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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/8449/the-not-so-imperial-vice-presidency/

The Not-So-Imperial Vice Presidency

August 30, 2008 by

Rick Brookheiser of National Review presents a succinct argument against presumptive Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Heath Palin: “Either [John] McCain thinks the war on terror isn’t serious, or he thinks the vice-presidency isn’t. Since the former is obviously untrue, it must be the latter.”

Brookheiser seems to be in the minority among Republicans, however; Mrs. Palin, the incumbent governor of Alaska, has sparked an enthusiastic reply from the party’s Bush-demoralized base. There’s definitely a disconnect between popular and elite opinion. I read an online chat with a political reporter from one of the Alaska newspapers who complained, bitterly, that while Governor Palin was popular with voters, she was widely disliked by legislators and statehouse media. Similarly, there’s been much groaning from the national media and political elite about a woman who once served as a mayor of Wasilla, Alaska (current population, 8,741).

Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a pillar of the new establishment media, wrote, “The most important thing about a Vice Presidential candidate — as with a Presidential candidate — is fitness to be President.” Andrew Sullivan added that this was a “truism.” Yet history has shown quite the opposite. Despite changes in how vice presidents are nominated since John Adams finished second to George Washington in 1788, the real truism is that the vice presidency if first, second and always a political Tchotchke – a trinket used to address intra-party division. The main debating point against Mrs. Palin is her lack of “experience,” a term that lacks precise definition. Mrs. Palin served ten years in the Wasilla city government, two years as head of a state commission and a little less than two years as governor. This pales in comparison to the 36 years that Joseph Biden, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, has spent in the Senate. But Mrs. Palin can claim a longer government career then Barack Obama, who has served half a Senate term and seven years prior in the Illinois legislature.

But it seems to me that “experience” is more about the possession of certain credentials then time spent furthering the evils of the state. Mr. Obama may not have any particular legislative achievements or “executive” experience, but he does possess an undergraduate degree from Columbia and a law degree from Harvard. Mrs. Palin, in contrast, has only an undergraduate degree from the University of Idaho – her fourth stop in an extended college career – financed partially through her winnings as a beauty pageant contestant. She is, as one Democrat told me yesterday, one step removed from white trash.

Credentialism is certainly rampant in this country, driven as it is by the growth of the state. Yet the vice presidency of the United States remains an office where credentials seem to have little or no meaning. Consider the following parade of major party vice presidential nominees:

  • In 1880, Republicans nominated Chester Alan Arthur, who until 1878 was the Collector of the Port of New York; he never held any elected office prior to his nomination. Arthur was elected and became president following the murder of James A. Garfield.
  • In 1892, Republicans nominated Whitelaw Reid, who never held elected office but had served three years as ambassador to France.
  • In 1896, Republicans nominated Garret Augustus Hobart, who last held elected office 15 years earlier as president of the New Jersey Senate. He was elected and served with William McKinley.
  • In 1908, Democrats nominated John Worth Kern, who last held political office in 1901 as city solicitor of Indianapolis, and whose only prior electoral success was four years in the Indiana Senate;
  • In 1920, Democrats nominated Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had served less than two terms in the New York Senate and seven years as the assistant secretary of the Navy.
  • In 1924, Republicans nominated Charles Gates Dawes, who never held elected office and who previously served one year as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Dawes was elected and served with Calvin Coolidge.
  • In 1936, Republicans nominated Frank Knox, a newspaper publisher from Chicago who never held any government office. (Knox later served as secretary of the navy.)
  • In 1940, Democrats nominated Henry Agard Wallace, who never held elected office but served seven years as secretary of agriculture. Wallace was elected and served with Franklin D. Roosevelt.
  • In 1972, Democrats nominated Robert Sargent Shriver, who never held elected office but served five years as director of the Peace Corps and two years as ambassador to France. Shriver’s chief credential was his marriage to the sister of John F. Kennedy.

