Abolish the Vice-Presidency

The current case of the involvement, or over-involvement of Vice-President Gore in the fund-raising activities of the last presidential campaign underscores the need to abolish the vice-presidential office. The last attempt to do this occurred in 1803, when a Senate vote to do so failed by a vote of 18 to 12. In 1804 the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, providing that the president and vice-presidential candidates should run as team representatives of one party, was adopted. Before this amendment was adopted, the vice president was the person who ran second in the electoral college vote. Thus the principal opponent of the elected president was in line to succeed in case of death, resignation, or impeachment and conviction.

Throughout the 18th century and well into the 19th, the office of vice president was not highly regarded. In 1848 Daniel Webster rejected a proposal that he accept his party's nomination for the office, informing his daughter that he was the first farmer in his area, and saying; "I am content with this, unless I should be called to be first, elsewhere, where I can do more good."

At the turn into the next century, Mr Dooley wondered why "lvrybody runs away fr'm a nommynation f'r vice-president as if it was an indictment be th' gran' jury." Even Richard Nixon after serving in the office called it a"hollow shell - the most ill-conceived, poorly defined position in the American political system." How the office developed is not clear. The Constitutional Convention left few notes behind to explain, and Alexander Hamilton noted in The Federalist Papers, that the office has been objected to, as "superfluous, if not mischievous."

There are at least three good reasons for abolishing the office:

First: Having a vice-presidential candidate on the ticket clutters up the election campaign, offering the voters an apparent choice, when in fact only the presidential candidate, if he wins, and lives, will be in a position to direct and significantly affect policy. A ticket made up of two unbalanced persons, does not make a balanced ticket.

Second: The existence of the office puts persons who would not necessarily be the best choice, in line for the presidency. Recent examples include persons who quite probably would not have made it to the presidency, except by way of the vice-presidency, notably Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, and left the country under risk of having Spiro Agnew and Dan Quayle on the presidential ballot .

Third: The office not only can put undeserving and ill qualified persons in line for the presidency, but wastes the abilities of good politicians for four to eight years, years during which he or she might serve effectively in some other office. Examples include Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey.

Service in the office may seriously impair the person's chances of being elected, if nominated, either because of failures on the part of his principal, or because of things that he or she did in service of a president.

Lyndon Johnson inherited the Vietnam War. Hubert Humphrey, who said that he was the agent of the president, and that what the president stood for he stood for, was held responsible for the Johnson record; It is unlikely that Spiro Agnew would have been helped if he had become the Republican nominee, by his service as what was labeled, "Nixon's Nixon", in his intemperate denunciation of media, students, intellectuals, politicians, and other individuals or groups.

Walter Mondale certainly was not helped in his campaign of 1984 because of his association with the Carter Administration, and his description of Carter in the 1980 campaign as "honest, caring, intelligent, brilliant, committed, courageous, experienced" almost too many adjectives for one sentence or one person to carry. It is excusable for a vice-president to go to some lengths in describing a president, since the role of a vice president is primarily one of modifying - somewhat in the way a tennis pro functions, not so much as to improve his clients performance, as to make them look good and feel satisfied with themselves.

George Bush, like Lyndon Johnson, accepted the vice-presidency after failing to get the presidential nomination of their respective parties. Lyndon suffered in his service to the president. Bush in trying to establish, not that he was different from Ronald Reagan, but that as the administration ran on for eight years, that he had become another Ronald Reagan, even in the extreme of adopting the president's language, in such usages as "Read my lips."

The case of Albert Gore is especially complicated. First because he must bear the ordinary burdens of the vice-presidency, in answering for the Clinton record, and also for his part in the campaign of 1996, especially as a fund-raiser, either under the direction or at the request of the president; or because he read the desires of the president, in the manner of the knights who dispatched Thomas a'Becket, because they knew, or thought they knew, what King Henry wanted; Or in the manner of Admiral Poindexter, in the Oliver North affair, knowing, as he said, what the president thought, wrought what he described as "a deniable, plausible plot." And second, because of new and different disabilities, some of which may be the consequences of the two-term limitation on presidential service, which leaves the vice-president exposed as a most likely candidate to succeed the president, and the president politically free to conduct his administration, without full concern for succession or party continuity.

There is a further difficulty arising from the fact that Gore suffers from a special kind of dependency relationship with Clinton, a relationship which calls for a special loyalty, which marked the relationship of both Humphrey and Mondale with the presidents they served with. The common experience was this: All three had made previous runs for the presidency and failed; Humphrey in 1960 against John Kennedy; Mondale in 1974 when he tested the waters, and withdrew before the election of 1976; and Albert Gore who made an early bid for the nomination in 1988. In each case the rejection was so clear as to dampen, if not destroy, presidential hopes. Being chosen as running mate, was in effect a political revival, accompanied by new hopes for the presidency, and elicitating loyalty, or dependency, comparable to that , which according to Chinese legend, was expected of a person whose life had been saved, towards his savior.

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