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August 18, 2008

Comments

Even if cabinet succession were thought to be a good idea, why exactly is the Secretary of "Defense" the first cabinet member considered?

This is a sick, sick country.

Publius: I hadn't thought of this problem with cabinet succession. You're right.

it originally used to run through the cabinet, but i think they changed it during the truman administration (i'm too lazy to google).

but it makes no sense whatsoever to run it through congress

why exactly is the Secretary of "Defense" the first cabinet member considered?

It's not, it's state, then treasury, then defense. In order, I believe, of each department's creation.

Isn't part of the problem the assumption that the replacement must fill out the term? I've seen more than one suggestion that, in such a situation, a new election should be held as soon as possible; in that case, the identity of the interim President doesn't matter so much. (The French have a system like this; who remembers Alain Poher?)

proposal: Sec of State succeeds, but a new Presidential election is automatically scheduled 3 months from the day the Sec Of State takes over, with the winner to serve out the remainder of the term.

yeah, like Jim Parish just said :)

Nell: The only person who named SecDef first was Publius, who was using it as a negative example because Rumsfeld was incredibly bad.

Sorry, Publius, I don't buy it, and I think Cheney proves my case. People don't pay attention to who the VP candidate is, they vote for or against the Presidential candidate. There's no protection in this system against a Cheney, who's vice-presidency has been incredibly destructive. And I don't agree with the idea that this wasn't predictable: people were joking about how Cheney's views were "to the right of Genghis Khan's" back when he was in Congress. The New Yorker ran a profile of Cheney during the transition back in 2000 that was positively chilling. Your argument would only work if the public voted for the President and VP separately. No one changes their presidential vote based on who the VP candidate is.

Another option is to allow people to vote separately on the VP and the P -- so they could split their votes between parties. This would force the parties to pick better people for VP, and not simply put forward people for narrow considerations.

This sounds radical, but a law review article from a number of years ago (it was called "President Quayle?", but I don't have the cite handy) argued that this was allowed by the constitution, and simply would require states to restructure their ballots to allow it.

Under this system, it's not clear that Presidential candidates could, or should, still just pick the VP -- it might be a separate race. So much the better, really.

SF

It's not, it's state, then treasury, then defense.

St Dapiacle: State, Treasury, Defense, AG, Post Office, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Education

I don't know the current acronym.

Proposal: Sec of State succeeds, but a new Presidential election is automatically scheduled 3 months from the day the Sec Of State takes over, with the winner to serve out the remainder of the term.

Would the party different than the deceased President's party be part of the election? This would seem to put the President at more of a threat of attempted assassination from partisan nut jobs.

Would there be a primary held the first month, with the last two months being a shortened version of the general election? Or would California's special election be used as the model, with everyone including actors and a porn star vying for the office?

Terrible idea.

Lyndon Johnson was a worthy successor to JFK; look how smooth and fast that transition went in a time of tragedy.

Same thing with Watergate: Ford turned out to be the right man for the job.

And given McCain's age, I think his VP choice is extremely important.

Another option is to allow people to vote separately on the VP and the P -- so they could split their votes between parties.

The idea of having the P and VP possibly be of different parties was quickly discarded. Why would we want to return to somethinfg that never worked that well in the first place?

but it makes no sense whatsoever to run it through congress

Yes it does -- it ensures that an elected official rather than a Presidential appointee succeeds to the office.

To put it bluntly, the current system creates incentives to assassinate the executive.

Really? It does? I should think not. Have we ever seen an example of a member of the opposition party conspiring or attempting to assassinate the President and Vice-President in order to move the Speaker of the House into the Oval Office? Ever?

No one changes their presidential vote based on who the VP candidate is.

Sure they do. The Lieberman pick drove a lot of wavering left-wing Dems over the edge in 2000. It cost Gore some votes in the anti-Semitic south (in states he wouldn't have carried anyway). It gained the ticket some votes in Florida.

VP picks might not change enough votes for that to be a major consideration, but it's just false to say that no one changes their vote based on it.

