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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/8467/the-question-nobody-has-asked/

The Question Nobody Has Asked

September 4, 2008 by

Here’s a question that the pundits haven’t asked: Is Sarah Palin qualified to preside over the United States Senate? After all, that is the only job function of the vice-presidency specified in the Constitution. Yet Palin friends and foes alike obsess over her “qualifications” for the presidency — an office she’s not actually running for. Sure, a vice president may succeed to the presidency due to the latter’s death, resignation or removal, but in 56 U.S. presidential elections, only nine winners did not complete their four-year term. That’s one-in-seven or less than 15%. (And consider several presidents died of injuries or illnesses that are treatable by modern medicine.)

The vice president’s ex officio role as president of the Senate has largely been forgotten. Aside from breaking the occasional tie vote (Dick Cheney has cast eight such votes in seven-plus years), nobody actually expects the vice president to fulfill his or her constitutional duties anymore. This is consistent with the general apathy exhibited towards the Constitution’s text, particularly among the political class.

On September 7, 1787, the delegates to the Philadelphia convention debated whether it was wise to have the vice president serve as head of the Senate. Elbridge Gerry and George Mason, two of the three delegates who refused to sign the final Constitution, objected the co-mingling of the executive and legislative branches. In James Madison’s account of the debate, Gerry argued, “We might as well put the President himself at the head of the Legislature. The close intimacy that must subsist between the President & vice-president makes it absolutely improper.” In rebuttal, Connecticut’s Roger Sherman said that without the Senate duties, the vice president “would be without employment.”

Obviously, the Framers failed to anticipate Dick Cheney, who managed to create the first “Imperial Vice Presidency” by exploiting the second office’s constitutional vagueness — neither an executive nor legislative officer he be. To John McCain’s credit, he’s rejected Cheney’s example by selecting Mrs. Palin, who will likely follow the modern vice-presidential model pioneered by Richard Nixon in the 1950s: A partisan cheerleader who allows the president to appear “above the fray” within the high altar of the Imperial Presidency.

But even the Nixon model raises an interesting question: Why is there an Office of Vice President at all? There’s little compelling reason for the taxpayers to spend over $200,000 in salary and several million dollars more on staff, housing and transportation for a person who does little more then serve as an emergency backup. As I documented a few months ago, there have been 18 periods in U.S. history — several lasting nearly a full four-year term — where the vice presidency has been vacant. The Republic survived. The Senate learned to run itself without the vice president sitting on the dais. So why continue to support a mini-bureaucracy dedicated to . . . an unspecified function?


jaqphule September 4, 2008 at 10:39 pm

The correct answer, of course, is that *no one* is qualified to be the president of vice.

Or president. Or prince, paladin, or political apparatchik, or other piss-poor prawn, prying pudgy phalanges past my pearly purse-strings, pretending to pick away my perceived pains with pretend purity.

Pah! Pardon me, I need to puke.

Chad September 5, 2008 at 12:00 am

Isn’t the whole, modern purpose for the office of VP to have a like-minded individual (i.e., in the same political party at the least) take over the presidency if something happens to the currently elected president?

In that sense, the VP could be thought of as an uninterruptible (political) power source; instead of maintaining a PC’s power in case of an outage, the position maintains a political party’s power in the Executive Branch in case their winning candidate dies or is impeached.

Otherwise, the Speaker of the House would be the next in line for succession, and she/he might be from a different political party than the former president and/or on the totally opposite end of the political spectrum (like Pelosi). When the VPs were the runners-up in the presidential elections, I am sure that kind of instant change of executive power was a concern of all political parties.

Jay D September 5, 2008 at 9:54 am

The mention of the VP being the President of the Senate got me thinking. What if the VP did take that seriously? What would it look like?

They could get an office in the Capitol and try to wield influence somehow. It is just interesting to consider.

Curt Howland September 5, 2008 at 10:13 am

Jay, you mean take power AWAY from the “party of the majority”?


