*The Vice-President is the least prestigious office our country has to offer. And yet every four years, as evidenced by the hub-bub of Mitt Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan as running mate, we pretend to care about it and pretend it has more importance than it really does.
One of the central responsibilities of the President is to lead our armed forces. In the late 18th century this meant there was a real possibility that the President might be injured or killed in military battle, so the Vice-President was created as a backup plan in case the President was unable to perform his duty. In addition the Vice-President is the President of the Senate and tasked with casting a tie breaking vote if necessary. In summary the Vice-President is a job created to be used only when our normal systems of government are not operating the way they should. In the 225 years since the adoption of our Constitution nothing has changed to give the Vice-President more official responsibility, which is why it is silly that we make such a big deal about the person who is or would be Vice-President. Whoever is in that office is the political version of Chad Ocho-Cinco.
The metaphor of the Vice-President is the original reality star because it is a position that calls for very little. Officially the Vice-President is part of the cabinet but, unlike the Secretary of Energy or Secretary of Defense, does not preside over any specific area of responsibility. Essentially the Vice-President is someone who can make a living by doing nothing because of their name or office. And like the reality stars we see frequently getting their own shows, someone becomes Vice-President because of past actions and importance in our society.
In truth no one becomes Vice-President or a Vice-Presidential candidate without having impressive credentials; Even Sarah Palin was the governor of a state. Usually the person in the office has an accomplished political record having been a governor, Senator, or at the very least a politically powerful and active businessman. Many Vice-Presidents have been Presidential nominees. But that’s part of the joke of being Vice-President. All of the ideas that you once promoted are worth nothing because you’re basically a parrot of the President or nominee you’re attached to. Paul Ryan’s transformation in this regard has been especially instructive. He once spoke strongly about his perspective on economics whereas he now has been reduced to speaking in generalities in the manner of Mitt Romney.
And keeping an opinion to yourself is just the beginning It is not uncommon to see Vice-Presidents totally reverse themselves based on their Presidential counterparts – Lyndon Johnson campaigned for President in 1960 saying Kennedy was too inexperienced but changed his tune once Kennedy picked him as running mate; George Bush was not a fan of supply side economics in 1980 campaign season until Reagan fingered him as Vice-President nominee.
I am not saying we should get rid of the office of Vice-President. It is important to have a plan of succession in place on the slim chance that the President should become incapacitated. Nor do I believe we should add responsibility to the job description – that would basically put the Vice-President in someone else’s business for no reason. I really have a problem with office of the Vice-President. My problem is with the importance we place on this largely insignificant job. There is the potential for the Vice-President to be the most important person in the world. There is also the potential for each acorn to be a mighty oak. The odds are small either way. If the Vice-President is a reality star the likelihood that he will assume the presidency because of some tragedy is the same as the likelihood that Kirstie Alley will represent the nation at an international dance competition.
As I said a few weeks ago, Presidential elections are important. There are many issues that should determine whether you vote for Obama or Romney. But stay home on election day if you’re making up your mind based on Joe Biden and Paul Ryan.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.