In Obama's case, thanks to several aspects of U.S. history that cannot be put out of mind, how the Vice Presidential candidate would sit with voters as a successor is probably the largest single consideration in the pick. I'm expecting to puke my guts out.

@Ugh and Jeff: Thanks for the history and civics refresher.

One reason for widespread ignorance of this theoretical succession info is the degree to which the VP-as-successor system has worked out.

This is a silly idea. Here's why: The VP serves the function and pretty much only the function of being would-be successor.

In any other arrangement I can think of -- where the President designates a cabinet member or succession follows conventionally through certain departments -- that individual is going to have two responsibilities.

You don't necessarily want your SecDef to also have to be presidential material. You might not pick the best SecDef that way.

The principle I've fallen under is that you ought not have any member of the gov't with overloaded responsibilities. This is not because they might be overworked or might have a hard time fulfilling both roles, but because you want to choose people to serve who are best at a cohesive core of competencies. If you are choosing someone for two sets of competencies, then you'll likely have to compromise on one.

Given this, the only two choices are for the successor to be elected with the President or designated by President or Congress. So where's the advantage in having less transparency in government by postponing information on that line of succession?

What's the *advantage* of getting rid of the VP? I understand it may be vestigial, it might be nugatory. But I don't see how we're better off without it.

The original idea was that the #2/loser in the presidential election would become VP. Did not work very well to my knowledge, even without giving the loser and his party an incentive to succeed by murder playing into it (they were gentlemen then after all).
In the earlier VP thread I asked about the VPs need to qualify for president (which was answered succinctly). But what about the next in line (heads of congress iirc)? The likelyhood of president and VP being murdered on the same occasion seems to be non-negligible given todays possibilities (bombs, sniper rifles, RPGs etc.).
A more odd but interesting idea would be to name a line of successors (by whatever means) and to keep them in undisclosed locations during the whole presidency. They'll have access to all necessary info and may occasionally prove that they are still alive (the way it is done with hostages) but are not allowed to participate in any decision making (preventing them from Cheneying). Extra rule: A VP should be constitutionally banned from running for president himself either forever or for a lengthy period.

Yglesias is also simply wrong about this:

The Vice President has no formal role in the conduct of government to speak of.

The Vice President is the President of the Senate and has a casting vote in that body. This is actually fairly important. The Senate is constitutionally hardwired to have an even number of members. And VPs have cast 242 such votes (i.e. about one per year).

Don't forget the nuclear option! Better do away with the senate presidency and make it 50:50=no majority=fail

What Ara -- and Ben -- said.

The comments seem to raise most of the difficulties that would come up from a change. But to take off from a comment on MY's post, the problem is really the Office of the Vice President, not the existence of a VP as such. The problem with Cheney/Bush is that Bush has let Cheney act as his executive officer, able to over-rule anyone else. This is not how the office was supposed to be run, and no earlier president has allowed it to be: Clinton delegated some specific areas to Gore, but certainly he wasn't, and didn't claim to be, #2 for everything. It has taken a combination of Bush (lazy and uninterested) and Cheney (skilled and powerhungry) to create the current situation. I think it is unlikely to be repeated, just because most people who run for President want power.

The VP serves the function and pretty much only the function of being would-be successor.

uhm, yeah, right, like Cheney - if he was only sitting in on the daily briefings and spend the rest of his time opening libraries or something, I'm pretty sure we wouldn't even be discussing this. The problem is not the method of succession, but the possibility of a largely unaccountable dark horse pulling the strings in the White House - like, now.

The idea of having the P and VP possibly be of different parties was quickly discarded. Why would we want to return to somethinfg that never worked that well in the first place?

The context in which the idea was tried was so different that, for all intents and purposes, it never *was* tried. Not to mention the fact that a genuinely separate election would be different than making the runner-up VP (which was thought up at a time that parties weren't envisioned as existing in a republic).

SF

Since this is a VP thread, I wonder if everyone is in agreement that Wednesday will be the day that Barack Obama announces his choice.

