Why care about the Vice President?

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cliffski
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Why care about the Vice President?

Postby cliffski » Sat Aug 30, 2008 4:06 pm

Maybe some of our US posters can enlighten me here. I don't get why in the US, the big ticket is McCain + Palin and Obama + Biden. From what little I understand of the VP's role (assuming the president doesn't die in office), and this is mainly based on watching 'The West Wing', The VP's job is just to shake a lot of hands and stand in the background. They don't seem to wield much in the way of actual power.
Granted, Dick Cheney seems to be an exception, but in general the role seems to be one filled by people waiting for their turn, such as Bush and Gore.

Surely it makes more sense to care who the hell will be in charge of health, education, foreign relations and the economy, than to care about the VP?
Am I just biased because in the UK we have a different system, where we put much more attention on the 'shadow cabinet', and people tend to know who they are with greater clarity than they know the deputy leader of a party?
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Re: Why care about the Vice President?

Postby sambrookjm » Sun Aug 31, 2008 5:53 pm

cliffski wrote:Maybe some of our US posters can enlighten me here. I don't get why in the US, the big ticket is McCain + Palin and Obama + Biden. From what little I understand of the VP's role (assuming the president doesn't die in office), and this is mainly based on watching 'The West Wing', The VP's job is just to shake a lot of hands and stand in the background. They don't seem to wield much in the way of actual power.
Granted, Dick Cheney seems to be an exception, but in general the role seems to be one filled by people waiting for their turn, such as Bush and Gore.

Surely it makes more sense to care who the hell will be in charge of health, education, foreign relations and the economy, than to care about the VP?
Am I just biased because in the UK we have a different system, where we put much more attention on the 'shadow cabinet', and people tend to know who they are with greater clarity than they know the deputy leader of a party?


The VP, according to the Constitution, takes over if the President is killed/dies in office. The only other thing that they are specifically allowed to do is to cast the tiebreaking vote in the Senate. In reality, if your VP isn't the butt of jokes by the media, they're doing their job properly. Gore mostly stayed out of the limelight...although that maybe because Clinton had lots of his own issues. Before him, Bush 41 had Dan Quayle who is probably still best known for "potatoe."

You would think that voters would be more concerned about things like health, education...but that is giving far too much credit to the average voter. We have more votes cast on American Idol than we do for the president...which is truly sad. In this election in particular, there is good chance that the VP may have to take over. McCain, as you have mentioned, is OLD and has had some health issues. On the Democratic side, there have already been threats against Obama's life. They were deemed "not credible," but someday one of those threats may be a credible one. (I'm not sure that Reagan had any advance notice of Hinckley's assassination attempt...but I was only 7 when that took place.) I think the historical rate for VP taking over mid-term is about 20%... This election is one where the VP pick may be more important than usual...
I think I've had this deja vu before.
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Re: Why care about the Vice President?

Postby Food » Sat Sep 06, 2008 11:54 pm

This election is the least important election of our lifetimes. It's just a referendum on celebrity worship. Since I don't worship celebrities, I'm gonna do what Jesus would do and sit it out entirely.

Historically, VPs are chosen more for the election than for anything that comes after (best examples: Lincoln choosing Southerner Andrew Johnson to replace his first VP for the 1864 election, Eisenhower choosing a then-red-hot Nixon to be VP despite Ike's dislike of him).

I have no worries about McCain's health or any rubbish death threats against Obama. For a 72-year-old, McCain's in very very good shape (summer hikes in the Grand Canyon at that age? I'm envious!), and no assassination attempt in US history came with pre-warning. McCain is as likely to be assassinated as Obama, and Obama is as likely to "keel over and die" at any moment as McCain. Nothing to worry about.
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Re: Why care about the Vice President?

Postby solistus » Sun Sep 07, 2008 7:29 am

Food: Are you serious? Just because the mainstream media coverage has been largely asinine doesn't mean this is not an important election! The decisions made over the next 4-8 years will be among the most pivotal in US history.

cliffski: sambrookjm is correct; the VP rate of takeover is about 20%, so that alone is pretty significant. McCain would be the oldest president ever upon taking office at 72, so it's certainly worth considering. Aside from that possibility, the VP has little direct influence on policy, but good VPs find their own way to be effective, typically either through influence in Congress to help drum up support for the President's agenda or in diplomatic contexts. Also, it gives a good window into the decision-making process and the likely nature of the President's cabinet and other advisers.
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Re: Why care about the Vice President?

Postby Food » Sun Sep 07, 2008 7:51 am

Yes, I am serious. The media coverage is asinine because the topic is asinine. Presidents don't make policies anymore; administrations do. And the administrations make policy on what they perceive to be the exigencies of the moment. And one the policy is crafted, Congress gets to hack at it. Given the nature of the Appropriations Committee, I think it's safe to say that McCain and Obama wouldn't hold office too differently from each other.
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Re: Why care about the Vice President?

Postby cliffski » Sun Sep 07, 2008 9:01 am

then at least vote for a third party (is that even an option on ballots?). not voting at all means you place these decisions even more firmly in the hands of that smaller group of people who *do* vote, and they clearly don't always make the best decisions :D
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Re: Why care about the Vice President?

