HILL: Vice-presidential Russian roulette

The job of vice-president was “not worth a bucket of warm spit”

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, right, listens as his running mate Sen. Joe Biden speaks outside the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, in 2008. (Jeff Roberson / AP Photo)

We need a new way to select our vice presidents.

They are not selected because of ability, intelligence or leadership abilities. If they were the “best” person running, they would be the presidential candidate, not an also-ran.


VPs are selected for political purposes only. They are selected based on gender and race nowadays ― they used to have to be able to bring electoral votes from their home state.

Being able to do the enormous task of President of the United States is a secondary or tertiary matter. Not getting in the president’s way or being an enormous embarrassment to the White House is a far more serious concern.

However, once elected to the second slot, even mediocre vice presidents start to think they are qualified to do the most important job in the world ― just because.

John Nance Garner of Texas was one of FDR’s three VPs. He confessed later that the job of vice president was “not worth a bucket of warm spit” although he used another word for “spit.”

Fifteen former vice presidents have become president of the United States ― one-third of all presidents who have served. Two of them are considered “great” ― John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Anyone with the intellectual firepower and guts to form the United States of America goes in the “great vice president” category no questions asked.

One was near-great ― Teddy Roosevelt. His face is on Mount Rushmore because he is a Roosevelt and he started the national park system. He was also a genius and historian who rivaled the output of Winston Churchill.

Another “near-great,” to conservatives at least, was Calvin Coolidge. He ascended to the presidency in 1923 following the death of Warren G. Harding. He cut spending and reduced taxes annually and yet was able to pay off 30% of the national debt during his tenure.

Harry S Truman is considered “great” by millions of soldiers and their families who did not have to invade Japan for his decision to use atomic weapons against Japan to end World War II. He at least knew where the buck stopped ― right at his desk.

Most of the rest are forgettable. The others made mistakes that cost them reelections to full terms.

Martin Van Buren of New York was Andrew Jackson’s second vice president. He was 5-foot-6 and known as the “Little Magician.” He couldn’t work his magic during the Panic of 1837 and made all the wrong decisions at precisely the wrong time. He soon became known as “Martin Van Ruin.”

John Tyler of Virginia became president one month into the term of William Henry Harrison in 1841. He is best known today for having sired a son late in life who then sired two sons late in life, one of which, Harrison Tyler, is still alive and kicking in Virginia at age 95.

Millard Fillmore of New York took over as president when Zachary Taylor died in 1851. His presidency was considered so feckless and inconsequential that Fillmore is ranked routinely in the bottom 10% of all U.S. presidents.

Andrew Johnson succeeded Abraham Lincoln in 1865 ― and became the first U.S. president to be impeached. Chester Arthur became president four months after James Garfield was shot in 1881. Arthur, who had never been elected to anything at any level before, was so frantic when Garfield was on his deathbed that he went around begging for someone, anyone else to take his place.

Lyndon Baines Johnson of Texas became president in 1963 when JFK was murdered in cold blood. He failed as president and declined to run for another full term in 1968.

Richard Nixon was VP to Dwight Eisenhower but lost to Kennedy in 1960. Nixon, who was also considered a genius, particularly on foreign affairs, was called “Gloomy Dick” by fellow students while at Duke Law School in 1936. He later became president in 1968. He was reelected in 1972 but only after succumbing to his inherent paranoia and became the first POTUS forced to resign following the Watergate debacle in 1974.

His VP Gerald Ford was the most fiscally conscious president since Coolidge. He vetoed a record 66 bills in his two-year term but lost to Jimmy Carter after failing to curb rampant inflation. George Herbert Walker Bush 41 was the first VP elected to directly succeed a living president in 156 years, Ronald Reagan, in 1988. He lost reelection when he broke his “No New Taxes!” pledge.

Today we have President Joe Biden, two-term VP to Barack Obama. He has once again proven that former vice presidents do not routinely become great presidents. It is not just his physical and mental infirmities that disqualify him ― it is the fact that he has been wrong on almost every single foreign and domestic issue as president that disqualifies him.

And what about his VP, Kamala Harris? According to pollster Frank Luntz, Harris is the most disliked VP since Dan Quayle, and Quayle was the most unpopular VP since Aaron Burr.

Is she qualified to be a great president like Thomas Jefferson? Or will she become the next Millard Fillmore one day ― perhaps soon?