I am predicting Biden on the theory that an issue of import overseas seems to develop on a daily basis these days -- globalization making the world so small.

Biden would be a respected surrogate for the president overseas.

Meanwhile, from much of what I have read here, I think the selection of Bayh would be too much of a betrayal of Obama's base.

A more odd but interesting idea would be to name a line of successors (by whatever means) and to keep them in undisclosed locations during the whole presidency.

O'er the laaand of the freeeee.... and the home of the brave.

"Have we ever seen an example of a member of the opposition party conspiring or attempting to assassinate the President and Vice-President in order to move the Speaker of the House into the Oval Office? Ever?"

That's a couple of extra steps. I'd point, however, to all the theories of all the people who believe that JFK was assassinated to get LBJ in, and I'd point to the Business Plot, which doesn't tend to get taught in many schools, and since most people don't know history, tends to get a blank look when you mention it to most people.

Meanwhile referring to our original constitution as "radical" seems a bit odd; it originally read:

The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two persons, of whom one at least shall not lie an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; a quorum for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two-thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice-President.
We eliminated the separate vote for Vice President with the Twelth Amendment, of course.

"The context in which the idea was tried was so different that, for all intents and purposes, it never *was* tried."

Aaron Burr might disagree, Stephen.

Actually, let me go back to this: "Lyndon Johnson was a worthy successor to JFK"

And say, gee, LBJ was arguably the most disastrous President on foreign policy we've ever had until G. W. Bush, escalating us from a small involvement in a distant land war in Asia into a massive quagmire with 500,000 American troops that he had no idea how to extricate us from, and which led us into the Republican dominance of the Presidency that still rules us today. I beg to differ.

Moreoever, he and the Kennedys despised each other, and he was only on the ticket because the Kennedy's were a) desperate; and b) convinced he'd turn them down.

"Same thing with Watergate: Ford turned out to be the right man for the job."

Ford was appointed to the office, so you're saying that you want the Vice-Presidency to be appointed, and confirmed by the Senate, not elected, apparently.

Back on this: "Not to mention the fact that a genuinely separate election would be different than making the runner-up VP"

In what significant fashion would that happen? Who would the parties choose to run for this office, do you think, and who would want to devote such a major effort as campaigning for it, and why?

I imagine another president would have gotten us out of Vietnam sooner than LBJ, but I'm not so sure.

The lesson learned should have been to stay out of such disputes in the first place, and obviously George Bush ignored this part of our history.

One of the many tragedies of the Vietnam War was it destroyed LBJ's Great Society ambitions.

"One of the many tragedies of the Vietnam War was it destroyed LBJ's Great Society ambitions."

That was no tragedy of the "War," which had no volition. It was entirely the fault of LBJ. Who was an effing moron about the world outside the U.S.

As a result, hundreds of thousands of American boys served, tens of thousands were killed, millions of Vietnamese were killed, the war went on almost a decade longer than necessary, and we elected Richard Nixon directly as a result. LBJ created the mythos of the Democrat as "weak on national security," which led us into Ronald Reagan and the Bushes.

If he could have been President for domestic policy alone, he would have been great. As it was, he killed millions of people, and ruined our country.

He was also a monstrous human being, but that's another matter.

I recommend you read Caro, among other biographies, as well as some histories of LBJ's horrific ignorant and cowardly actions in leading us into Vietnam.

I've always wondered if the VP shouldn't also be a cabinet officer. As far as I know, no law prevents this right now; a president could appoint the vice president to be, say, secretary of labor (subject to Senate confirmation). The VP would then have a portfolio within the executive office as well as the responsibility of succession.

Gary,

I don't think LBJ "ruined our country."

I wouldn't even give George Bush credit for doing that.

bedtimeforbonzo,

I'm glad to see you commenting and contributing with gusto after the dustup this weekend (which I missed being out of town at the time). I like the way you combine a non-dogmatic attitude and provisional take on some of these issues with a certain fearlessness about wading right in, even where there may be metaphorical swamps and alligators.

