PPT have shown, humans are living longer and without term limits (not that GIXING FOVERNMENT is going to to mention term limits as something that will remedy the system...but it will be touched on), Senator Leahy will be the PPT each time the Democrats are in power. If Leahy continues to serve, then 20 years later (2034), we'll see an older version of Leahy as the PPT.

If a man looked as old as any of Leahy's most recent predecessors, no American would vote for him (or her). Age at some point becomes a factor in the consideration for the presidency. So far, Ronald Reagan is the oldest POTUS at 69. For 8 years he served and we did not question his ability to serve, even though 5 years after leaving office he revealed he had Alzheimer's. Vice President Alben Barkley was advised not to run for president in 1952 because, at 74, his age would be a factor. In 2014, 74 doesn't look the same to Americans as it did in the mid-20th Century. Currently, the average age of a POTUS is 54 years old, or rounding up, 55. So, the age of the occupant of the Office of the President Pro Temp should be reasonable and not seem like they are challenging the limits of humanity.

While this smacks of ageism, we already Constitutionally limit the office holder of the presidency to 35 and above, as well as being a native born citizen. Those younger than 35 are deemed unqualified for the office. If there is a non-native born member of the Cabinet, they would be skipped in the line of succession because they don't meet the qualifications for the office. A Constitutional Amendment is not needed for limiting the age of the PPT, but rather the Senate simply reverting to the pre-1890 practices of simply voting for the officer. If the Senate treats the selection of the PPT like that of the Speaker, then the result will more than likely be a politician in their political prime...and yes that might be an aging person but not likely. So let's stop giving a line of succession job to longest serving member of a party, just create a special office for that person and leave the Constitutional office to those that could serve all Americans if need be.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Gixing Fovernment - Redefining a Presidential Term

Currently a presidential term is four years, from January 20th at noon one odd numbered year following an election in an even numbered year to then next one. That term can be repeated only once more for a total of eight years, which is not the limit on the number of years a president can serve and that's ten. But that's later.

Redefining what a presidential term is probably my least favorite reform of the government but it's probably a tradition worth breaking. I like how it neatly works out every four years since electors cast their unanimous choice for George Washington in 1788 and with the exception of death (natural or by the assassin's bullet) or resignation every four years the voice of the People would be made clear, not always crystal clear.

But if the definition of what a term length is should be changed to six and limit the person to one term. Or they cannot run for consecutive office. That throws the opportunities for more Grover Clevelands, non-consecutive 2-termer. Presidents have suggested this change since they feel they enter office with reelection on their mind and not governing. The president of Mexico serves a single six year-term.

Traditionally, meaning starting with Washington, after serving two terms, a president stepped down from power. Thomas Jefferson, the second president to serve a second four year term, followed Washington's lead in 1808 and so did all those that followed. There's an UNTIL coming. Ulysses S. Grant pondered a third non-consecutive term in 1880 but the Republican Party chose dark horse and became the last incumbent member of the House of Representatives, so far, to win the presidency, James A. Garfield. The Democratic Party briefly considered Grover Cleveland for another non-consecutive term in 1900. Theodore Roosevelt considered breaking his promise of not running for another term in 1908 (TR considered William McKinley's second term 1901-1905 as his first term since it was only 6 months old when he became the 26th POTUS) but put his 3rd term plans off until 1912 when he came in second to Woodrow Wilson and ahead of the incumbent, William Howard Taft. 1912 was the last time a third party placed second in both popular and electoral votes. Twenty years later Franklin Roosevelt would come into office in March of 1933 with such hope and optimism that happy days were really here again.

FDR won reelection in 1936 and expected that to be it. He too would do what all the other two termers before him, give up power and build a library. Well, the library thing was something new. But the threat of Adolf Hitler and war in Europe worried FDR. Roosevelt 32 thought the isolationists would get someone elected and keep the United States from interfering in a foreign war and he knew of no Democrat that he could trust to maintain the New Deal programs. So while some opposed the idea of FDR seeking a third consecutive term, he still won a nice majority in both popular and electoral votes. The People spoke. He came in with a new vice president, Henry A. Wallace, a progressive and liberal from Iowa replacing the two term VPOTUS John N. Garner, a conservative Texan that wasn't a fan of FDR running again for a third term but also the New Deal, which equals big government.