This list covers nominees who never held a major federal or statewide office. But there are plenty more dazzling resumes, even in recent times:

  • In 1848, Whigs nominated Millard Fillmore, a former four-term congressman then serving as New York State comptroller. Fillmore was elected and became president following the death of Zachary Taylor.
  • In 1912, Democrats nominated Thomas Riley Marshall, who spent most of his career as a small-town lawyer before serving one term as governor of Indiana (having been nominated as a compromise candidate.) He was elected twice and served with Woodrow Wilson.
  • In 1968, Republicans nominated Spiro Theodore Agnew, who had spent less than two years as governor of Maryland and four years before that as a county executive. He was elected twice and served with Richard Nixon.
  • In 1952, Republicans nominated Richard Milhous Nixon, who had spent less than six years in the House and Senate. He was elected twice and served with Dwight Eisenhower.
  • In 1984, Democrats nominated Geraldine Anne Ferraro, who had spent less than six years in the House representing part of Queens County, New York.

The lesson here is that, when you get right down to it, the only “qualifications” to be vice president are the ones actually stated in the Constitution: A natural-born citizen over the age of 35 who has resided in the U.S. for 14 years. Maybe the Framers should have required an Ivy League degree, but they didn’t. And as I noted in a post here three years ago, the office of vice president was not exactly the result of careful planning; it was a last-minute addendum by the Framers to avoid having the Senate pick one of its own members as presiding officer.

{ 22 comments }

David C August 30, 2008 at 11:22 pm

Well, there is a bright side. She has no major foreign policy experience, and I hear she likes Ron Paul. Maybe if McCain has a heart attack ……

William H. Stoddard August 31, 2008 at 12:10 am

I can’t see it as being a gain if McCain dies and Palin takes over. McCain has belatedly cosied up to the theocratic loonies, apparently on the theory that Washington is worth a mass; Palin IS a theocratic loony. I’d rather have a self-serving political whore than a fanatic.

Robert August 31, 2008 at 10:46 am

Tacticians on the field of battle, unbridled by their superiors in strategy, may run amok and spoil an otherwise certain victory. Selecting Governor Palin as its vice presidential candidate is a brilliant tactical move for the Republican campaign. She is fully qualified, per constitutional requirements, and her selection further reinforces McCain’s decidedly independent approach to winning.

Strategically, however, this selection has the potential downside of Robert E. Lee’s strategic decision to move into “The Keystone State” during the summer of 1863. Most will recall the outcome for Lee’s army and eventually, the South.

Palin’s candidacy, along side McCain, is a strategic gamble. The outcome for the Republican party doesn’t depend one iota on Palin’s “experience”, but rather the judgement used to make such a choice. Is the selection a shrewd calculation or simply symptomatic of a hail Mary campaign?

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. (Sun Tzu)

Bruce Koerber August 31, 2008 at 11:57 am

There is no advantage or disadvantage when the storm hits!

The only advantage is awareness of the rule of law which in the United States is supplied by the Constitution. That is why the Campaign For Liberty is like a unshakeable lighthouse securely positioned on the coast giving hope to the tragically stranded whilst their ‘unsinkable unConstitutional coup and its corrupt media lifeboats’ are pulled to the bottom by the economic whirlpool. The foam of the ego-driven interventionists will be washed ashore along with the dead bodies of their oppressive institutions.

Now what we hear before the storm is “Look at my shiny luxury liner!”

don August 31, 2008 at 4:11 pm

Reponse from Josh Xiong:

http://joshxiong.com/?p=85

Chad August 31, 2008 at 6:45 pm

Stoddard: “I’d rather have a self-serving political whore than a fanatic.”

“A fanatic is always the fellow on the opposite side.” – Will Rogers

If living under a government populated with elected officials is unavoidable at this point, then I would prefer that those officials not be primarily motivated by a self-aggrandizing lust for power and wealth. My impression to date is that Palin’s political motivations are less egoistic than that, possibly even altruistic. Admittedly, only time will tell, though.

I will agree that there are a lot of theocratic loonies out there, and I do not support the creation of a U.S. theocracy. However, history has shown that atheistic loonies are also quite capable of doing unimaginable harm when handed the reigns of the State, so one should not reserve their fear and dislike only for the theocratic loonies.

Warren September 1, 2008 at 8:15 am

William H. Stoddard, with all due respect…you are an ideological fascist. Palin’s beliefs propel her to make desicions that have changed politics in Alaska, where many self-serving whores of the last 30 yrs have ravaged the credibility of Alaskan politics. Not saying atheists don’t make ethical decisions, but truely Christian people predominately do there best to adhere to the tenets of their religion. I can only presume that you are an atheist, in which you would be staying true to your religious beliefs about all things sacred.
Peace

Jim Higgins September 1, 2008 at 12:20 pm

I wish Palin were the lead canidate. I would like to hear her thoughts about U.S. Foreign Policy or the Fed. She is certainly more genuine than McCain.
She also brings to light the fact that the Federal Govt. has done nothing for the state of Alaska.

