Daniel W. Drezner

The vice presidential paradox

In a post on whether Mike Huckabee might be John McCain’s wingman on the 2008 GOP ticket, Ramesh Ponnuru makes an interesting point regarding the ratcheting up of standards for Vice Presidents: The job of the vice president has changed, thanks to Clinton’s decision to pick Al Gore in 1992 and Bush’s decision to pick ...

In a post on whether Mike Huckabee might be John McCain’s wingman on the 2008 GOP ticket, Ramesh Ponnuru makes an interesting point regarding the ratcheting up of standards for Vice Presidents:

The job of the vice president has changed, thanks to Clinton’s decision to pick Al Gore in 1992 and Bush’s decision to pick Dick Cheney in 2000. These men, at the time they were picked, were extraordinarily well respected; and they went on to have greater responsibilities than previous vice presidents. I think voters now expect vice presidential nominees to pass a higher bar. They can’t be picked solely to win a state or lock down a constituency. They have to be plausible presidents. I expect that consideration will be even more important given McCain’s age. And I’m not sure that Huckabee can clear that bar.

I have really mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, Huckabee is clearly not ready for prime time as a president, and based on his foreign policy views, I want pretty far away from the corridors of power. On the other hand, the ratcheting of the VP bar creates a different problem — instead of a buffoon or a lightweight, you have a talented, ambitious politician placed in an ambiguous position. This means presidents need to give them something to do in terms of policymaking. And, frankly, the results have ranged from unproductive (negotiating a global warming treaty that had zero chance of ratification; outsourcing government) to destructive (screwing with the foreign policymaking process). The paradox is that an ideal vice president should be ready to be president from day one. At the same time, such a person — in order to take the job — requires major policy bailiwicks to tide him or her over. I’m not sure what the right mix is for a VP selection, but I don’t think either the “true lightweight” or “ambitious heavyweight” molds works terribly well. Anyone have any suggestions? UPDATE: Over at the Monkey Cage, Lee Sigelman crunches some numbers to try and divine who the actual VP picks might be for the donkey side.

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