Roosevelt 32 would of course go for a fourth term. Just like there was in 1940, there was opposition to a 4th term but still the People spoke and FDR was off to a 4th term. Had FDR lived his term would have ended on January 20, 1949. There is no evidence that FDR would've run a 5th time. It is rather believed that FDR would've been the first to resign the presidency once the war was over, but I guess he would want a better outcome than a 44 year cold war. But he died a little over 2 months into his historic 4th term and the successor president was a new vice president. Part of FDR's fourth nomination, the Democratic Party replaced the left leaning Wallace with a more moderate choice in Missouri's Senator Harry S. Truman, who led hearings into military spending during the war. President Truman would follow in the footsteps of the other 20th Century VPOTUS turned POTUS before him and win a term as president in his own right in 1948. He could've tried again in 1952 if he wanted. The idea that someone had the freedom to run as many times as they wanted appalled the opposition.

Truman stepped aside when he saw there was a serious challenge within his own party. But the next person to serve in the Oval Office would be limited to two terms. Jealous of the monopoly held by a single individual and thus a political party on the presidency did not sit well with the other minority party. The People knew FDR was breaking with tradition and if they disagreed they would have chosen someone else and same with the party that nominated him a third time before the entire country voted of course. The Republicans were successfully able to amend the Constitution in 1947 (Ratified in 1951) in the brief moment they controlled the Congress limiting the term of a president to 2 and the years in office 8-10. The amend did not apply to the current office holder. Truman could pull a Roosevelt 32 and run forever!!! But he didn't.

Dwight Eisenhower was limited by the new Amendment and wished he could have the opportunity to serve the people another four years...if that is what they wanted, he was down. John F. Kennedy tragically did not get to see reelection but all bets were he was cruising to a comfortable reelection in 1964. Lyndon B. Johnson won a landslide in '64, as a vice president turned president. But now the 22nd Amendment was in effect.

LBJ finished the remainder of Kennedy's first term November 22, 1963-January 20, 1965, just a little over a year. That means Johnson 36 could've ran for another term in 1968 and his announcement of not running seeking or accepting the nomination was a shock because it was expected since he could run. Since he only served a little over a year as POTUS before his first full term, LBJ could've served until January 20, 1973. But Vietnam did him in.

The shock of LBJ not seeking another term is because it is expected that a president would seek reelection. James K. Polk kept his word and served one term. Rutherford B. Hayes did too, although he came into office with having lost the popular vote and winning electoral votes chosen by a committee because the Congress was too wimpy to follow the Constitution and they themselves vote like in 1800 and 1824. I remember John McCain's campaign in 2008 considering the idea of saying he'd serve a single term, but that announcement, while great, makes the new president a lame-duck as they become in the second term under a 22nd Amendment.

Another what if within a what if is if Gerald Ford won the 1976 election he would not be able to run (or at least complete a term since it would end in 1985 and that would be a year more than the Constitution allows under the 22nd Amendment). So Ford would probably not run in 1980 but if he was super popular could've and resigned once he reached the maximum number of years allowed. Or he could've challenged the Amendment by staying in office and not running again in 1984, sort of like Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City from 2002-2013.

But if the country were to amend the Constitution to switch to a six year presidential term, there would be no more constant electioneering, presidents could focus on the job and if they wanted could seek the office again after having been out of power for six years, always knowing that you'll never have to challenge the incumbent. A huge downside is of course we are stuck with that POTUS for SIX whole years as opposed to the every-four years of getting to switch him (or her) out...just have to wait an extra two years.

Gixing Fovernment - WTF?!

I've always thought about what needs improvement in how our Federal Government operates from tiny improvements to large-scale improvements. These are just my thoughts and suggestions on things that should be reformed within our government. All of this is considered with a "what if" possibility that we can change things that no one would think to change. Some of the changes would require a Constitutional Amendment while others would just be a break with tradition. All of this is recommended while still maintaining the Constitution which has operated and its powers expanded since 1789.

Now doing what they did in 1787 when trying to fix the Articles of Confederation, that's a completely different talk.

So here is Fixing Government...I mean Gixing Fovernment.