Tomas September 1, 2008 at 7:35 pm

To suggest that Sargent Shriver was anything less than a great man who would have been a great president is to not know what you’re writing about.

William H. Stoddard September 1, 2008 at 8:06 pm

It’s one thing for Christians to adhere to the tenets of their religion; however irrational and destructive some of those tenets are, it’s their choice. It’s another when they want to make the nonreligious live by those same tenets—for example, by forbidding abortion, which is reportedly one of Palin’s positions. Nearly all nonreligious people, and a large share of nominally Christian Americans, have moved over to a non-Christian view of sexual morality, which accepts abortion, contraception, and relationships based on informed consent; Palin is part of the party that wants to impose her version of Christian ethics on everyone. I call that fanaticism.

The word “fascist” is used in so many different senses that I am unable to guess what Warren might mean by applying it to me, except that he presumably means it disapprovingly. So I see no point in attempting a specific response to it.

Jack's Pipe September 2, 2008 at 12:44 am

This last comment is a classic example of someone who doesn’t want a referee assuming his own neutrality. The fact is that all law is nothing but legislated “tenets” i.e. morality. Those who don’t want us forbidding abortion usually have no issue with everyone else having to pay for them.

n gray September 2, 2008 at 1:13 am

Maybe you Americans could adopt some sort of Cabinet system, instead of an elected King?
I imagine you could have a collective presidency, with a new person elected every year, for a fixed 13-year term, with the whole team needed to vote on policies, and the longest-serving member becoming the National President for the last year of his/her term, having served a 12-year apprenticeship as President for State/Energy/Whatever. The National President would live in the White House. Ex-Presidents could become part of the diplomatic corps.

William H. Stoddard September 2, 2008 at 2:52 am

Mr. Pipe:

In the first place, I find it specious of you to argue, not against a position I actually asserted, but against what you believe “Those who don’t want us forbidding abortion” usually think. I did not in fact address the question of payment for abortion. I would be perfectly willing to accept a compromise where the government could neither restrict nor subsidize abortion.

In the second place, my objection was not to “tenets” as such, but to Christian tenets, or the tenets of any other religion, being made into law. Of course the law has a moral basis. That basis is individual rights. If Christians don’t want to have abortions, I wouldn’t dream of forcing them to; they can do as they like with their own bodies. But it’s clear that the objection to abortion is specifically religious in origin, and forcing purely religious standards on people who don’t share them is morally wrong.

J T Martin September 2, 2008 at 11:13 am

Mr Stoddard and Mr Pipe:
It is so obvious that this subject about abortion is not understood by you and many others.

If we substitute the word “murder” for “abortion” it then becomes self evident as to what is right or wrong.

Since we are advocating murder of innocent persons who have no choice or vote in the matter, this becomes a serious decision on any one’s part.

My last thought is “suppose your mother decided to abort you.”

BBR September 2, 2008 at 12:09 pm

Mr. Stoddard:

I tend to agree with J T Martin

The central issue in abortion is whether the unborn child/fetus (depending on whose rhetoric you listen to) is in fact a person and therefore has rights. It would seem to me that it is difficult to justify the rights of a child (who has been born) or, say, a person in a coma, but not those of an unborn child.

The right I am speaking of is the right to one’s own life: the right to prevent other people from taking your life by force. This is different from, say, the family of a coma patient choosing to disconnect life support, which is merely stopping an attempt to prevent the death that would otherwise naturally occur. By contrast, the ‘life support’ that a mother’s body provides is simply a natural force: it proceeds without her doing anything unless she takes actual steps to stop the process (i.e. abortion).

Thus, abortion is taking definite action to end the life of another. I see no way to distinguish it from the killing of a newborn or even a two-year-old.

Any thoughts?

William H. Stoddard September 3, 2008 at 11:02 am

BBR:

Yes, several.

