It is a doomed office. No President and Vice President have trusted each other since Jackson and Van Buren. Mistrust is inherent in the relationship. The Vice President has only one serious thing to do: that is, to wait around for the President to die. This is hardly the basis for cordial and enduring friendships. Presidents see Vice Presidents as death’s-heads at the feast, intolerable reminders of their own mortality. Vice Presidents, when they are men of ambition, suffer, consciously or unconsciously, the obverse emotion. Elbridge Gerry spoke with concern in the Constitutional Convention of the “close intimacy that must subsist between the President & vice-president.” Gouverneur Morris commented acidly, “The vice president then will be the first heir apparent that ever loved his father.”
It’s interesting to me how conceptions of the Vice Presidency have changed over time. As we saw on John Adams last week, the first Vice President was not deeply involved in the counsels of George Washington’s administration. He did, however, succeed Washington and become the second president. Then Jefferson and his party took power, and for a while succession ran to the Secretary of State with Madison succeeding Jefferson, Monroe succeeding Madison, and John Quincy Adams succeeding Monroe. This makes a certain kind of sense, since the SecState needed to be someone in whose abilities the president had a lot of confidence whereas the Vice President could be an expendable ticket-balancer.
But then in the second-half of the twentieth century we wound up with a lot of Vice Presidents who either became President or at least secured their party’s presidential nomination — Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Gerald Ford, Walter Mondale, George H.W. Bush, Al Gore — which creates demand to try to pick a plausible president, and in the case of both Gore and Dick Cheney saw the Vice President emerge as an important member of the administration. But of course everyone hates Cheney now, so maybe we’ll see a move back away from that. Certainly, I think most indications are that John Kerry picked John Edwards for VP despite a lack of personal rapport betweent hem.