Wednesday, 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.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Friday, February 10, 2012
It's always kind of fun when you read about things in your morning paper you didn't expect. Today's Washington Post has a fine example – a story from Beijing: "Speculation grows over Chinese official's mysterious visit to U.S. Consulate." No idea what the dude was doing. On the other hand it may be even more fun when the morning paper agrees with you. Another example from today's Post – this one on the front page: "Romney stuck in lukewarm, advisors fear." This retired political reporter has felt just that way for some time now. No idea what the dude is doing. I don't know what it is about Romney. A line I've used about him before is Gertrude Stein's, "There is no there there." I'd hate to have to explain exactly what she meant but I bet you get the general idea. His father, who was governor of Michigan some years ago and an unsuccessful presidential candidate, never seemed to me to have much "there there" either. This column, it occurs to me, owes at least some of you an apology. Last time it cheerfully predicted that Rick Santorum wouldn't win any of the three states in play on Tuesday. Well, he won all three further scattering Republicans' search for a "there" all over the political landscape. Oh, well…"nobody said it was going to be easy, and nobody was right." * * George H.W. Bush