If a fetus is a human being, with human rights, then arguably abortion is murder. A doctor who performs abortions is thus engaging in repeated murder for hire; a woman who has an abortion is hiring him, and is in the moral position of a mafia don who puts out a contract on someone inconvenient. Under your proposed legal rules, those people would face the death penalty, or life imprisonment; any lesser penalty would be an admission that a fetus does not have the same moral status as a human being. But such penalties are cruelly harsh in these cases.

The term “human being” as used in law is not a term of biological science, and cannot be simply equated to any concept of biological science. Law has its own definitions for its own purposes. And the basis for those definitions is the legal consequences of defining things that way.

So what are the consequences of declaring a fetus to be human?

*If a woman is impregnated by rape, even most people who oppose abortion will make an exception to their opposition. But the fetus is innocent of the crime against her; it didn’t even exist when the crime took place. Abortion cannot be classed as retaliatory force, or as self-defense. So raped women would have to go through with the pregnancies that resulted.

*If a pregnancy is medically risky, the woman would not straightforwardly have the option of deciding that the risk is too high and terminating it. An exception might be made for certain-death situations, such as ectopic pregnancy; but I can’t see it being made for lesser but still serious risks.

*If a pregnancy will result in a grievously abnormal birth, even one of an infant who will not live to grow up, the parents cannot choose to avoid that birth and the costs it will inflict on them and their other children—or, for that matter, on the child resulting from that pregnancy.

*More generally, any method of contraception has a failure rate; there are even cases of pregnancy after vasectomy, or after tubal ligation. If abortion is not available as a backup, the significance of that risk is increased. As a libertarian, I’m in favor of people having the maximal opportunity to form voluntary relationships by mutual consent, including voluntary sexual relationships; preventing risk-avoidance is a barrier to this, and a needless one.

*The theory that a fetus is a human being is not universally held. Overwhelmingly, it’s held by people with specific religious beliefs, amounting to adherence to faiths that strongly support the ethic of chastity rather than the ethic of informed consent; people who adhere to other faiths mostly think that abortion is legitimate in some or many cases. And it’s not the business of government or the law to make rules for everyone based on the faith held by some people. Nor can I see a basis for doing so in the philosophical speculations of a few people about what can or cannot be called “a human being,” any more than I’m in favor of legally imposing vegetarianism because a few people believe in animal rights on philosophical grounds.

*Finally, suppose that a fetus is a human being. If so, it’s a peculiar sort of human being; its very existence physiologically interferes with the workings of another human being’s body. An infant can be taken care of by many different people, so the costs of its survival can be shifted to someone else if the mother cannot afford them; but the costs of a fetus’s existence necessarily fall on the woman carrying it. The two situations are thus not morally parallel.

J. T. Martin:

As my comments above should indicate, the point at issue is precisely whether we CAN legitimately substitute the word “murder” for the word “abortion.” Proof by blatant assertion is not satisfactory.

William H. Stoddard September 3, 2008 at 11:07 am

BBR:

Please excuse the bad e-text editing. My second paragraph in my previous comment ought to have been inserted into the *ed list as its first point. If you will make the transposition I think the argument will flow more naturally, whether you agree with it or not.

Rob H September 3, 2008 at 3:48 pm

William H. Stoddard:
You do realize many states do recognize the rights of the unborn, right? Are you suggesting that all of these governments are theocratic? To give just one example how about Scott Peterson. He was convicted of second degree murder of his unborn son. I doubt many people would accuse California of being a government of theocratic loonies. (Loonies, maybe, but theocratic?)

William H. Stoddard September 3, 2008 at 10:39 pm

I would call California law confused, which isn’t really that big a surprise. On the one hand, you have the law that the death of a fetus at a third party’s hands can be prosecuted as murder; that only makes sense if the fetus has a separate right to life. On the other hand, you have the law that the mother (or a doctor acting as her agent) can’t be prosecuted for murder for bringing about the death of a fetus; that only makes sense if the fetus doesn’t have a separate right to life. That shows not the dominance of theocratic loonies but the sort of pathological open-mindedness that wants to agree with everybody and avoid any moral position whatever. Now if California treated anyone who ended a fetus’s life as a murderer, including the pregnant woman or a doctor working for her, I’d call that theocratic lunacy.

