"Once there were two brothers. One went away to sea; the other was elected vice president. And nothing was ever heard of either of them again."
Thomas R. Marshall
28th vice president (1913-1921)
Life used to be pretty bleak for a vice president.
From 1836 until 1988, the only times a vice president became president were following the death or resignation of the incumbent. In 152 years, that happened eight times.
(In fact, the vice presidency has been the butt of many jokes — some of them were apparently unintentional.
(For example, in the classic 1947 Christmas movie "Miracle on 34th Street," Kris Kringle is trying to establish that he's been subjected to many mental examinations over the years and is well prepared to face another one.
(To prove it, he says that Daniel D. Tompkins was vice president under John Quincy Adams. But the writer of the screenplay made a mistake — possibly because Adams was the sixth president and Tompkins was the sixth vice president. In fact, Tompkins was vice president for Adams' predecessor, James Monroe. Adams' vice president was John C. Calhoun.)
Until Vice President George H.W. Bush was elected president in 1988, the last sitting vice president to win the presidency in an election was Martin Van Buren in 1836.
And, until the vice presidency of Walter Mondale from 1977 to 1981, vice presidents tended to preside over the Senate (occasionally casting a tie-breaking vote), go abroad to attend weddings and funerals, and serve as campaign window dressing.
Apparently, little thought was given to whether they would be good presidents — until it was too late.
Mondale was given a more active role in the administration than almost all the vice presidents who came before him. And the vice presidency has been changed for the better because of it.
But that doesn't mean that the wild speculation about running mates doesn't persist.
And, with no incumbent running this year, a lot of attention is being given to the selections on both sides. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion.
- "Go West, Obama," urges the Denver Post, editorializing that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson should be named to the Democratic ticket.
"Insiders suggest that [Barack] Obama is mulling Richardson and Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, among others, as potential vice presidential candidates," writes the Post. "We think there's only one direction to go."
The Post then answers the question that should be on every voter's mind when it comes to the running mates on both tickets — is that person "qualified to serve in the top job should the occasion arise," and the Post has no doubt. "Richardson clearly leads all other Democratic contenders by that standard."
Denver, of course, will be hosting the Democratic National Convention, which holds its opening session three weeks from today.
If Obama wants to win the election, he would be well advised to pay attention to what is said in Colorado.
Two days after the Post published its editorial on Richardson, it published another editorial that asked, "Which way will Colorado swing?" Clearly, the paper's editorial staff knows how close the presidential race is expected to be in Colorado this year. Before and after the convention.
"The political dynamics in Colorado are changing as the state's demographics morph with more voters registering unaffiliated," wrote the Post. "Of the state's 2.8 million voters, 34.19% are unaffiliated, 34.14% are Republicans and 31.2% are Democrats, according to a recent report."
The Post's editorial staff obviously is aware of the state's history. "With the exception of 1992, Colorado has reliably gone Republican in presidential contests over the last four decades."
Paying attention, Senator Obama?
- Bill Kristol writes, in the New York Times, that John McCain apparently will wait until after the Democrats hold their Aug. 25-28 convention before announcing his choice for running mate.
That move may be designed to steal some of Obama's thunder, perhaps limiting the "post-convention bounce" — or perhaps it's being forced on McCain by the calendar.
The Beijing Olympics begin this Friday and will run until the day before the Democrats' convention begins.
The Republicans' convention is the week after the Democrats' convention. Kristol anticipates an announcement sometime around Labor Day — which is the last day of a very narrow open window.
Kristol says there are four "competing theories in the McCain camp, which, while not entirely mutually exclusive, point in different vice-presidential directions."
- "We’re going to defeat Obama straight up."
This group appears to favor someone who is "broadly acceptable to Republicans, conservative but not too conservative, young but not too young" — Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty or former Ohio Rep. Rob Portman.
- "We need to accentuate Obama’s key vulnerability — inexperience."
This school of thought favors someone who will be perceived as ready to take over if called upon by fate or history or whatever one wants to call it. The top prospects in this group are former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.
- "Don’t fight the public desire for change; co-opt it."
This group believes "[t]he public wants change but is nervous about Obama. Why not allow people to vote for experience and the next generation of leadership at the same time?"
This group thinks the choice should be Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor or Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. All three are 45 or younger — and, at least one (Jindal) has said he isn't interested.
However, as Kristol observes, "The two young governors also have this advantage: They’re very popular with conservatives, especially social conservatives. And they’re real reformers."
- "The public is really sick of politics as usual in Washington."
Kristol suggests that McCain could use this to his advantage and pledge that, in the spirit of reform, neither he nor his vice president will seek re-election but instead will devote all their time and energy in office to "the big challenges we face."
Kristol says, "This opens up several unconventional V.P. possibilities" — among them, Joe Lieberman, Robert Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Meg Whitman.
"I run into plenty of moderate and conservative women who don’t consider themselves feminists but would be pleased to see a qualified woman on the ticket," Kristol writes. "Especially if Obama picks a man, rejecting hope and change in favor of the same old patriarchy — won’t McCain be tempted to say: cherchez la femme?"
- "We’re going to defeat Obama straight up."
- Virginia's newly perceived status as a "swing state" has both candidates focusing on potential running mates from the Old Dominion.
On the Democratic side, Sen. Jim Webb took himself out of the running, but Gov. Tim Kaine is being eyed by the Obama campaign.
And Republicans have been looking at Rep. Eric Cantor lately.
The fact that both presumptive nominees are considering Virginians as potential running mates is "perhaps the clearest sign yet that the state has presidential cachet," write Alec MacGillis and Tim Craig of the Washington Post.
But I also don't believe either candidate would be wise to ignore what is being said in either state.