Postby Food » Sun Sep 07, 2008 3:25 pm

Third-party voting is an option on ballots; in fact, there could be six or seven parties, and there's always the option of casting a write-in vote. However, there's a reason third party candidates are third party candidates: Because they're such jokes that they're undeserving of being taken seriously.

Finally, I can't fault any voter for not making the right decision, because it'd be arrogant of me to assume that I myself am immune to making a wrong decision. There is no crystal ball. Even supposedly common-sense decisions can turn out to be wrong. To vote for a candidate solely to oppose those who vote for the other candidate is to assume that I'm some kind of intellectual authority. **shrug** I'm sure I'm sharper than some of them, but I'm equally sure that there are others who can think rings around me. Some of those razor-sharp folks are voting for McCain; other razor-sharp folks are voting for Obama. Jesus wouldn't vote for either. So I'm gonna do the most intelligent think I can think of and bypass the shrieky hysteria that occurs every election and just sit it out. More pleasant and relaxing that way.
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Re: Why care about the Vice President?

Postby Glinka » Mon Sep 08, 2008 1:41 am

cliffski wrote:then at least vote for a third party (is that even an option on ballots?). not voting at all means you place these decisions even more firmly in the hands of that smaller group of people who *do* vote, and they clearly don't always make the best decisions :D


Unlike the European Parliamentary system, voting for a party that loses means your vote simply won't count. Except in one way: statisticians will claim that X number of votes were cast, proving that X number of eligible US citizens "believe in the voting system." Ironic, isn't it?

So voting for a third party is a lot like wishing for magic ponies. It's all well and good, but it's not likely to produce any results in the foreseeable future.
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Re: Why care about the Vice President?

Postby Ramidel » Tue Sep 09, 2008 2:09 am

I vote, in mild disgust, for the Obamadon...but I -know- that my vote won't count. Alaska is locked up for the Republicans and the Republican Veep is from our state.

But Obama hasn't shown himself to have a spine. McCain has a spine but he's on the wrong side and likely to die...and Palin needs to be shot.

So no, this election isn't too relevant, but neither is democracy in general. I know full well that I'm going to be governed by those who are so far inferior to me that they're like insects.
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Re: Why care about the Vice President?

Postby cliffski » Tue Sep 09, 2008 8:14 am

I think one of the worst things about modern politics is the idea of an electoral college or constituency system like we have in the UK. The effect it has on the whole system is disastrous. It means many many votes get wasted, which puts people off even taking part, it skews the system in favour of extremists with localised support, and it encourages widespread corruption at the top of government where important government projects and funds are allocated to 'key states' and 'marginal constituencies'. A simple "whoever gets most votes nationally,wins' system would be far better in my view.
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Re: Why care about the Vice President?

Postby Glinka » Tue Sep 09, 2008 1:58 pm

I think our electoral system was patterned on yours, Cliff. It stinks. As you note, a simple "most votes wins" system would be far less tangled, and liable to corruption.

As a side note: in 2000, when it looked like the Supreme Court might force a recount in a few Florida districts that would have thrown the state (and the election) to Gore, Florida's Republican governor stated to the news media that he would call the state's electoral college to session and have them vote the state into the Republican camp, should that happen. The governor, by the way, is Jeb Bush, brother of our invincible Emperor.

If there were no electoral college, that kind of thing wouldn't even be possible. But as it stands, Jeb Bush's threat has teeth, since the reigning governor in many states can and does stack the college with cronies.
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Re: Why care about the Vice President?

Postby sambrookjm » Wed Sep 10, 2008 1:17 am

Glinka wrote:I think our electoral system was patterned on yours, Cliff. It stinks. As you note, a simple "most votes wins" system would be far less tangled, and liable to corruption.

As a side note: in 2000, when it looked like the Supreme Court might force a recount in a few Florida districts that would have thrown the state (and the election) to Gore, Florida's Republican governor stated to the news media that he would call the state's electoral college to session and have them vote the state into the Republican camp, should that happen. The governor, by the way, is Jeb Bush, brother of our invincible Emperor.

If there were no electoral college, that kind of thing wouldn't even be possible. But as it stands, Jeb Bush's threat has teeth, since the reigning governor in many states can and does stack the college with cronies.


While this is true (and believe me, I hate the electoral college), the alternative would have been a nationwide recount. If you think that Florida's delay was bad, try multiplying that by 50....and then squaring it. The US court system would still be tied up in Bush v Gore court cases.
I think I've had this deja vu before.
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Re: Why care about the Vice President?

Postby ohms_law » Fri Oct 03, 2008 5:18 am

Food is basically dead on accurate in this thread.

The thing is, Republican/Democrat doesn't really matter at this point. Their basically the same candidates, which is why elections always devolve down to popularity contests here.

The fact is, the US is simply too rich for people to truly care. Voter apathy in this country comes from the fact that... we're all rich! Face it, even the homeless in the US are wealthy, in comparison to the truly poor people of the world.

Anyway, yea, the VP is just a figurehead position. Originally, the Vice President was the second place candidate from the elections, but that's morphed into the current ticket system we have since political parties developed in this country.

