The President of Vice

Every election year, we are asked to make a momentous decision:  to choose between the two official party-approved multimillionaires who are allowed to become President of the United States.  This year, the choice seems especially important, because one of the candidates is a wealthy, unlikable real estate speculator who feels entitled to the presidency, and the other is Donald Trump.  But with such high stakes, it’s easy to forget that we’re not just voting for someone to lead the nation; we’re also voting for someone to cheerlead the nation.  We’re voting for a position that is often called the second most powerful man in the world, but which is actually more like the 137th most powerful man in Washington, D.C.  We’re voting for a job that, this time around, will be staffed either by someone named Cane or someone named Pants.  We’re voting…for the Vice-President.

In most businesses and other large organizations, a vice-president has a specific job.  In addition to generally supporting the president or CEO, the vice-president is in charge of a particular aspect of the operation:  finance, human resources, operations, business development, marketing.  In the United States government, the vice-president is in charge of nothing, and usually runs on a platform of being an acceptable chair-filler if some deranged lunatic shoots the actual president.  Outside of vanishing European monarchies, nobody spends more time sitting around waiting for someone to die than U.S. vice-presidents.  In common parlance, the VP is referred to as being “a heartbeat away from the presidency”, a more concise if less accurate version of “a fired NRA member away from being an asterisk in the history books”.  Of course, unlike with the blood succession of an imperial dynasty, presidents are not related to one another, except the five or six times they were.

There are innumerable benefits to becoming Vice-President of the United States, even beyond the chance to become President unless your boss is a complete fuck-up.  For one thing, it acts as a job creation program for some of our most unfortunate citizens:  governors of Midwestern/Southern states that are conservative, but not too conservative.  You also get Secret Service protection while you’re on the job and for a little while afterwards, giving you the special frisson of burning millions of dollars in taxpayer money to protect the life of someone that the vast majority of Americans cannot identify, let alone care enough about to assassinate.  And you get to join the ranks of such memorable names as Elbridge Gerry, Hannibal Hamlin, Schuyler Colfax, Garrett Hobart, and J. Danforth Quayle.

But being vice-president isn’t all waiting for your employer to be murdered and shooting water pistols at members of the press.  It carries important responsibilities, as well.  You have to be able to stand around affably at foreign celebrations; stand around solemnly at state funerals; and stand around agreeably while your boss gives important speeches.  You have to be able to enthusiastically state that you’re on the president’s side on this one, Larry.  You have the duty of breaking tie votes in the Senate, which is such an important one that no one remembers it even though it happens all the time. You have to provide material for the nation’s decaying political cartoonists.  You have to try to put a positive spin on it when the President vomits on a foreign dignitary.  And, of course, you have to provide a juvenile persona for the Onion to run gags about to compensate for the fact that you literally have the most boring job in government.

On occasion, as in the current campaign, the role of the vice-president assumes a new importance because the person running for president is an inflatable bath toy with the soul of a junta commandant, and the person he selects as his VP candidate is actually running as a stealth candidate for president.  At other times, such as during the 2008 G.O.P. campaign, the vice-president begins life as an attempt to appease an insurgent political movement of overweight retirees with mobility scooters and a grudge against human consciousness, and then morphs into a nearly incomprehensible cry for help.  And sometimes, such as the period between 1988 and 1992, the vice-president is probably a bank manager or a computer program, only we remember it being an actual person because powerful drugs have been released into the atmosphere to tamper with our memories. But at all times, the VP must fulfill a role of critical value to obsessive-compulsive wonks who pride themselves on thinking that it’s important to know who B. Gratz Brown is, and of such prominence in American politics that a successful sitcom uses it as the basis for endless jokes about how government is comically ineffectual.

The role of the vice-president is also a showpiece for the diversity of America’s political establishment.  The VP can be a man, or a woman who will lose; a millionaire, a multi-millionaire, or a billionaire; an attorney, a consultant or lobbyist who is also an attorney, or the son or grandson of an attorney; an Angle, a Saxon, or an Anglo-Saxon; and the governor of a small swing state or the governor of a slightly larger swing state.  They may vary in the degree to which they will argue how important military spending is to their district, or whether they think police and military veterans deserve all of our respect or merely a tremendous amount of our respect, but they are united in their ability to have their names forgotten by the American public in annual newspaper polls and man-on-the-street interviews by cable chat show hosts.

And so today, with the election of Mr. Cane or Mr. Pants only two months away, let us salute the American vice-president.  You may one day be a great president yourself, or you may be someone of whom is said upon the occasion of their death “Huh, I didn’t realize he’d still been alive, he was okay I guess”.  But you will always be a symbol of how the democratic system can not only decide between two hopelessly compromised candidates for president, but provide an emergency back-up in case one of them breaks.  God bless America.


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