If This is a Democracy, Why Don’t We Vote for the Vice President Too?

            Let’s say you owned a house and needed extra cash to make ends meet, so you decided to rent two of your bedrooms. Would you agree to lease those rooms to two people, but under the condition that you could only meet and run a credit check on one of them? Would you allow an anonymous rando move into your second room, no questions asked, not even their name?

            It’s an absurd question. No one would do that. Yet that’s exactly what the parties ask millions of voters to do in American presidential primaries.

            Thanks to debates and news reports we’ve gotten to know Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and the other presidential contenders pretty well. Democratic voters have the information they need to vote for their party standardbearer. But they have no idea who will represent their party for vice president.

            We don’t even know what kind of veep the candidates would pick. Would Biden balance his centrism with a progressive, or someone younger like Pete Buttigieg? Would Sanders double down on progressivism by pairing up with Warren, or vice versa?

            Since four out of ten vice presidents have become president, this is not an academic question. (I include those who ran for the presidency using the formidable springboard of incumbency and the name reconciliation it bestows.)

            You might think no big deal, my choice for president will select a running mate with a similar temperament and ideological leanings. History shows that “balance,” i.e. contrast, is a common strategy. Bush, an affable moderate Republican, went with maniacal hardliner Dick Cheney—and by many accounts Cheney was the one in charge. The US (and Iraq!) lost a lot when Bush prevailed over Al Gore; whereas Gore was a staunch environmentalist and a thoughtful liberal, his running mate Joe Lieberman was a charmless Republican in sheep’s clothing. Whatever you thought of John McCain (in my case, not much) it would have been a tragic day for America had he croaked and been succeeded by the shallow imbecile Sarah Palin.

            It is strange—nay, it is insane—that a self-declared democracy allows, effectively, 40% of its future leaders to be elected not by the voters but by one person, the presidential nominee of one party or, at most, by a half-dozen of his or her confidants.

            Sometimes it works out. The assassination of William McKinley gave us Teddy Roosevelt, who set the standard for the contempt with which a president ought to treat big business. How long would we have awaited the Civil Rights Act had LBJ not been prematurely promoted? Still, this is not democracy.

            It is time for the United States to require that candidates for president announce their veep picks at the same time they announce their intent to run. It’s truth in advertising.

            Candidates’ terms don’t expire with them. If a president succumbs to an assassin’s bullet, a foreign drone or an aneurysm prior to the end of their four-year term, voters—primary voters—ought to have the right to know who would finish it out. Toward that end, they also ought to pre-announce their cabinet picks. Many cabinet positions are in the line of succession. And they can make a big difference. I would not have voted for Barack Obama if I had known he would appoint Goldman Sachs’ Timothy Geithner to run the Treasury Department.

            Announcing veeps early enough for voters to take them into consideration before casting their primary ballots would deprive political conventions of their last remaining bit of drama, but lower TV ratings are a small price to pay compared to what is to be gained: transparency and choice.

            It’s not like revealing the number-two spot ahead of time is a crazy idea no one has tried before.

            “Nowadays, once a candidate has locked up the presidential nomination, we expect them to choose their running mate by whatever process they choose to employ, introduce him (or, in two recent cases, her) to the public a few days before the convention, and we all understand that the convention will rubber-stamp that choice, and the veep nominee will make a televised speech, which will occur on Wednesday night, the third day of the four-day TV show that conventions have become,” Eric Black wrote for the Minnesota Post.

    “In the earliest days of the Republic—and this was the way the Framers of the Constitution intended it—whoever finished second in the Electoral College voting would become vice president. That’s how John Adams, the first vice president got the job. Even as the two-party system (which is not mandated by the Constitution) developed, that remained the case, which is how Adams (when he succeeded George Washington in 1796) ended up with his chief rival in the presidential race (Thomas Jefferson) as his vice president.”

            The parties usurped the voters’ role in the choosing of the vice president in 1832.