Personally, I'm all for the Electoral College too. Yea, it's easy to criticize in the way that some of you are, but it's also a very important "check and balance" to the voting system. Theoretically, the 2000 political campaign could have been (and probably should have been) resolved directly by the Electoral College without Supreme Court interference. The only problem with it is that it's never been developed as an institution in the same way that Congress or the Supreme Court has (or any other government institution, for that matter). The Electorial College should have oversight over all election matters, but that would require Congress and the various Governors to give up some measure of power, so... *shrug*
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Evolution of the Vice-Presidency

Postby James009 » Fri Nov 07, 2008 6:33 am

As a student of American Political Science and of History I'd just like to add my two cents to this discussion because I believe there is a lot of misinformation out there and that, believe it or not, times are changing.

Historically, yes, United States Vice-Presidents have not had much power or authority. It has been mostly a ceremonial position for most of our countries history. John Adams called it "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived", President Wilson, in his American government exposition, was embarrassed as to how little could be said about it, and Vice-President John Garner (under FDR) said it was "hardly worth a pitcher of spit".

However, one most reevaluate the modern Vice-Presidency as it has undergone change over time. Vice-President Richard Nixon was the first one to increase the role of the Vice-President; this is due to his own personal ambition and because of President Eisenhower. Nixon sat on and chaired both cabinet and National Security Council meetings. He was also sent on many foreign diplomatic missions and acted to coordinate administration agendas. While this may not seem as much it is the stepping stones of the Vice-President evolution.

Vice-President Lyndon Johnson, under President Kennedy, also continued these activities. This was another man with immense personal ambition who couldn't be told to sit. Johnson was active in anti-discrimination coordination and Kennedy's space exploration program. Lastly, Johnson was essential to legislative efforts such as meeting with lobbyists and making deals, something we would see much more of during his Presidency (he was the former Majority Leader, I believe). I'll also add that Johnson hated being the Vice-President, "I detested every minute of it".

President Carter continued this trend with his Vice-President Walter Mondale who was actually the first Vice-President to have his own office in the West Wing. Carter gave Mondale as much authority to review documents, attend meetings, or participate in any study as he had; Mondale used these tools to shape some of the administration’s policy and influence Congress.

President Reagan had Vice-President George Bush Sr. manage and oversee many committees for issues such as drug enforcement, crisis management, and government relations. Additionally, Bush was kept in the loop with Reagan, would meet with him at least once a week, and attend meetings that Reagan attended.

Then there is the infamous Vice-President Dan Quayle who is so famous for the “potatoe” gaff (play Civ 4 and see where he is on a scale of leadership). Quayle was not quite as powerful of a Vice-President as he could have been but this is likely due to his low popularity (they considered dropping him from the ticket). However, Quayle went on foreign diplomatic trips, chaired a space exploration committee, and served as a Congressional liaison. However, in the general outlook of things Quayle didn’t advance the Vice-Presidency.

The Vice-Presidential trend continued with President Clinton’s Vice-President, Al Gore. Gore actually participated in cabinet selection and with appointments, served on committees, actively advised the President, and was very active in anything relating to science and technology (see the Internet).

Last but not least is Vice-President Dick Cheney, under the Bush administration. Not only did Cheney shoot a man but he is regarded as the most powerful Vice-President, active in expanding the power of the Vice-Presidency. He started by leading a task force on American energy policy and counter-terrorism, next to Karl Rove he was Bush’s main advisor, and legislative liaison. Cheney, like many modern Vice-Presidents attends many government and administration meetings (especially relating to National Security). Additionally, Cheney was a major advisor directly after 9/11 advising the President to take strong national security measures.

Additionally, the deaths of a number of American Presidents bring into light the importance of the Vice-Presidency. Think of how differently Reconstruction could have been had it not been for Vice-President Andrew Johnson who barely dodged being impeached out of office by only one vote due to his conflict with Congress. Try to imagine how different history would have been after World War II if the United States didn’t have President Truman take over after FDR. Ask if there would have been a Marshall Plan, would we have used the nuke, would there be a NATO, what would have happened in Korea? Consider if the United States would have entered into the Vietnam War had President Kennedy not been shot and Johnson taken office. History has cemented the importance of the Vice-Presidency; we have only to realize this.

We come to realize that the Vice-President is a much more powerful role then previously expressed. However, the degree of power and influence depends much on the President, the Vice-President, and the times. As time has passed the role of the Vice-Presidency has grown and their authority has increased. It is no doubt that we as a culture need to reevaluate what the role of the Vice-President really is and to better respect and understand what they have become.
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Re: Why care about the Vice President?

Postby pigsnoutman » Mon Nov 24, 2008 1:39 pm

Are there any realistic 3 party systems, in a "first-past-the-post" system?
In the UK we have the liberal democrats, who recieve 'bout 20% of the vote, but haven't been in power since before 1891.
The US does have a slighly wierd system. The electral college system is so easy to exploit.
Also, each state gets 2 senators, dispite alaska, hawii ect having much less population. Does this mean where you are in the US damages you're right to have a say in democracy?
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