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The Modern American Vice Presidency

The Modern American Vice Presidency: The Transformation of a Political Institution

Copyright Date: 1982
Pages: 424
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  • Book Info
    The Modern American Vice Presidency
    Book Description:

    Dealing with the vice presidency since 1953, this book recommends Walter Mondale's vice presidency as a model for future occupants of the office. The author considers the selection, campaign roles, and electoral impact of vice-presidential candidates.

    Originally published in 1982.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5522-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. 1 The Scope of the Problem
    (pp. 3-14)

    Since its inception, the American vice presidency has been the target of more derision than any other national office. Other major political figures—Presidents, Supreme Court justices, Speakers of the House of Representatives—have not always served with distinction. But the legitimacy of their offices has escaped serious challenge. Yet for most of its history the nation’s second position has been seen, not unfairly, as an accessory, both meaningless and menacing.

    Time has not denied that view its popularity, only its accuracy. The vice presidency has become an important component of American civic life. This book assesses the contemporary status...

  6. 2 The Changing Political Context
    (pp. 15-45)

    The New Deal years metamorphosed American political institutions. The blueprint designed by the founding fathers remained the underlying structure of American democracy. But the force of events dramatically altered the way government actually operated. Power flowed to Washington. The federal government absorbed some functions the cities and states had performed. Moreover, it assumed responsibilities previously thought outside government jurisdiction. It became more active in international affairs. These trends created a new political context that assigned the presidency greater prominence and debilitated the parties. These developments gave the vice presidency the opportunity to grow.

    This chapter first outlines the historical process...

  7. 3 The Selection Process
    (pp. 46-89)

    In many democracies, the United States among them, nominations are decisive in defining the electoral options available to citizens. Since American political actors are relatively unconstrained by rigid party programs, the personalities and philosophies of contestants for office loom large in determining the voter’s choice. The process by which parties select candidates accordingly assumes considerable importance.

    It is, therefore, unsettling, to say the least, that the way American parties designate their vice-presidential candidate appears, at first glance, to be so susceptible to criticism. Presidential candidates are chosen after arduous preconvention campaigns that test their ability to present themselves effectively to...

  8. 4 Campaign Roles
    (pp. 90-112)

    Discussion of campaign roles of vice-presidential candidates is touched with paradox. On the one hand, presidential aspirants consider carefully the political attributes of prospective running mates before making a selection. But then parties, media, and scholars tend to treat the second person as superfluous to the campaign. “Historically, an election campaign is not too hard an assignment for the vice presidential candidate,” wrote Nixon, echoing the standard theme. “The presidential candidate wins or loses the election. The number two man goes along for the ride ...”¹

    The role of the vice-presidential candidate once was as insignificant as Nixon attests. The...

  9. 5 An Elected Official?
    (pp. 113-133)

    The common justification for placing the Vice President first in the line of succession is that he is an elected official. Having run on the successful ticket he shares the mandate, according to the conventional logic.¹ Contemporary critics have questioned this conclusion. “Actually there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that vice-presidents add or detract from the popularity of presidential candidates with the voters,” wrote Nelson W. Polsby and Aaron B. Wildavsky, two leading students of presidential campaigns.² Or, as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. put it, “No one votes for a Vice Presidentper se. He is a part of a...

  10. 6 Transformation of the Vice Presidency
    (pp. 134-150)

    Until recently the vice presidency was the most conspicuous sinecure in American government. Its occupants presided over the Senate, their sole constitutional duty, and did little else. No longer is the office so hollow. Changes in American politics since the New Deal have drawn Vice Presidents into the presidential orbit. Vice Presidents now chair Senate sessions only occasionally, concentrating instead on a set of activities, assigned them by the Chief Executive, that have become fairly standard from administration to administration. The importance of these functions varies with each administration, for they depend on the relationship between the two officers and...

