Friday, May 23, 2008

Choosing a Vice President

Choosing a Vice President
By Jerome Grossman

The powers of the Vice President are severely limited in the Constitution of the United States: Article 2, Section 1 “In case of the removal of the President from office, or of his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President.” Article 1, Section 3. “The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.”

Some of the founding fathers did not want a Vice President at all. Alexander Hamilton wrote for The Federalist Papers, No. 68, “The appointment of an extraordinary person, as Vice President, has been objected to as superfluous, if not mischievous.” It is indeed remarkable, given the innate tendencies of ambitious men, that no vice president has ever organized a coup or an assassination of a sitting President

Most Vice Presidents have not been given significant power or responsibilities by their Presidents. They were expected to stand and wait. Two recent exceptions were Vice Presidents Gore and Cheney, who achieved considerable power in their portfolios.

Nominees for Vice President are usually selected for political reasons, their ability to help the nominee for President get elected. They must help carry an important state or influence a large constituency. Gore and Cheney did not deliver on these political tests. Lieberman in 2000 and Edwards in 2004 failed utterly: they brought no appreciable constituency to the polls and failed to defeat Cheney in debates.

Republican nominee John McCain may be looking to strengthen his support among conservatives. For that he may tap a member of Congress with a perfect right wing voting record. If he goes for personality and humor, McCain might select Governor Mike Huckabee. For executive and business experience as well as good looks, there is always Governor Mitt Romney. One of McCain's considerations might be a young Vice President to balance his 71 years.

While Obama will be the favorite to win the November election, his choice of running mate could be most important given the competing factions in the Democratic Party. The female governors of Alaska, Arizona, and Kansas might help assuage the disappointment of feminists at the collapse of the Hillary campaign. Governor Bill Richardson would attract Latino votes. John Edwards received major support from organized labor. Governor Strickland of Ohio would help in the rust belt states. Or Obama might choose a candidate with military experience to offset McCain: Vietnam veteran Senator Jim Webb of Virginia or General Wesley Clark. To further his pledge of national unity, Obama might even consider Republicans Chuck Hagel or Colin Powell.

Nominee Obama has no problem in identifying his Vice President if he bases his decision on political practicalities: who can bring the largest number of votes, who has the largest constituency, who will best argue the Democratic platform against the Republican nominee for Vice President: Hillary Clinton. However, weighing on the scale is the fact that she is extremely controversial with high negatives in every poll. Would having an African-American and a woman on the ticket for the first time in American history be too much for the electorate to bear?

Hillary Clinton has fought Barack Obama to a virtual draw. On delegates, popular vote and super-delegates, Obama leads in one of the closest primary races in American political history. Hillary has supporters in all 50 states and many are passionate about her effort. She actually leads Obama among women, workers, whites and Hispanics and the primary votes are the proof.

Would Hillary accept the invitation? She would be the lady-in-waiting for her chance at the highest office in 2012 or 2016. She will have every incentive to make the Obama administration a success - to boost her own fortune down the road. And if she did not accept, preferring to stay in the Senate, the invitation would go a long way toward reconciling her supporters.

Will Bill Clinton be a distraction as he looks for ways to channel his energies and talents? No problem. If Hillary is elected Vice President she would have to resign her Senate seat in New York. President Obama could ask Governor David Patterson to appoint Bill to Hillary's seat. Mission accomplished. Bill is busy with a new career. Let the Senate worry.


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