Oh, there are philosophical arguments for a fetus having a right to life against third parties, but not against the pregnant woman carrying it; see Judith Jarvis Thompson’s paper. But I don’t believe for a moment that anyone in the California legislature endorses them. I doubt than more than a handful understand them, or even have heard of them.

RJ September 4, 2008 at 9:12 am

Robert:

Nice military analogies, but the analysis is flawed. Gen. R.E. Lee in 1863 and Sen. McCain in 2008 each knew that his “cause” was in jeopardy. Despite superb credentials and battlefield successes, each was incapable of achieving victory as a result of (i) political dysfunction (Confederate parochialism for Gen. Lee, and for Sen. McCain, the deleterious effects of the disastrous Bush presidency on the electorate generally and the GOP in particular); and (ii) flawed strategy at the national level (“defend our borders” and the “War” on Terror, read: perpetual war and American global hegemony). In short, both despaired of ultimate victory, and as the saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures, whether strategic or tactical.

In application, however, the analogy breaks down. Gen. Lee’s flawed tactics at Gettysburg (he apparently having learned nothing from his lopsided victory at Fredericksburg, for example) did down the Army of Northern Virginia, so we will never know whether the strategic shift would have had ultimate success, the Union having taken Vicksburg around the same time. In the obverse, we cannot but speculate whether Sen. McCain’s brilliant tactical selection of Gov. Palin – and it was brilliant – will be tied to sound strategy and/or ultimate victory.

Robert September 6, 2008 at 7:18 am

RJ,

Thanks for steering this conversation back toward the point of the author’s article, namely the relevance of the vice presidential selection in national politics. It appears some folks would rather hijack any attempt at reasonable discourse (consciously or not) toward their particular “hot button” of the day/week/month or year.

To your post: great insight regarding the political dysfunctions directly affecting Lee and McCain. As for the flaws in their respective strategies at the national level, not sure.

I agree that Lee “despaired of ultimate victory” and as the highly competent, trusted commander of the ANV, his strategic gamble failed. It took another two years to play out, however the outcome of the decision was disastrous for the South.

McCain may certainly despair of ultimate victory – evidenced by the shake out within his campaign last summer – however his strategic gamble has not yet played out. I think he has effectively moved to distance himself from “the deleterious effects of the disastrous Bush presidency” and shift his national strategy back toward general governmental reforms.

I disagree that “we will never know whether the strategic shift (by Lee and the Confederacy) would have had ultimate success” since history records the final surrender of ANV in the spring of 1865. McCain’s tactical move in selecting Governor Palin, on the other hand, supports an ever more translucent national strategy. It remains a gamble and you are correct…we can but speculate on the soundness of his strategy and the likelihood of his success.

The principles put forth by Sun Tzu regarding the relationship between strategy and tactics remain applicable, then, as in the case of the Confederacy and now, in the case of national politics.

Thanks again for your well considered thoughts RJ.

Robert September 6, 2008 at 7:32 am

RJ,

Thanks for steering this conversation back toward the point of the author’s article, namely the relevance of the vice presidential selection in national politics. It appears some folks would rather hijack any attempt at reasonable discourse (consciously or not) toward their particular “hot button” of the day/week/month or year.

To your post: great insight regarding the political dysfunctions directly affecting Lee and McCain. As for the flaws in their respective strategies at the national level, not sure.

I agree that Lee “despaired of ultimate victory” and as the highly competent, trusted commander of the ANV, his strategic gamble failed. It took another two years to play out, however the outcome of the decision was disastrous for the South.

McCain may certainly despair of ultimate victory – evidenced by the shake out within his campaign last summer – however his strategic gamble has not yet played out. I think he has effectively moved to distance himself from “the deleterious effects of the disastrous Bush presidency” and shift his national strategy back toward general governmental reforms.

I disagree that “we will never know whether the strategic shift (by Lee and the Confederacy) would have had ultimate success” since history records the final surrender of ANV in the spring of 1865. McCain’s tactical move in selecting Governor Palin, on the other hand, supports an ever more translucent national strategy. It remains a gamble and you are correct…we can but speculate on the soundness of his strategy and the likelihood of his success.

The principles put forth by Sun Tzu regarding the relationship between strategy and tactics remain applicable, then, as in the case of the Confederacy and now, in the case of national politics.

Thanks again for your well considered thoughts RJ.

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