Watching the shitstorm covering the United States at the moment, it occurs to me that for anyone under 30, who’s only experienced Dick Cheney and Joe Biden as their Vice Presidents, is in for a hell of a culture shock when Donald Trump is inaugurated. And the only prediction that has any weight to it, as to what kind of VP Pence will be, is – as is so often the case with this President-elect, no one has a fucking clue.
Cheney was probably the most influential VP in my adult lifetime. He gave the lie to all the views of the VP expressed by pundits, politicians and former Vice-Presidents in that he genuinely was involved in many high level decisions and wasn’t merely sent out to do the President’s bidding by promoting his policies, and representing the US at funerals. Cheney never looked like he enjoyed being VP though; he always came over – to me anyway – as someone for whom the VP position was just a job in which he could do stuff. For sheer enjoyment of the role of VP, you have to put Joe Biden at the top of the pile. Never have I seen a person more obviously enjoy not only being VP but everything that a VP does. Damn, I’m going to miss him, almost as much as I’m going to miss President Obama.
The VP has precisely two constitutional duties: to break the tie of the Senate is deadlocked, and to step in if the President is incapable of performing his duties. (Yeah, yeah, you can make your own jokes up about the fella who’s about to be sworn in.) But that’s it. Some VPs have been more of use to their President than others. Some have regarded it as just a PR role, some have bitterly grown to regret accepting the job.
Not for nothing did John Nance Gardner (FDR’s VP) describe the job as “not worth a pitcher of warm piss”. (Mind you, I also like his other quote of “You have to do a little bragging on yourself even to your relatives; man doesn’t get anywhere without advertising.”)
Other quotes about this oh so powerful office?
“[The Vice Presidency] is the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”
–John Adams, 1st Vice President
“”Look at all the Vice Presidents in history. Where are they? They were about as useful as a cow’s fifth teat.”
– Harry S. Truman
“I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead.”
– Daniel Webster, on not accepting the Vice Presidency
That said, there’ve been a number of VPs who’ve died in office, and I’m glad as hell that VP Biden is making it out alive, and well.
All the foregoing being acknowledged, I still think one of the best lines about the Vice Presidency was spoken by the sage of Baltimore, one H L Mencken with his observation that “A vice-president is one who sits in the outer office of the president hoping to hear him sneeze”.
That, as well as other comments about the Vice Presidency comes from Alistair Cooke’s masterful Letter From America on Vice-presidential responsibilites from October 1996… Read and enjoy.
And so, in a few short weeks, we’ll find out what Vice President Mike Pence will be like. Whether he acts as a restraining influence on Trump, or encourages him, or – as Keith Olbermann wants – desposes him via section 4 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment… either way, looks like we’re cursed to live in interesting times. As, it turns out, is Pence.
This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.