The Palin Vice Presidency?
The choice of Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska as the Republican candidate for Vice President has prompted many to dig up an interview with the governor this summer in which she plaintively asks, “What does a VP do?”
Funny she should ask.
During the Summer of 1787, the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention did not address the vice presidency until September 4, when the Committee on Postponed Parts proposed — for the first time — the office of the vice president. For three and one-half months, the delegates had designed a new government without ever considering the need for a vice president.
When the office was finally proposed in the Convention’s penultimate week, it was by no means acclaimed. Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts objected that under the proposed election process, “a very obscure man with very few votes may arrive at that appointment” of the Vice Presidency. Dan Quayle, call for you!
Several delegates (including George Mason of Virginia and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts) objected that the Vice President should not preside over the Senate’s proceedings, an arrangement that could give the executive branch undue power over that House of Congress. That concern has not proved terribly well-founded, as the Vice President’s position in the Senate is almost always ceremonial, not substantive. Indeed, Roger Sherman of Connecticut suggested that without those duties in the Senate, the vice president “would be without employment.”
Roger Sherman: Skeptical of the Vice Presidency
Hugh Williamson of North Carolina pithily observed that the Vice President “was not wanted.” .
Without much debate, the delegates did approve the office of vice president, in all of its ambivalence. Fourteen presidents previously were vice presidents, while New York can claim the mantle of “cradle of vice presidents.” Eleven vice presidents have come from the Empire State, including Daniel Tompkins of my home town of Staten Island, who even contributed his name to my old neighborhood, Tompkinsville.
As for Governor Palin’s question, the Constitution states only that the Vice President presides over the Senate and can cast tie-breaking votes. My best answer to her question is that the vice president does whatever the president allows him or her to do. For the current Bush Administration, that has been a great deal, certainly far too much. In many presidential administrations, it has been almost nothing. In a McCain/Palin Administration, . . .well, I’m guessing it would not be a whole lot.