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Eddy Evans

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Who'd Want to Be U.S. Vice President?

Posted: 05/31/2012 9:53 am

When Vice President Biden voiced his public support for gay marriage he earned a rebuke from the White House and was derided yet again in the media as a gaffe-prone buffoon.

If Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or even Congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid with less subservient roles had done the same the story would have been about how they'd stood up to the president and forced him into revealing his cards.

Not Biden. If it's the vice president then it must be a blunder and he must have fluffed his lines.

Of course Biden does have form. He's been known for his John Prescott-like garbling and he rivals in Neil Kinnock in his windbaggery (as well as borrowing his lines during his aborted 1988 presidential campaign).

But it's not just Joe Biden who's been tagged as a buffoon. It's a label that afflicts every vice president. It's the nature of the office. Either you're lampooned as an obsequious toad for doing the president's bidding or you're a hapless clown the moment you step out of line.

Either you fade into obscurity or you make news for the wrong reasons with a slip up.

If something goes well it's because of the president and if something goes badly the vice president loyally takes one for the team.

After the slightly bungled announcement on gay marriage it was Obama who was cast as the hero and Biden, although not quite the villain of the piece, isn't going to get the credit he perhaps deserves.

Vice presidents throughout history have become the object of ridicule.

Nixon's first vice president Spiro Agnew was something of a national embarrassment, Dan Quayle will be remembered more for his inability to spell potato(e) than anything else and Al Gore's most memorable legacy was his ludicrous effort to claim credit for inventing the internet.

The glowing prize on offer when taking the 'veep' slot is of course the prospect of the top job. But the history books don't make for promising reading.

There's been 21 vice presidents in the last 100 years. Only six of those have gone on to become president, and four of them took office only after the death or resignation of their boss.

The president nowadays is also much less likely to die in office. The last president to be assassinated was John F. Kennedy almost 50 years ago and modern America tends to prefer a more sprightly, youthful commander-in-chief rather than one who might succumb to old age.

Despite all this, in the next three months leading up to the Republican Convention in Florida the media will be obsessed with Mitt Romney's choice of running mate. There's a palpable sense of excitement from politicos and commentators about the various machinations that will go into Romney's decision.

Will he want to balance the ticket politically with an unabashed conservative, or choose a Southerner or will he pick a Hispanic or does he opt for a female running mate...

The news media much prefer to cover this topic than the daily grind of campaign stops in swing states.

All this speculation and intrigue is about an office that nobody could surely want. It's makes Jim Hacker's job as Minister for Administrative Affairs in Yes Minister look positively powerful, and has been subject to ridicule down the ages, mostly recently in Armando Iannucci's HBO comedy Veep.

The top three on most shortlists to be Romney's vice presidential running mate are Rob Portman, a well-regarded senator from Ohio, the bright young GOP star Marco Rubio from Florida and the ambitious New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

One wonders why any of them would give up their strong power bases in favour of a powerless office that only offers the distant and dim prospect of the presidency. The White House will only come their way either with the unlikely passing of a fit and healthy President Romney or via the GOP nomination in eight years time. That's if Romney wins.

If the Romney ticket loses against Obama they will be a busted flush. One only has to look to Jack Kemp (1996), Joe Liebermann (2000), John Edwards (2004) or Sarah Palin (2008) to see the political prospects of a losing veep candidate.

The best route to the presidency is to be a state governor or a charismatic senator; not toiling around the country in the back of Air Force Two on the rubber chicken fundraising circuit.

If you want to be president one day you're better off ignoring Romney's calls this summer.

Whether it's Portman, Rubio, Christie or anyone else with career ambitions who gets the call they would do best to follow the example of the legendary Senator Daniel Webster who when offered the job simply responded "I do not intend to be buried until I am dead."

 
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