            We’re a weird country. Few electoral democracies elect a president the way we do and even fewer deal with succession the same way. Most nations replace their departed presidents with a temporary fix, typically an acting president who is a parliamentary official analogous to the Speaker of the House pending a special presidential election, or a quickie election to find a replacement. We’re pretty much on our own when it comes to figuring out a better construction.

            What’s clear is that nothing would be lost and much would be gained by requiring presidential candidates to declare their running mates, and their cabinets, up front.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

13 thoughts on “If This is a Democracy, Why Don’t We Vote for the Vice President Too?

  1. Sometimes it works out. The assassination of William McKinley gave us Teddy Roosevelt, who set the standard for the contempt with which a president ought to treat big business. How long would we have awaited the Civil Rights Act had LBJ not been prematurely promoted?

    And sometimes it doesn’t work out so well – imagine if Franklin Delano Roosevelt, instead of using his own «Southern strategy» and picking a man with no knowledge or experience of foreign policy, Harry S Truman, as his running mate in 1944, had stuck with his vice.oresident of the previous four years, Henry Agard Wallace. Post-WW II history would likely have taken a very different, and less bellicose and dangerous turn. But counterfactual history is always problematic ; it’s impossible to know with any certainty how things would have turned out….


  2. Gerald Ford became president without first being on the ballot or even getting one popular vote for president or vice president.

    When he was on the ballot for reelection, he lost.

    The US likes democracy for thee but not for me.

    Democracy is a destabilizing interference with oligarchic rule and is wished only upon its enemies.

    • On the other hand, perhaps a debt of gratitude is owed Mr Ford ; can you imagine Spiro Theodore Agnew as US president, some 43 years before Donald John Trump ? And Mr Agnew was elected vice-president ; so much for «democracy» ?…


      • I fail to see why my comment above, which doesn’t contain a single link, should be subject to «moderation» – or does the simple mention of Mr Agnew’s name merit such a response ?…


      • Moderation happens frequently to me too, Henri.

        Ted says the moderation is random and it certainly seems to be that way to me.

        In response to “US democracy”: the US has a dictatorship of no alternatives.

        Like Henry Ford said, You can buy a Model T in any color you want as long as its black.

        I don’t think the Democrats will allow Sanders to take office.

        I won’t be shocked if this is the case again, because the people I usually vote for have no chance of winning among so superficial a people anyway.

        I just hope his candidacy doesn’t end the way Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone’s did.

        The US uses “accidents” mostly to interfere with elections in other countries. But still, the temptation to use murder in the “Homeland” must be great.

      • And LBJ.

        I heard Johnson say in his own voice (later, in a recording) that Vietnam couldn’t couldn’t be won, but by that by withdrawing early he would lose the1968 election.

        So my own life and the lives of the Vietnamese were worth losing only so he could win his election.

        LBJ let it be known to me that no other person’s life was worth the mud under his shoe.

        Such murderous indifference.

      • @Glenn

        The DNC has chosen Joe, and Nancy carefully silenced Warren, Sanders, and Klobuchar for the crucial weeks leading up to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Super Tuesday, so they are prohibited from campaigning until sometime in March. Brilliantly done. Heavy campaigning is essential in Iowa and New Hampshire, so Joe should win both easily, then Nevada should follow, then Super Tuesday, and it’ll be all over until Joe takes office in Jan.

      • “I heard Johnson say in his own voice (later, in a recording) that Vietnam couldn’t couldn’t be won, but by that by withdrawing early he would lose the1968 election.”

        Just to be clear, Johnson made this statement before the 1964 election, won the election, and then continued the lost war, and its supporting draft, against Vietnam for four more years.

  3. From the start there were problems when Pres and VP were from different parties. Adams had Jefferson undermining him. Jefferson had f-ing Aaron Burr!

  4. This also seems to be a symptom of the imperial presidency, where the presidential nominee has the exclusive right to name a running mate. I don’t think the Founders would really like how this practice has evolved.

    • The Founders had little respect for elections.

      It’s due to the Founders that George W. Bush and Donald Trump became presidents.