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I give up! Now just tell us.

Welcome to the digital age of politics, where some time in the next few days Barack Obama will send an e-mail to supporters and anyone else who signed up letting us know who, if Obama becomes the 44th President of the United States, will be one heartbeat away from being the 45th President. John McCain will also name his vice presidential nominee in the next couple of weeks, ending the so-called Veepstakes for both parties.

Several times during the spring campaign I tried to predict what would happen this fall. I still think Obama and McCain will be wrapped up in a very tight race, with the eventual margin of victory for either candidate decided by performance in debates and, likely more significantly, by the rhetoric (read: mud) they each sling in their campaign ads. I also tried to figure out who each man would pick as his running mate. But I don't think I did very well with that. I was convinced McCain would pick his runner-up Mike Huckabee to help sway the conservative base of the party. I don't see that happening now. As for the Democratic side, I was never very sure who Obama would pick. Indeed, all I really ever concluded was that Bill Richardson would not only make a good VP, but probably had the best credentials to be the party's Presidential nominee. But that is a moot point now, of course.

Whoever winds up getting the second spot on the tickets, if elected, the man or woman will have two main duties: To serve as a tie-breaking vote in the Senate and to be slightly healthier than the President (or not, if you're Dick Cheney) just in case the 25th Amendment needs to be invoked. In other words, enjoy four to eight years of ceremonial duties and putting yourself in place to be your party's Presidential hopeful down the road (or not, if you're Dick Cheney). While the official duties are hugely important, they are rarely put to use, which is probably a good thing. Indeed the Vice President has relatively little importance in the running of the country. And many of the men who have held the office are largely forgettable footnotes to history, including Sampson County's own William Rufus de Vane King, who died after just 45 days in office.

Of course obscurity in the second-highest office in the land has not always been the case. The first three Vice Presidents were big names who made a lot of history. But they did not run for the position. In the early days of the US, the presidential candidate who earned the second most electoral votes became Vice President, which meant the top two offices were held by men from different parties for the nation's first 12 years. Thus John Adams, arguably the most important of the Founding Fathers as far as advancing the notion of independence from England, sat and stewed for eight years in the shadow of military hero George Washington. When Adams finally won the presidency in 1796, his VP was rival, and ultimately great friend, Thomas Jefferson. The two disagreed on many key issues, and Jefferson knocked Adams out of office in 1800. In that election it took 36 ballots for the Electoral College to select Jefferson president and Aaron Burr as vice president. That led to the 12th Amendment establishing the way we elect both offices today. Imagine Al Gore or John Kerry as George W. Bush's vice president. Think there's tension in Washington now? By the way, Aaron Burr holds the distinction of being the only VP to shoot and kill a man while in office when he won a duel against Alexander Hamilton. (Cheney is the only other VP to shoot a man while serving)

A side effect of the 12th Amendment was the diminished role of the VP. So have the men lived up to the office or the other way around? You would think the office would give a VP an inside track to the presidency. But of the 46 VPs, only 14 eventually moved up, and only four of them were Vice Presidents when they ran for President and won.

Richard Nixon may have the most VP history attached to his name. Of course, he was Dwight Eisenhower's No. 2 from 1953 to 1961, but he lost the 1960 presidential race to John F. Kennedy. Eight years later Nixon ran for and won the White House, becoming the first (and still only) former, non-sitting VP to pull off the feat. Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew won reelection in 1972. But in 1973, Agnew resigned in disgrace, and Nixon tabbed Rep. Gerald Ford of Michigan to take over the office. Of course Ford moved up to the top spot a year later when Nixon resigned. When he lost the Oval Office in 1976 to Jimmy Carter, Ford became the first person to ever serve as VP and President without ever being elected to either office. I'll bet the people of Michigan's Fifth Congressional District never thought their vote in 1972 for Ford would go so far.

I would be remiss if I did not give credit to Charles Dawes, the only vice president to win a Nobel Prize. Theodore Roosevelt and Gore would win after leaving office. But here's some more proof of how inconsequential the VP can be:

  • The Constitution does not include an oath of office for the position.
  • John C. Calhoun, who served under both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, resigned as VP in 1832. Having been dropped from Jackson's reelection ticket, the lame duck Calhoun decided there'd be more power stepping down as the Senate President and merely serving as a member of that chamber of Congress. He was right.
  • The office has been left vacant 16 times, three times for stretches of almost four years.
  • Only George H.W. Bush (1985) and Cheney (2002, 2007) have served as acting President under the 25th Amendment. In all three cases, the President was incapacitated while having a colonoscopy.
  • Perhaps following Calhoun's lead, Texans Lyndon Johnson (1960) and Lloyd Bentsen (1988) and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut (2000) ran for VP while also campaigning for the Senate. Talk about hedging your bet. They all won their Senate races. Only Johnson also wound up as VP, forcing him to quit the legislative position.

The bottom line is this: Expect a whole lot of coverage in the next few weeks about the vice presidential nominees, including who they are, what they've done and who their families are. Expect a public airing of all their dirty laundry. Expect undue criticisms and overly-hyped compliments. But don't expect a lot from them while in office or afterward.

By: Kevin Wuzzardo


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