Like everyone else in DC, I’m pondering the so-called “Veepstakes” — Evan Bayh? Joe Biden? Jack Reed? Sebelius? — except unlike a lot of people I’m having a hard time developing really strong opinions about it. Which reminds me of one pretty strongly-held opinion of mine: We should eliminate the office of the Vice Presidency.
When you think about it, it’s exceedingly odd. The Vice President has no formal role in the conduct of government to speak of. And yet, since the end of World War II the choice of VP has been very important. Not so much because the Vice President is an important person but because no many VPs go on (Truman, Nixon, Johnson, HW Bush) to become President while others (Gore, Humphrey, Mondale) become major party nominees. Consequently, even though the office is trivial, the choice is very important. But the choice is also fairly important politically to the person who does the choosing. Therefore, “would it be good for this person to become a presidential nominee” gets relatively little consideration during the decision-making process (relative to: would s/he be a good surrogate? give me a ‘bounce’? help with a state?) even though it really ought to be the primary consideration. Beyond that, you have the “Cheney Paradox.” It seems perverse to have a Vice President who doesn’t do anything. But a Vice President who does too much becomes a destabilizing influence within the government — nobody really knows who he speaks for, and he can influence things in ways that provide for no accountability.
At the end of the day, after all, the Vice President’s core job function is simply to take over the government in case the President dies. But it would be easy enough for the line of succession to simply run through the cabinet (SecState, SecDef, etc…) rather than their being a specially designated “inaugurate in case of death” figure. The original conception of the Vice Presidency was a constitutional bug that the framers hadn’t really thought through properly, and though Amendment XII works okay as a patch, it would really be better do do away with the thing entirely.