Vice Presidents Collage

Rise of the XVP

For a VeepGeek such as yours truly, the fascinating thing about Cheney v. Obama is not the content – it is that anyone cares what an ex-Vice President thinks at all.

Ex-Presidents have a certain amount of standing (even Gerald Ford). They have generally acted with great discretion in criticizing their successors, but they have been given deference on the national stage and had access to the public sphere when they wanted it. Fair enough.

But Vice Presidents? Hardly, they generally faded into obscurity, unless they won an elected office in their own right (the Presidency of course, but also like Humphrey who returned to the Senate.)

While the evolution of the Vice Presidency started with Mondale, the evolution of the ex-Vice President is of even more recent vintage. True, Clinton appointed Mondale ambassador to Japan. This was a substantial role and the Japanese were impressed that such a distinguished individual had been sent, but it was not a first. Vice Presidents had been appointed Ambassador before. Charles Dawes was Ambassador to Great Britain and played a substantial diplomatic role. Dawes was an enormously talented technocrat. Lincoln’s Vice President, Hannibal Hamlin was appointed Ambassador to Spain. This was primarily done in order to give the aged Hamlin a grand tour of Europe – a lovely parting gift. Hamlin observed that in Europe he was taken as a great personage for having been Vice President.

Vice President Bush became President Bush. Vice President Quayle, when his own presidential ambitions fizzled, faded into obscurity. Gore was a unique case in that he nearly won the Presidency and did win a Nobel Prize (and an Academy Award) – so his status as a virtual ex-President is unique.

Cheney did not win anything and is incredibly unpopular. Yet, he managed to drive the debate – taking on Obama in the court of public opinion and, while not exactly winning, not losing either. Some of this may reflect a vacuum in the Republican leadership and some may reflect Cheney’s very lack of popularity and electoral ambition, which allows him greater freedom in what he says. Perhaps his status as the almost co-President contributes to his standing.

Still, at this point identifying any trends about ex-Vice Presidents seems pre-mature and I intend to finish my thesis before any more data points present themselves.

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