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Column: Candidates Look To Fill Ornamental, Insignificant VP Position

This story was written by Asher Smith, Emory Wheel


Guess what vice presidents dont matter.

Not when theyre on so-called short lists, not when theyre nominees for the vice presidency and not when theyre occupying the not-quite hallowed grounds of Number One Observatory Circle, the official residence of the Vice President of the United States, on the grounds of the United States Naval Observatory.

I know this will come as a shock to anyone whos been paying any attention to the political news recently. As the Democratic nomination fightends and John McCain bunkers down to plot general election strategy, the question of who will occupy the number-two spot on each partys ticket is one of constant conversation and debate among the chattering class.

However, the truth of the mater is that the vice presidency is and always has been very much an afterthought, a metaphorical footnote of history. Its been that way ever since John Adams complained that he was occupying "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived."

There are a great multitude of people who can name most if not all of the presidents, and they can probably also spout some fundamental facts about most of them, yet is there any normal person on Earth who can wax poetic about men such as George Mifflin Dallas, Schuyler Colfax, William Wheeler, Thomas Hendricks, Garret Hobart, Levi Morton and Charles Fairbanks? The vice presidency was such a trifling matter at the 1880 Republican National Convention that they gave the nod to Chester A. Arthur who held the lowly post of Collector of Customs for the Port of New York as a political favor to Arthurs political benefactor, Gilded Age powerhouse Sen. Roscoe Conkling.

Woodrow Wilsons vice president, former Illinois Gov. Thomas Marshall, was fond of telling a rather clever apocryphal anecdote about two brothers: One went away to sea; the other was elected vice president. And nothing was heard of either of them again." Its very well that he had that view of his office, considering the fact that even when President Wilson suffered an excruciatingly debilitating stroke with a year to go in his presidency, no one in the government ever once voiced the opinion that Marshall should shoulder more responsibilities or even be fully informed as to the exact nature of the presidents medical condition.

In 1932, Franklin Roosevelts vice president, Cactus Jack Garner, reiterated this point when he famously remarked that his position was not worth a bucket of warm s--t.

True, since then the office has grown greatly Jimmy Carter allowed his veep, Walter Mondale, to have a larger role in day-to-day governing decisions, and for the past eight years Dick Cheney has been the brains (for lack of a better word) behind the Bush administration. But its still true that, so long as the president is not on deaths door or a simpering fool, the position is largely ornamental.

John McCain seems to understand this. It was widely reported that he recently arranged social visits with three potential VP nominees, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former rival and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Romneys inclusion on this list in particular demonstrates McCains minimal view of the issue; its been well documented that John McCain is offended by the very existence of Mitt Romney, whose presidential campaign McCain viewed as being disgracefully cynical and hypocritical, and it seems now that McCain is simply trying to raise the hopes of Romney so that he can appreciate the joy of dashing them to smithereens.

Because the Democratic nomination fight has been so divisive, the choice of vice president carries with it slightly more significance, but it is still very much an ornamental importanc. While Sen. Barack Obama will be under immense pressure to make a selection that would demonstrate party unity, the weight of Obamas own personality and the subsequent contrast will make it near-impossible for him to pick a nominee who can in any way outshine him. Lets call this the reverse-Dukakis affect, after the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee who found himself outperformed by that insurmountable dynamo, the moderate milquetoast Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen.

So just remember, when everyone is waiting with bated breath on news as to who will be this election seasons historical footnote (or, in the case of the number-two man on the losing ticket, the footnote to a footnote), that the vice presidency really isnt anything more than a parlor game for the pundits, a chance to see who the medias new verbal punching bag will be for the next six months of four years. Or at least I hope so because I, for one, would much prefer to be introduced to this generations answer to George Mifflin Dallas than I would a Dick Cheney redux.

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