  11. 7 Institutional Roles
    (pp. 151-176)

    The institutional responsibilities that Presidents have attached to the vice presidency since 1953 have lent respectability to the office. That recent Presidents, unlike their predecessors, have allowed their Vice Presidents executive duties is not accidental. The increased role of the presidential candidate in choosing a running mate and the heightened visibility of his subordinate have created incentives for the Chief Executive to involve him; the new importance of the President in foreign and domestic affairs since the New Deal has provided opportunities for vice-presidential activity. Presidents have appointed Vice Presidents to chair commissions, sent them on trips abroad, and used...

  12. 8 Political Roles
    (pp. 177-201)

    Traditionally the Vice President was seen only in the Senate and heard nowhere. Since the New Deal, the political fortunes of the Vice President have become more closely tied to those of the Chief Executive. Consequently, Presidents have assigned him necessary political chores. Vice Presidents have become lobbyists for selected legislation, energetic party workers, frequent administration spokesmen, and presidential surrogates in primary campaigns. The mix varies according to the goals of the Chief Executive and the talents of the Vice President. But in all of these duties, the Vice President acts for his superior. The second officer can produce important...

  13. 9 The Vice President as Successor
    (pp. 202-227)

    Whatever logic supports the continued existence of the vice presidency must reside in its ability to handle problems caused by the absence of a functioning Chief Executive. No matter how valuable the duties a particular occupant of the office performs, as Woodrow Wilson realized, “his importance consists in the fact that he may cease to be Vice-President.”¹ Wilson’s assessment, far from disparaging the vice presidency, confirms its significance. For an unexpected presidential vacancy produces one of the telling tests of American government. A country can ill afford an unreliable means of replacing its chief political officer. The problem assumes weighty...

  14. 10 Filling Vice-Presidential Vacancies
    (pp. 228-248)

    Although the United States has always had provisions to assure presidential succession, it did not, until 1967, have any means to fill a vice-presidential vacancy. The absence of any such arrangement for so long says much about the second office. The founding fathers and subsequent legislators were content to designate others to perform its functions of presiding over the Senate and standing next in the line of succession and to leave the office itself open.

    Congress and the states implicitly recognized both the growth of the office and its necessary connection with the presidency by amending the Constitution to provide...

  15. 11 Springboard to the Presidency
    (pp. 249-270)

    For most of its history the vice presidency has justifiably been regarded as a political graveyard. Its occupant might become President upon the death of the Chief Executive; otherwise he was unlikely to advance. Changes in American politics since the New Deal have enhanced the value of the office as a stepping stone. Rather than being a burial ground for presidential ambitions, it has recently provided a reliable incubator for them.¹ The springboard value varies with different personalities and times. As a general though not absolute rule, it has recently been an asset in gaining the nomination but a liability...

  16. 12 Evaluating Reform Proposals
    (pp. 271-299)

    Few aspects of the vice presidency have escaped the attention of reformers. More than two dozen proposals suggesting some change in the office have been offered. Yet it is ironic that an institution so susceptible to legitimate criticism remains so resistant to successful reform. Most proposals offer false cures. Although they would enhance the vice presidency they would inflict unwarranted damage on other parts of the political system.

    To be acceptable, a reform of the vice presidency should pass a fourfold test. It should 1) have a desirable effect on the office itself without 2) unduly damaging other political institutions...

  17. 13 The Vice Presidency in Perspective
    (pp. 300-321)

    For most of its history the vice presidency has been occupied by men of modest talents who gained their lofty station in the absence of any serious appraisal of their ability to govern, and who subsequently faded into deserved obscurity. Party leaders chose vice-presidential candidates based on assorted political considerations—to placate a disgruntled wing of the party, to give the ticket ideological or geographical balance, to carry an important state. Voters paid little attention to those competing for the second spot. When they were so disposed, Vice Presidents presided over the Senate, their sole ongoing duty but one devoid...

  18. Appendix: Characteristics of Prospective Vice-Presidential Candidates, 1952-1980
    (pp. 322-326)
  19. Abbreviations
    (pp. 327-328)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 329-378)
  21. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 379-396)
  22. Index
    (pp. 397-410)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 411-411)