With that said, these three statements seem IMHO to be a sort of trifecta of things that sound to me like conventional wisdom with which I disagree in detail, so um... chomp! [I did warn of alligators, right?]

imagine another president would have gotten us out of Vietnam sooner than LBJ, but I'm not so sure.

In actual fact we tried that. A candidate ran in 1968, promising to get us out faster than LBJ and his vice-president HHH. And won the election. I'm not so sure that worked out as intended, but hey, at least we tried, eh?

The lesson learned should have been to stay out of such disputes in the first place, and obviously George Bush ignored this part of our history.

Not to let GWB off the hook, but he had a lot of company and a lot of help. Between the fawning media, the supplicant and spineless opposition from many Dems, and a population that had a wee bit o' unsatisfied bloodlust left over from 9-11 in need of somebody to take it out on, OIF was sort of the political equivalent of Murder on the Orient Express.

I do not doubt that over time GWB will become a sort of national scapegoat to blame the whole thing on as if the rest of us were simply had nothing to do with it, but that is a piece of historical revisionism to be resisted IMHO if we wish to avoid making the same mistake all over again. [note: we = the US electorate collectively, not present company on this blog specifically].

Remember that while GWB will depart from office never to return, many of the people in his administration will probably come back at a later time just as Cheney and Rumsfeld returned from earlier GOP administrations.

Also, we still have the same news media now as we did in 2003 and I for one haven't heard them make a convincing mea culpa. I remember back when a certain candidate during the primaries said that we need to change the mindset which led to the war, which I took as referring not just to W but to all of his accomplices as well. I think that still applies.

One of the many tragedies of the Vietnam War was it destroyed LBJ's Great Society ambitions.

If the account in Nixonland is reasonably accurate, the Great Society was doomed from the get-go on account of the politics of racial resentment, more or less orthogonal to Vietnam. LBJ trying to pay for both guns and butter at the same time and fueling inflation was also a problem, but not the core problem which sank the liberal movement of the 1960s.

IMHO, YMMV, no warranties offered, not valid in some states, etc.

You don't necessarily want your SecDef to also have to be presidential material. You might not pick the best SecDef that way.

You also create a new problem of leaving a hole in your cabinet, and it's likely to be at a confusing and difficult time. People sometimes liken the Vice President to a spare tire, and that's a useful analogy in this case. If you get a flat, the best solution is to have an unused, completely functional spare tire that you can swap in to take over from the flat one. That's a lot better than trying to shift a tire from one of your other wheels to fill in.

LeftTurn,

I saw a biography recently on Seargent Shriver that drew the conclusion that the Great Society "was doomed from the get-go on account of the politics of racial resentment," as you say.

Still, it was impressive to see the way Shriver would not take "no" for an answer while sticking up for the impoverished.

Made me wonder if there will ever be a Seargant Shriver again.

BTW, it wasn't much of a dustup.

Also: As you know I am fairly knew to blogging. Figured out "BTW" -- that was easy -- but "IMHO" has stumped me for a while.

IMHO = In My Humble Opinion.

emphasis on the 3rd word. Others may be truth tellers. I'm just playing volleyball in the dark with a blindfold on. Sometimes it feels like I've hit something. I hope it is the ball, and not one of the other players.

How about YMMV?

BTW, speaking of volleyball, these Olympics have given me more volleyball than I need for a lifetime. They're probably playing volleyball this very moment.

To put it bluntly, the current system creates incentives to assassinate the executive.

Then the Veep should be the presidential candidate who gets the fewest votes.

We could call this the Charles II system, after the British monarch who told his brother and heir (a staunch Catholic), who had been berating him about his inadequate bodyguard: "Brother, no man will kill me, to make you King."

Gary, Aaron Burr is relevant how? I was suggesting a separate (popular) vote for Pres & VP; Burr tied with Jefferson in the electoral college -- there wasn't really any popular vote at the time -- and because they were running (officially) for the *same* office, under the pre-12th-amendment constitution it was thrown into the House. Couldn't be farther from what I was floating, really.

