Saturday, October 04, 2008

Palin, Cheney and The Vice-Presidency

Seems I am not the only one who is up in arms about Palin's idea of expanding the Vice-Presidency (see below for my take of the debate). The New York Times has an editorial on the subject Dick Cheney, Role Model.
It is hard to tell from Ms. Palin’s remarks whether she understands how profoundly Dick Cheney has reshaped the vice presidency — as part of a larger drive to free the executive branch from all checks and balances. Nor did she seem to understand how much damage that has done to American democracy.

Mr. Cheney has shown what can happen when a vice president — a position that is easy to lampoon and overlook — is given free rein by the president and does not care about trampling on the Constitution.

Mr. Cheney has long taken the bizarre view that the lesson of Watergate was that Congress was too powerful and the president not powerful enough. He dedicated himself to expanding President Bush’s authority and arrogating to himself executive, legislative and legal powers that are nowhere in the Constitution.

She is wrong but I am thinking she is not proposing this idea as ignorantly as some.

What the Constitution has to say about the Vice-Presidency's duties:

The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.


3. If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.


1. In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.


3. Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.

4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Back to The New York Times:

Any president deserves a vice president who will be a sound adviser and trustworthy supporter. But the American people also deserve and need a vice president who understands and respects the balance of power — and the limits of his or her own power. That is fundamental to our democracy.

So far, Ms. Palin has it exactly, frighteningly wrong.

Not to mention that conservatives always talk about the letter of law and strict interpretation of the Constitution. At least they do so when condemning the United States Supreme Court to get political donations.

Could it be that Palin wants more to be co-President? Even more so than what we think Cheney has been a co-President? I think The Times underestimates her ambition (albeit Talking in Points from The Times does come close and then veers off). Do I overestimate her intelligence? Better to overestimate a danger than to underestimate it.

Update: I found an article, Historical Manglings, from The New Republic that discusses Palin and Biden's errors regarding the constitutional role of the Vice Presidency. I have two quibbles with thus article: first, Burr was not Vice President when he allegedly committed treason (see this Wikipedia article for the dates) and the writer gives us no examples where the Vice President has much of any importance to the Senate as its President.

For a different view than I have: The Vice Presidency from Keith Jackson's blog.

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