“The eyes of the world will be on Longwood University on October 4 for the lone Vice Presidential Debate of the 2016 General Election.” –Website of Longwood University
Let’s take it easy there, L.U.. Sure, thanks to this dramatic election, the first presidential debate earned a record 84 million viewers, and we can expect tens of millions to tune in tonight to watch the first and only vice-presidential debate of the season. But “eyes of the world” might be a bit overdramatic. The world does not care which of these two men will become the most powerless elected official in Washington.
Indeed, the position to which Tim Kaine and Mike Pence aspire has a long history of, in the vulgar but not totally inaccurate words of 32nd vice-president John Nance Garner, “not being worth a bucket of warm piss.” Other’ thoughts:
- When politican titan Daniel Webster turned down William Henry Harrison’s vice-presidential offer, Webster explained, “I do not propose to be buried until I am dead.”
- Woodrow Wilson’s VP, Thomas R. Marshall, complained that the vice-president is “a man in a cataleptic fit; he cannot speak; he cannot move; he suffers no pain; he is perfectly conscious of all that goes on, but has no part in it.”
- Teddy Roosevelt was only half-joking when he said “I would a great deal rather be anything . . . than vice president.”
- Gerald Ford’s vice president, Nelson Rockefeller, outlined the duties of the office: “I go to funerals. I go to earthquakes.”
- Dan Quayle, VP to George H.W. Bush, reminds us of the low bar necessary to be vice president: “One word sums up probably the responsibility of any vice president, and that one word is ‘to be prepared.'”
- Finally, let’s go to the first vice president himself, founding father and PPFA idol John Adams, who aptly complained that, “The vice presidency is the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”
While the influence of the vice-president ebbs and flows with the whims of the administration, the office’s minute Constitutional authority has remained the same as it was in John Adams’s day: break a rare tie in the Senate, and always be ready to instantly transform into the most powerful person in the world.
Tonight we have a debate befitting this inconsequential job. The aesthetics of the two running mates are remarkable only in how unremarkable they are. Despite our major parties breaking some barriers in their recent presidential nominees, apparently these parties think that we, the people, expect our vice-presidents to be boring, old, white men. Sure, Hillary “Rocky Road” Clinton or Donald “Half Baked” Trump might follow Barack “Yes Pecan” Obama, but dammit, our VPs will remain plain “Vanilla.”
To their credit, I think Kaine and Pence have done solid jobs in unenviable circumstances. Kaine’s selection was a big disappointment to the Democratic Party’s progressive base, though it did reflect the Clinton Campaign’s (perhaps foolish) assumption that the path to victory was not shoring up the left flank but to double down on pragmatic, center-left governing. Kaine’s campaigning needs to thread a tight needle, showing why he can be an ambassador for liberal Democrats while also not running too far from his record as a purple state governor and senator.
Pence’s challenge is even tougher because, you know, Donald Trump. Alternatively dubbed Trump’s explainer– and apologizer-in-chief, Pence often finds himself in situations where he needs to defend, contextualize, or reinterpret Trump’s latest controversial remark. This is yeoman’s work, and he’s done a stellar job of it. His very selection alleviated the trepidation of many conservatives who feared Trump as a liberal wolf in elephant’s clothing. They can now believe that President Trump’s appointments — like cabinet leaders and judges — will be in the mold of a Mike Pence, one of the (if not the most) socially conservative governors in the country. Since his selection, he has been an excellent surrogate for someone with whom he often disagrees.
I feel like I’ve gone off track. Where was I? Oh, yeah, the debate. It’ll be boring. These are two perfectly dull guys who will represent their campaigns well, not get too personal with each other, and not have any impact on the election outside, perhaps, their home states. They’ll spend almost no time attacking each other, instead choosing to go after their counterpart’s top half of the ticket. The most interesting part of the night will be to see them squirm when having to answer for their running mates’ actions and/or words. Whichever one becomes vice president will then be able to gauge just where the vice presidency’s value should be placed on the spectrum between cataleptic and a warm bucket of piss.