The title of this column is taken from an old civil war song. I suppose it is as poignant today as it was then, or as some Native American storytellers put it when beginning a story: "A long time ago."
The notion of who is going to help the new President in January run the country is especially pertinent now that the presumptive party nominees will be selecting someone soon to run with them as their Vice President candidate. To many this is especially important considering the age of one of the Presidential candidates and the terrorists all over the world. You never know if the Veep (Vice President) will suddenly become Mr. Big.
It has happened ten times before that the Vice President has become President through death or resignation. There were also several near-misses when the V.P. was almost elevated when President-elect Roosevelt was almost shot before his inauguration, President Eisenhower had a heart attack, President Ford was shot at twice, and President Reagan was almost mortally wounded in 1981. The Presidency is a dangerous job while the Vice Presidency, while not inherently burdened with duties, can be also.
According to the Constitution, besides being a stand-in for the President, the Vice President presides over the U.S. Senate as presiding officer and is considered its President. He (or next year, it may be a she) doesn't vote unless there is a tie and he votes the Administration's viewpoint.
In addition, the President can assign the V.P. special duties as Vice President Nixon had when he travelled the world on behalf of President Eisenhower, or, reorganize the government as Vice President Gore did on the instructions of President Clinton. Vice President Cheney has had a lot of influence in running everything during his tenure.
At one time, when Lincoln's first Vice President held office, Vice President Hamlin paid his own expenses. Now he is afforded a nice mansion in Washington that was formerly the residence of the Chief of Naval Operations. This new residence was bestowed on the Vice President when Gerald Ford held office, but he didn't have a chance to use it because President Nixon resigned and he became President.
Going back to the selection process, before President Clinton, picking the Veep was usually a north-south thing. The President came from the North and the Vice President came from the South or vice versa. Clinton and his V.P. Gore came from adjacent states (Arkansas and Tennessee). Bush did one better. He and Cheney both resided in Texas, even though Cheney managed to prove that he was a legal resident of Wyoming. The President and Vice President cannot be residents of the same state.
Sometimes, politics makes strange bedfellows as the saying goes. Former fierce competitors, Kennedy and Johnson, Carter and Mondale, Reagan and Bush and Clinton and Gore teamed up when it looked impossible to form a winning ticket. One bizarre ticket was almost formed when former President Ford almost ran for Vice President under Ronald Reagan when he ran in 1980.
So, the guessing game is on. I have no clue, but, it may happen that the glass ceiling will be broken this year and the next Vice President, whether Democratic or Republican, will be a woman. If that is the case, the new V.P.'s husband will be watched. He may be elevated to be First Man at any minute.
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