Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What Is In a Vice President? Some of the Worst Presidents Were Vices

How important is the office of the Vice President of the United States of America (current Vice President Dick Cheney pictured at left)? The answer to that question is much more significant than the country has ever considered. In a recent U.S. News and World Report article by senior writer Jay Tolson posted this past Sunday, February 18 and appearing in the February 26 print edition of the magazine entitled “The 10 Worst Presidents,” Tolson numerically ranks the ten worst former presidents of the United States. However, the intriguing aspect of Tolson’s article is upon review it struck me as interesting that a number of the worst were in fact previously vice presidents. They were men who were thrust into the position of the most powerful office in the world without the adequate preparation for the responsibilities they were taking on.

After reading the article the significant question of the selection of an individual to be placed in office of Vice President presented itself. Many presidential races focus their campaign energies on the name at the top of the ticket, as they rightly should for that person will become the leader of the free world. And they use the second name, the person running for the office of Vice President, as a tool to gain more votes for the presidential candidate. When not utilized to bolster the polling numbers for an ultimate victory the individual is employed for their political clout to legitimize the primary candidate and the campaign positions. Placing the focus on number of votes and political connections rather than the governing ability of the individual to be found in that position can lead to problems of inadequacy.

Among the individuals on the list that support argument of more consideration with the selection of vice president (pictured from right to left) are as follows: Andrew Johnson (#3 pictured at right), Millard Fillmore (#5), and John Tyler (#6). Of the eleven (there was a tie between Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon for #9) men presented on the list three of them were Vice Presidents forced into the limelight after the sudden deaths of their presidents. That means that almost 30% of the most inept presidents in the history of the United States were men who were not expected to be president unless in the most dire of situations. One could argue that none of the presidents who made the list compiled by Tolson, served their presidency beyond the 19th century thus supporting the idea that America may have learned its lesson and started seeking more competent leaders for Vice Presidential candidates. However, as Tolson indicates there is not only one poll that has ranked the presidents. In fact his list was compiled by the “averaged results of five major and relatively recent presidential polls to make its [US News] own gallery of the 10 worst presidents,” basing the competence of the president on two fundamental characteristics: damage done and the Kuklick yardstick. The latter was established by Bruce Kuklick, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania, in his book The Good Ruler wherein he presents the argument that a ruler’s aptitude at their job is dependent on the approval of the people that they are ruling, hinging the president’s capability on the opinion of the people.

The combination of differing ranking polls and the malleability of the criteria for a “good” president allows for multiple combinations of presidents who are deemed the worst leaders of the United States. There are some individuals who did not make this list due to criterion. The determination of which president makes which ranking list depends on the political inclinations of the individual(s) conducting the poll allowing for varying presidents opening the field wide open to individuals such as Gerald Ford. Ford, the former Vice President of Richard Nixon was thrown into office for which he was not prepared but failed to make this list. However, U.S. News attempted to keep its poll as objective as possible. It will always remain a reality that at any one time the Vice President of the United States of America could become the President of the United States, due to stipulation in the Constitution Article II Section I. Therefore, a conscientious decision must be made in the selection of Vice Presidential candidates beyond the votes and political power that they provide for the Presidential nominee. The office of the Vice President has been overlooked in the history of the United States, but now must be reevaluated in an attempt to diminish the likelihood of future worst lists heavy with incompetent individuals. How will history judge George W. Bush? Only time and politics will tell.

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