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Ask Me Anything is back, and I present my thoughts on the most meaningless side dish in politics.
Happy Friday, my Okay History Friends. I trust you had a restful and recharging Memorial Day weekend, which hopefully included eating potato salad made with Dukes.
Unfortunately, I ate regular non-Dukes mayo potato salad. It was okay.
Could I have done without the potato salad? Easily. When you go to a cookout, you are there for the primary focus of meats on the grill - hamburgers, hot dogs, brats, and maybe even chicken. You pick one to eat first; then, perhaps you can return and have another. I chowed down on a burger I cooked on a brand new char-broiled grill. It was delicious.
Choosing a burger is easy because the meat is the main event. The sides - salads, chips, and veggies, aren’t the foods you will be regaling to your friends about how your Memorial Day weekend went.
Oh, you had broccoli salad with bacon? Good for you. Let me know when you eat that again. Or don’t. Nobody cares.
The choice of meat isn’t much different than choosing the leader of the free world when you think about it. The United States is a nation known for its resilience, innovation, and remarkable accomplishments, like the cookout. We have created quite a system of governance with choice at its foundation.
Then there’s the office of the Vice President of the United States.
When we elect a President of the United States, we have chosen our meat. But we also take along the vice president- the broccoli salad of the election ballot.
Great question, CD; thanks for asking and using the comment section, which helps move Okay History up the popularity rankings here on Substack.
Let’s dive in.
Thanks to the brilliancy of the Twelfth Amendment, Americans stopped electing vice presidents directly through the Electoral College who previously won the job by placing second. Since 1804, presidents have nominated their vice presidents and instantly stuffed them in a drawer where you lose things.
The Vice President of the United States is the thing you didn’t realize you lost because you don’t need to look for it.
The Framers didn’t even think we needed a vice president and only added it to the Constitution at the last minute. After much debate about who would succeed a president who could not fulfill his term, these guys decided to throw in potato salad and tried to tell us it was an extra burger.
How unessential is the vice president? Let me answer this with another question – can you make it through a Memorial Day cookout without potato salad? I’m pretty sure you can.
Eighteen presidents have served without having a vice president. Four of them did their entire administration without one. All of them, John Tyler, Milliard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, and Chester Arthur, were not highly ranked. The Constitution at the time didn’t allow to fill the vacancy until the next presidential term. Come back in four years if you want any sides, friends.
The only stated role for the vice president is presiding over the Senate to cast votes when it is tied and stand around waiting for the president to die. It’s an entirely morbid idea that isn’t replicated anywhere in any sector of anything.
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We never think about the vice president. Especially when it comes to the comparison of how the president is performing.
However, compare it to sports.
The most popular person on a football team is the backup quarterback. The reason for this is that we inherently dislike the starter. Growing up, my father hated Bernie Kosar, the starter for our beloved Cleveland Browns, because Kosar threw too many interceptions.
Even though Kosar had set the record for the most passes completed without an interception, my dad clamored for Mike Pagel.
But the presidency is different. We despise the current occupant if he identifies from the opposite color. But no one wishes or hopes that Vice President Kalama Harris gets into the game to lead the nation. In fact, we think that person would be worse.
Okay, I will concede there was probably a good amount of people who wished President Donald Trump would be run off into the sunset in hopes Vice President Michael Pence, somehow dubbed “the adult” on the ticket, would take over. That’s one out of forty-nine people.
It was inevitable that a vice president would assume the president’s job as spelled out in the Constitution Article II Section I. But it still wasn’t completely clear. Then along came the Twelfth Amendment, which clouded it some more.
So when President William Henry Harrison died one month into office in 1841, his cabinet searched for which drawer they shoved Vice President John Tyler in. They found him at his plantation in Williamsburg, Virginia, leaving the day of the inauguration because presiding over the Senate wouldn’t occur until June. He had other things to do, like attending a bunch of cookouts.
Since this was the first time a president had died, no one knew what to do. Tyler returned to Washington, DC, and told Harrison’s cabinet that he was, in fact, the president with full powers. As mentioned, Tyler spent the rest of his term not worrying about stuffing anyone into drawers. The country carried on.
That is the precedent we live with today, and we solidified it with the Twenty-fifth and not yet-ranked Amendment in 1967.
For our country’s entire existence, we really don’t know what to do with this job. Before Tyler, the vice president was hilariously irrelevant. His predecessor, Richard M. Johnson, ran a tavern and lived in Kentucky with his third wife, who happened to be a mixed-race wife. No one was bothered.
If President Martin Van Buren had passed away in office, Johnson would have been at least acting president for a period. Imagine the President of the United States with a mixed-race First Lady twenty-five years before the Civil War broke out. The idea never crossed the electorate’s minds who wanted to keep the Andrew Jackson movement going.
That’s how unimportant the vice president’s job was and still is.
The vice president wasn’t a member of the president’s cabinet. President Truman finally got Congress to agree that the vice president should be on the National Security Council. It wasn’t until JFK became president that the vice president moved from the legislative offices on the hill to the Executive Office Building across the street.
The Twelfth Amendment assured that the country would receive men of lesser talents who could help the president by doing things like attending state cookouts, attending the openings of cabinet manufacturers, and hurling insults at the opposing party leaders, as Vice President Richard Nixon did when he served under President Dwight Eisenhower. Nixon just appointed himself as the attack dog because he had nothing else to do.
Speaking of Nixon, his resignation and President Ford’s ascension should cause everyone concern about how one can assume power and subvert the people’s will.
CD, get ready with your bonus points…
In the 1968 election, Nixon tapped Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew as his running mate. Spiro’s name alone should have caused suspicion. Agnew was really good at being Nixon’s attack dog, but he was also really good at being corrupt. He developed this talent the moment he became an elected official on the local level. He was investigated and forced to resign.
This left an opening for Nixon to implement the Twenty-fifth and not yet-ranked Amendment to nominate Gerald Ford, who considered the position a “nice conclusion” to his career. The only problem was that Nixon resigned a year later, so Ford still had to work. Ford then nominated Nelson Rockefeller, and we had two people at the top of the executive branch who neither were on the ballot for the gigs in the first place.
How crazy is this?
The current Vice President, Kamala Harris, is a trendsetter. She is the first woman, African American and Asian American, to hold the office. Like John Tyler, Harris is sitting around waiting to see if the oldest serving president can make it through his term.
Her official website lists her current role, which sounds very much like the role we elected President Joe Biden to do. She did get to act as president on November 19, 2021, when President Biden underwent a colonoscopy. I wonder if she put that on her resume, that the country didn’t collapse for the day she held the job.
Oh, it looked like she might have held a cookout at the Executive Office this week.
Well, CD, I hope this helps. You knew me when I was a vice president of student government in college, and all I did was eat tater tots with you in the cafeteria.
I did put that on my resume.
Okay, if you think we can do without a vice president, please click the like button and drop a comment at the bottom.
Or, if you think the vice president is necessary, please click the like button and drop a comment at the bottom.
I’m up four spots in the popularity history rankings here on Substack; let’s keep this momentum going!
There will be no cookout.