Wednesday, February 22, 2012

February 22, 2012

We celebrated Presidents' Day this week.  It's not much of a celebration really when you consider that we've had fourty-four of them.  That comes out to something like half a hour per president – though I haven't done the precise math.  What do we learn from presidents?  One thing is you don't always need a vice-president.  

Thomas Jefferson valued his – except for Aaron Burr, who plotted treason.  But then he had George Clinton for four peaceful years.  James Madison had the same Clinton for four more years, then nobody for a year or so, then Elbridge Gerry for a couple of years, then nobody for his last term in office.

 So, do you need one or not?  You decide.  I can argue it either way.

Millard Fillmore was Zachary Taylor's vice-president for a couple of years in the 19th century but did without one when he himself became president in 1850.  Franklin Pierce (1853-57) has a vice-president named William King in '53 but nobody after that.  Chester A. Authur was a vice-president in 1881 then a preisdent from '81-'85 with no VP.  Teddy Roosevelt had a vice for just four of his eight years as president.

FDR?  Now there was a treat.  Three vice-presidents:  John Nance Garner, 1933-41 (useless, many said);  Henry Wallace, 1941-45 (a lefty, by many accounts).  Roosevelt died in 1945 and then Vice-President Harry Truman – God bless America – became president.  He served with no #2 until he ran with Alben Barkley in 1948.  But what a time!

 Truman dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and ended, I think it's fair to say, World War II.  He integrated for the first time the US Armed Forces.  As an ex-president he liked reminding reporters like me that "Give 'em hell, Harry" wasn't quit the way it was:  "I just told the truth and they thought it was hell."  What a man!  

We've had some distinguished vice-presidents;  Walter Mondale comes to mind.  We've had some undistinguished one;  Dan Quayle comes to my mind there.  But it's an interesting office.  No other country has one quite like it.  When a British prime minister leaves office, for instance, the Party elects a new leader.

So let's hear it for the #2s.  On the whole you've probably been good for us even if you don't have your own day – or even you own 29 minutes apiece.

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