I’ve been thinking about running mates. Actually I’ve been thinking about Campaign 2008, strategies, Vice Presidents, Lieutenant Governors, and “term” life insurance. The election/selection process for Campaign 2008 is entering the next phase before the national party nominating conventions are held later this summer and the really hard-core campaigning begins in earnest before the November elections. We the People... pretty much know who will head the two major party tickets at this point, but who will run as the candidates for the Veep position is still a huge unknown.
You see, the position of the Vice President is hardly the deciding factor in why voters cast their ballots for this nation’s chief executive. Still, the position is very important in that this is the individual who is literally a heartbeat away from the Oval Office in the event that the President (for whatever reason) cannot complete the term of office. Despite all of the lobbying and arm-twisting from special interests and party poobahs, the final decision for the back-up position rests with the person at the top of the ticket. This is as it should be. It must be noted, however, that initially in our history, the Veep was the person who came in second in the general election for President.
Strategies and political maneuvering do enter into the choice for positive (and negative) reasons. It should be important that the choice is an individual who, if the unthinkable occurs, can effectively function as the nation’s chief executive. That has not always been true. Vice Presidential running mates are sometimes selected to achieve geographical, philosophical, and political balance. This is done to garner “wider” appeal for the ticket with the general electorate, to placate special interests within the party, and even to stroke the ego/personality of the candidate running for President. The Veep choices may be be made to complement the strengths of the lead candidate, or they may even be made to focus the jokes and the criticism away from the Chief Executive once that person is elected. We’ve seen all of this.
In my adult lifetime, there have been Vice Presidents who were eminently qualified, while there have been others who have proven to be “real pieces of work.” Really strong candidates/personalities for the Oval Office (who felt confident of their election because of the “legacies” of their immediate predecessors) tended to pick running mates who left the voting public asking: “WHY?” When Nixon selected Agnew in 1968, the headlines ran: “What is a Spiro Agnew?” This choice proved very strategic, because in the aftermath of Watergate, Nixon was secure in his tenure as the President only as long as Agnew remained as the Vice President. All bets were off once Spiro was ousted. Then Nixon was forced to resign, and the replacement Veep, Jerry Ford, ultimately assumed the Presidency. Some 20 years later, the electorate saw headlines: “What is a Dan Quayle?” Quayle took the brunt of the jokes and frivolous criticism. Papa Bush finished his first administration, but the team was not re-elected for a second term.
Did I mention Dick Cheney? Nuff said!
Presumed Democratic candidate Barack Obama is now under a great deal of pressure to choose Mrs. Clinton as his running mate. There are strong historical precedents for this; and, in essence, this “kind of” follows in the founding fathers’ original method, whereby the “second” vote-getter receives the nod. I don’t see this happening, though, because the pre-convention campaign was too bitterly fought between the two. Despite all of the major in-party arm twisting, concerns of a troika (three-horse-driven vehicle) with an Obama, Clinton, and Clinton co-presidency should more than sway Obama away from that choice.
In Illinois, where I live, we have seen similar “political” posturing in the selection of our Lieutenant Governor. There are common threads, but with some different twists. Corrine Wood proved to a “term” life insurance policy for former Governor Ryan. She was eminently qualified to be Lieutenant Governor and to replace the Governor—having a long history of Illinois elected office. She was a hard-nosed politico who had stepped on a lot of toes over the years and made a lot of foes in the process. Despite the corruption and scandals surrounding George Ryan, the legislature left him to finish his term—in part to preclude making Wood the Illinois Governor. George Ryan was tried, convicted, and sentenced to the slammer after he left office. Corrine Wood was denied the governorship in the process.
We in Illinois are now again enduring letting the clock run out for a highly controversial (and very negatively perceived) Governor. Rod Blagojevic can actually be said to make George Ryan look like an effective chief executive who did proud for the citizens of Illinois! Blagojevic's understudy, the Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, had an almost “Dan Quayle laughableness” to him when he came into his office. Yet in his six-year tenure, he has literally remade his image and changed the do-nothing perception of the Office of Lieutenant Governor.
I’m Fred Cederholm and I’ve been thinking. You should be thinking, too.
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This story was published on June 12, 2008.