Every four years there’s a big to-do in the media about whom the Democratic or Republican candidate is going to choose for his running mate. Of course, the incumbent president usually goes with his incumbent vice president. Their choices are of concern to some analysts and some voters because vice presidents, whom the voters don’t get to choose directly — only indirectly in tandem with their presidential choice — have sometimes been suddenly elevated to the presidency.
Harry S. Truman became president during World War II, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was struck down by a heart attack. This caused great anxiety among the populace, because Truman had been a little known junior senator from Missouri. Folks worried about the man’s ability to step in and conclude the war victoriously.
Other “Veeps” suddenly faced with taking the oath of office as commander-in-chief included Michigan congressman Gerald Ford — who was known more for being an ex-collegiate football player, stumbling on stairs, and slicing golf balls into spectators. The resignation of Richard Nixon after the Watergate scandal elevated the former Wolverine to the White House.
Lyndon Johnson became president after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Johnson was formerly a powerful senator from Texas, and as president was able to push important civil rights legislation through Congress as well as anti-poverty programs he called the “Great Society.” Less fortunate on the international front, he escalated the war in Vietnam to the point where American casualties became unacceptable to the country. He chose not to run for another term in 1968.
In 2008, the consensus was that Biden, supposedly a foreign relations expert, would lend his expertise to the Obama ticket; however, there is not much evidence that Biden has had a lot of input into the foreign policy of the Obama administration. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have been much more out front in the foreign affairs arena. Biden has distinguished himself largely on TV’s late night comedy shows because of his numerous gaffes and an innate ability to stick his foot in his mouth.
It was just weeks ago when Jay Leno, David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel and others were chuckling about Biden’s attempt to liken his boss to a modern day Teddy Roosevelt by saying that President Obama has a “big stick.” More recently “joltin’” Joe referred to Romney’s economic plans as trying to put “y’all, back in chains.” He was speaking to a crowd of largely African-Americans in Danville, Va., where in the past race relations have sometimes been uneasy. It also was a place where the Confederacy maintained a prison for Union soldiers during the Civil War. (My great grandfather was held there for a time.) At the very least, Biden’s comment was beyond the borders of a propos.
Obviously, Mitt Romney chose Congressman Ryan as his running mate because he wants the campaign to focus on the economy. Romney stresses his own experience in private enterprise and expertise in the financial arena, whereas Ryan has already been instrumental in developing plans to balance the budget and reduce the enormous national debt, which has nearly doubled over the last four years. Ryan also is acknowledged to be an aggressive campaigner and is considerably more conservative than Romney.
This brings us to the scheduled vice-presidential debate at Centre College in Danville on Oct. 11. This will be the second time that the liberal arts college has had the honor of hosting a national political debate for television.
The candidates discussed education, health care, abortion and how the government should spend a projected $2 trillion budget surplus left by the Clinton administration.
Well, the 2012 debate certainly won’t have to deal with the latter problem. Twelve years later, after the attacks of 9/11, the collapse of the housing market, several Wall Street debacles, and a number of foreign wars, this year’s debate should be more akin to a Batman movie plot featuring the question: “Which dynamic duo can better get us out of this mess?”
Dan Norvell retired to Danville after a career in educational publishing and more than 20 years living and working overseas.