Friday, October 12, 2012

Hail to the Veep

Vice presidents get no respect. John Adams described the position as “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.” John Nance Garner was a little less elegant: “The vice presidency isn’t worth a pitcher of warm spit.”

No wonder they play “Hail to the Chief” for the president but no “Hail to the Veep” for the vice president.

The vice presidency has not always attracted the best and the brightest. Spiro Agnew, famous for describing the press as “nattering nabobs of negativity,” had to resign in the midst of a criminal investigation that resulted in his imprisonment.

Dan Quayle is remembered for little other than his inability to spell potato. Thomas Marshall opined that what the nation really needed following a world war was a good five-cent cigar. They came and went and the nation survived.

But vice-presidential candidates do matter. Their personalities, character and political skills have played critical roles in the nation’s history—roles that defied the unflattering descriptions of the office.

It mattered that Teddy Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson were vice presidents when the presidents they served were assassinated. Harry Truman had to close out World War II after Franklin Roosevelt died. Gerald Ford steadied the nation after Richard Nixon was forced to resign.

None of those men was really chosen to lead and none expected to do it. But in a moment their time came. That’s why every president’s first and possibly most important decision is the choice of vice president for reasons far beyond scoring debate points. 



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