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The vice presidency
For many years the office of the vice president has been seen little more than a joke.
John Nance Garner, Franklin Roosevelt's deputy, suggested that the office was not
"worth a pitcher of warm spit".
The office was only created as an after thought by those who devised the
Constitution. The document simply says that the vice president will be chosen by
an Electoral college, outlines the circumstances when he or she will be acting
president and lays down that preside (be in a position of authority) over the Senate.
Given there are so few formal powers some presidents make little of it. One such
occupant was Charles Dawes who declared that his position was "the easiest job in
How does the President choose the vice-president?
Presidents want a running candidate who will "balance the ticket", therefore fulfill
the role that they cannot. E.G Kennedy a liberal catholic chose Johnson a Texan
Protestant which was likely to appeal to southern voters.
Responsibilities and role
The vice-President assumes some of the ceremonial tasks of the president, and
represents him on formal occasions, whether it be the funeral of a foreign leader or
the commemoration of some past event. The vice-president is formally the
presiding officer of the senate, referring its proceedings and interpreting the
rules. Usually vice-presidents put in few appearances as there is little chance of
them exerting political influence as they are not a member of the chamber.
A frustrating role
For those with presidential ambitions, the post takes them that much nearer to the
White house, and there is always that their services might be needed should death
or assassination occur, or electors choose them as the next president. About one
third of vice-presidents actually become the President. Five have done so since
WWII: Truman, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Bush snr.
Yet it is difficult for the vice president to carve out a useful and distinctive role.
The role can be incredibly frustrating especially if the administration is nearing its
end or is unpopular as on the one hand they should remain loyal yet on the other
hand if they wish to succeed the presidency it would be useful to show a degree of
detachment. An example of this is Hubert Humphrey over Vietnam in the late days
of Johnson's presidency. Whatever Humprey's opinion of the war was, he was
unable to oppose official policy whilst he remained a member of the white house
team. Al Gore was in a similar situation however, there was no dispute over political
direction, but he was embaressesd by the scandals that damaged the Clinton
reputation. In the later days especially, he kept himself as detached as possible
when it was clear that the Clinton administration was in political difficulty.
The office has it's advantages by the fact that it provides an opportunity to
see the inner workings of government and the problems that arise and the
way in which they are handled.
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However, the `veep' can sometimes be left in the dark about important
issues e.g Roosevelt's vice president did not even know about America
developing an atomic bomb.
They can also seem to be faceless and lack independence on outlook, an
outspoken understudy would be dangerous to the president.
Nixon did not find vice- president work under Eisenhower fulfilling just as
Johnson did not under Kennedy
Nixon's own vice President , Spiro T. Agnew found it a "peculiar situation to
be in, to have ...…read more
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South Africa. On these matters Clinton valued his advice. Clinton seemed to feel far
less threatened by his vice president than others had in the past.
In the events leading up to the Iraq war, the label of the `probably most influential
vice president in history' was applied to Dick Cheney, who has been called the
`power behind the throne'. His is an unusual case, for id he qualifies as the most
powerful ever vice-president, he is also among the least visible.…read more