On the other hand, that is an element of the L. Neil Smith novel _Hope_, which I recommend reading to anyone who enjoys a little bit of hope now and then.

Curt Howland September 5, 2008 at 10:22 am

Let me suggest a counterpoint to this “experience” thing.

Looking back recently, the most experienced (in terms of Federal service) VP or P was George H.W.Bush.

Yet what did he accomplish with his time as VP/P? Nothing of substance, not really. Nothing that wouldn’t have happened anyway.

I think, at that level of “politics”, personality and character are far, far more important than experience.

Does the chairman of G.E. have to know how to mix plastic, build a jet engine, or do anything that the people at the “bottom” of his company do? No. He must be an excellent judge of character and so pick good people, who pick good people, etc.

Why do the people who frequent this forum “trust” that Ron Paul, just one congressman out of 435, would be better as President? Experience? No.


For that matter, _I’d_ be a better President than any of the two-pair on the P/VP tickets by the Republocrats. But the very reasons why are also why I will never be in a position to prove it.

(for instance, I cannot be bought. I know my price, and it’s just too high.)

John David Galt September 5, 2008 at 12:20 pm

We have a VP because “the day you forget your umbrella is the day it will rain”. The main function of a VP is to limit the amount of disruption anybody could inflict on our nation by killing or kidnapping a President, and thereby reducing the payoff for any opponent who might want to try it.

I agree that the VP’s own bureaucracy (or shall we call them his staff) may be unnecessary, but a case can be made that the VP is really the President’s “chief of staff” and/or “roving fix-it man”, in which case his staff, too, serve that purpose.

If the budget of the VP’s household and staff ever comes close to that of the even more useless Queen of Great Britain, then I’ll be happy to join in the cause of writing his office out of the Constitution.

ClaytonK September 5, 2008 at 2:51 pm

…how could any U.S. President/VP competently manage the vast, complex Federal government — a multi-Trillion $$ bureaucracy with millions of employees (??) …. or even correctly judge the character & competence in thousands of appointees who end up ‘running’ that behemoth ?

There’s no way one human could possess the knowledge or time to competently direct such a huge organization — or even begin to “lead” the entire American population & free-world ?

It is all the rankest political nonsense and media flim-flam… and a 3-Ring-Circus as practiced in Federal reality.

But such a huge, powerful central government was never envisioned nor authorized by the U.S. Constitution. The “united states” was supposed to be a diversified cooperative of much smaller, self-managing units.

The official job-description of the U.S. President is very brief in the Constitution — millions of Americans could well qualify for the primary duties of the {original} federal chief executive position.

By far the most critical Presidential qualification is specified Constitutionally as:

“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

None of the current major candidates for President/VP (… and few past Presidents/Vp’s) could honestly take that oath. They are really competing for a throne nowadays… not a U.S. Presidency or Vice Presidency.

Bruce Koerber September 5, 2008 at 9:35 pm

“Constitutional duty to preside over the Senate as its president!” Wow! Now that would be a very significant position for someone who insisted that the Constitution be obeyed!

I am hoping that Ron Paul will announce next week in Washington at the National Press Club that he will be the vice presidential candidate for Bob Barr with the wholehearted support of the Constitutional Party.

This new and broad-based coalition would be impossible to exclude from the debates ahead and if the outcome does happen to be a victory then Ron Paul would be the greatest vice president and the greatest president of the Senate ever.

Not to mention his other role as the principal consultant to the President in restoring the Constitutional Republic.

Unity in liberty will easily defeat the bickering interventionists.

Ehsan November 9, 2008 at 1:14 pm

I need your help.
I leave in Iran . we had nearly 40 % inflation last year.it made our money weak.the central bank is going to cut 3 zeros off from the money .
but 1000 or even 100 rials are not completly worthless. i wonder if this have any influences on inflation? is inflation going to increase?
i appreciate your answer
thank you

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