Abolish the Vice Presidency?

Bruce Ackerman thinks the vice presidency is an anachronism from the political era of the Framers and ought be abolished.

For two centuries, presidential nominees have used the office to balance the ticket by naming a running mate from a different region, or one who speaks with a different ideological accent to a specific constituency. This means that a president’s death generates a double shock: The nation not only mourns a fallen leader, it must deal with a replacement who may push politics in a new direction.

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Mexico and France see no need for a vice president. We should designate the secretary of State to be in charge until a special election can be held to replace a president.

That’s rather like saying that football teams don’t need a backup quarterback because, after all, the other guy is likely to have a different style and we’d therefore be better off having the kicker fill in.

The death of a sitting president is, as Ackerman points out, a national shock.  If it comes as a result of assassination or other unnatural cause, it’s a genuine national crisis.  That’s not a great time to be fumbling around for a successor, let alone scrambling to hold a special election.

With due deference to France and Mexico, the United States simply occupies a different position in the world and there needs to be an immediate and clear line of succession to its presidency.   Further, while France lacks a vice president, it does have a second political executive, the prime minister, which is appointed by the president.   Mexico, on the other hand, simply puts together an electoral college consisting of the legislature and supreme court and votes in a new guy when they get around to it.

It’s hard to think of a modern example when the Secretary of State was both more prepared for executive leadership and hued closer to the president’s ideology than his vice president. Indeed, the only recent case that comes to mind where Ackerman’s plan would have been better was when James Baker was George H.W. Bush’s chief diplomat and Dan Quayle was his vice president.

We chose secretaries of state by an entirely different process than presidents, emphasizing different skill sets.    Surely, Dick Cheney would have represented a better continuity in 2003 than Colin Powell.  Ditto Cheney vice Condi Rice today or Al Gore vice Warren Christopher or Madeline Albright.

To the extent that people are geniunely afraid of John McCain dying and Sarah Palin being given the launch codes, they’re less likely to vote for McCain.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Politics 101, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. sam says:

    Just for the record, eight US presidents have died in office, four of natural causes, four, sadly, by being assassinated:

    1 William Henry Harrison April 4, 1841 Natural Causes
    2 Zachary Taylor July 9, 1850 Natural Causes
    3 Abraham Lincoln April 14, 1865 Assassinated
    4 James A. Garfield September 19, 1881 Assassinated July 2, 1881
    5 William McKinley September 14, 1901 Assassinated September 6, 1901
    6 Warren Harding August 2, 1923 Natural Causes
    7 Franklin D. Roosevelt April 12, 1945 Natural Causes
    8 John F. Kennedy November 22, 1963 Assassinated

    Had one deranged person’s aim been better, and one other’s knowledge of weaponry better, the number could’ve been 10. Out of 43 presidents.

  2. Sam says:

    If Congress can’t actually pass a budget, the odds of them dealing with this pressing problem is pretty much nil. How about focusing on the achievable like converting carbon emissions to a new source of limitless energy?

  3. Blue says:

    I’ve never been impressed wit Ackerman, but this suggestion lowers my opinion of him even further.

    It seems to me a profoundly bad idea that you can trigger a national election by killing the President.

  4. PD Shaw says:

    William Henry Harrison died just days into his Presidency to be replaced by Tyler. Tyler was replaced by . . . nobody. Vacant for almost four full years.

    Also, since the one unique requirement of the Vice President is that he/she be a resident of a different state from the President, the notion that the VP is intended for “balancing” purposes is quite close to what is intended.

  5. PD Shaw says:

    I also agree that the Constitution should be changed to have a special election. A VP that assumes the job does not get all of the benefits of running his or her own ideas past the public and rallying the public’s support.

    If Obama were to die days into the Presidency, is Biden supposed to try to do what he thinks Obama wanted, or should Biden do what Biden wants to do? Isn’t he limited for the next 3 and a half years as someone deemed acceptable to the public, but not who they really supported for President?

  6. Triumph says:

    If we’re talking about Constitutional reform, lets abolish the electoral college first, replaced by popular election of the Prez and then move on to less important things.

  7. John Burgess says:

    Let’s not follow Triumph’s suggestion. I don’t want to be ruled by the zealots of big blue states.

  8. Triumph says:

    Let’s not follow Triumph’s suggestion. I don’t want to be ruled by the zealots of big blue states.

    Yeah, the democratic principle of one-person one vote sucks.

    Maybe, instead, we should go back to the time before the 13th and 14th amendments?

  9. legion says:

    To the extent that people are geniunely afraid of John McCain dying and Sarah Palin being given the launch codes, they’re less likely to vote for McCain.

    That’s something the Dems really need to hammer home – with McCain’s medical history, there’s a non-negligible chance he won’t be able to carry out a 4-year term. There’s probably a better-than even chance (personally, I’d say it nears certainty) that he won’t live another 8 years. Rest assured, this fall people are voting for the very real chance Sarah Palin will be the President of the United States. Think about that. Think hard.

  10. Let’s not follow Triumph’s suggestion. I don’t want to be ruled by the zealots of big blue states.

    Of course, if one went to the popular vote, votes wouldn’t be by state–and all those Republicans currently walled off in blue states like California and New York would be liberated. (Likewise the Dems in red states like Texas).

    Why people find this to be a bad idea is beyond me. As Triumph notes, a popular vote simply means everyone’s vote is utterly equal. We like to call that “democracy.”

  11. Joe R. says:

    Of course, if one went to the popular vote, votes wouldn’t be by state–and all those Republicans currently walled off in blue states like California and New York would be liberated.

    Is there a particular reason why those currently disenfranchised voters are any more of a moral tragedy than the eventual 49% of popular voters who would end up on the losing side? Either way, you have voters whose wishes are not being implemented.

    Maybe, instead, we should go back to the time before the 13th and 14th amendments?

    I’m certain that if this happened, legal slavery would begin the very next day.