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.
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.