Vice Presidency adds dimension to election

February 9, 2009

John Garner (vice president under Franklin
Dealano Roosevelt) once said to a friend seeking office, “The vice presidency isn’t worth a pitcher of warm spit.” Ironically,
the man who was the recipient of this bitter advice was Lyndon B. Johnson, the same
man who in a few hours on November 22, 1963, went from humble vice president
to leader of the free world after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Johnson became president of the United States during a tumultuous period in American
history that included the Civil Rights Movement, the “War on Poverty,” the “Great
Society” and the Vietnam War.

For an office that at first glance seems unimportant, the vice presidency has had
a powerful impact on the course of the nation. According to the 25th Amendment,
the vice president is first in the line of presidential succession “in case of the removal of the President from
office or of his death or resignation.”

The vice president also is president of the Senate whose vote breaks any
ties. Originally, the vice president
was the person who received the second most
electoral votes. This naturally led to severe infighting when the candidates were
from two separate parties, as was the case with Federalist President John Adams and Democratic-Republican Vice President Thomas Jefferson. 

After the 1940 election,the power to select a vice president shifted from party leaders to the candidates themselves. Now running mates are chosen to balance the ticket either geographically, ideologically or, in recent years, to counteract a candidate’s experience or persona.

The selection process has changed dramatically since the days of Adams and Jefferson. The two current nominees for vice president represent just another evolutionary
step in that process.With more than three decades in the senate (he was first elected at
age 30), Sen. Joe Biden from Delaware brings
experience to the Obama campaign. With a foreign policy background matched by few in Congress, Biden is well known on the hill.

He is current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and addresses and potentially alleviates Obama’s less experienced foreign policy credentials. As a senator known for taking the Amtrak back home every night and having roots in Scranton, Penn., Biden resonates with bluecollar voters Obama needs to win. Now, after a second run at the Democratic nomination for the presidency (he first ran in 1988) and as Obama’s running mate, Biden
is a well-known figure not only in Washington but all across America.

Unlike Palin, with 35 years in the Senate Biden tarnishes Obama’s image as “a new brand of politics.” While Biden may help Obama’s weaker foreign policy credentials, he
also highlights the fact Obama has little experience in foreign relations. However, perhaps most worrisome to the campaign is Biden’s mouth. He often finds his foot in his mouth, which could cause trouble for a campaign that has kept strong control over its image.

As the first woman to run as a Republican
vice-presidential candidate, Palin may appeal
to independent women voters and dejected
Hillary supporters.

At 44 years of age, the Alaskan governor
with only 2 years under her belt brings needed youth and diversity to the Republican ticket. 

With her staunch opposition to abortion and support for gun ownership, she is very appealing to steadfast Republicans who might otherwise be weary of McCain. Palin, who was ethics commissioner of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and boasts an impressive background on energy policy, also has strongly promoted more drilling in her native state, which has been a serious issue in the current election. 

McCain and Palin, however, do differ on the issue of drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Although as a first-term governor, she may appear as an outsider and therefore “uncorrupted,” unlike those who served in Congress for decades; her youth and inexperience may bring trouble to the Republican ticket. Since McCain has persistently branded Obama as “dangerously unprepared to be president,” selecting a running mate who is younger and less experienced than Obama “takes the whole experience issue off the table,” according to former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

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