Again: we've never had a *separate* popular vote for Pres & VP, in which one could vote as one wished in both races. Pre-12th amendment, electoral college members cast two ballots for President, with the VP office going to the person coming in second. Not relevantly similar that I can see.

"Have we ever seen an example of a member of the opposition party conspiring or attempting to assassinate the President and Vice-President in order to move the Speaker of the House into the Oval Office? Ever?"

That's a couple of extra steps. I'd point, however, to all the theories of all the people who believe that JFK was assassinated to get LBJ in, and I'd point to the Business Plot, which doesn't tend to get taught in many schools, and since most people don't know history, tends to get a blank look when you mention it to most people.

So given that the former is . . . "unproven" is I guess the charitable word here, and the latter was not an assassination plot at all, the answer is, in fact, "No, that has never, ever happened."

I'm really surprised that this thread hasn't already taken another direction. While it may indeed be true that a tiny handful of people vote of the basis of the Veep nominee, that's a tiny fraction. And sure, the Speaker is an elected official, but she's elected by, what less than one quarter of one percent of the entire country? And no one thinks about cabinet secretaries in this since that's never happened, so ...

Why not just have a new election? Ya'll can argue over whether the caretaker should be the Veep, Speaker or SecState. But since virtually none of the country casts votes with the intention of any of them becoming president, should such a person be in a position to rule for over 3 and a half years? Why not work out a caretaker system, then vote on new nominees a few months after a vacancy occurs.

YMMV = Your Mileage May Vary

IOW*, the comment preceding this disclaimer is regarding a conspicuously subjective issue regarding which reasonable people may differ.

IOW = In Other Words.

Scott: I tried.

bedtimeforbonzo -- I'm often stumped by the acronyms, and I have pretty good luck just putting them into a Google search box. Just for times when no one's around to answer a question here. (Ha.)

Try http://www.netlingo.com/>Net Lingo for help with acronyms. Pretty soon you'll be LOLing while wou're ROTFLYAO!

HTH. HAND.

"I've always wondered if the VP shouldn't also be a cabinet officer. As far as I know, no law prevents this right now; a president could appoint the vice president to be, say, secretary of labor (subject to Senate confirmation)"

The Constitution might prevent it in Article 1, Section 6:

No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.
Of course, since the Vice-President isn't a Member, but only President of the Senate, I suppose this doesn't prevent it, but it seems worth mentioning.

"Net Lingo" -- should have figured they'd have a whole website for this stuff.

Anybody interested in words and where they are derived from, etc., try "hotforwords.com."

As an added bonus -- sorry if this is sexist, ladies -- the keeper of the flame is this hot Russian chick.

I keep wondering what the gimmick is, but that's it -- she's hot for words.

"Net Lingo" -- should have figured they'd have a whole website for this stuff.

There are several, NetLingo was just the first one I found with a decent interface. (Google "YMMV acronyms definition" for more).

"but 'IMHO' has stumped me for a while."

Whenever you have a question, try Google.

The Jargon File is the classic for net/hacker language.

Also, the veep slot is useful to the parties -- to contain a loose cannon (Henry Wallace, Dick Nixon), to placate a constituency (Humphrey, Ferraro), or even to groom a successor (Al Gore). And then there's the VP picks that scream a warning, "Don't vote for this ticket!" (Spiro Agnew, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney).

And then there's the VP picks that scream a warning, "Don't vote for this ticket!" (Spiro Agnew, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney).

And Joe Lieberman.

Gary: LBJ created the mythos of the Democrat as "weak on national security," which led us into Ronald Reagan and the Bushes.

Wha?? How do you figure that? By massively escalating an inherited war and thus stimulating an antiwar current in his party?

Because, although the whole "weak on security" line is a crock, George McGovern is the Democrat who provided the big target for that attack.

Further cementing provided by Jimmy Carter's cutbacks in the CIA Dept. of Operations and his inability to spring the embassy hostages in Iran (taken after he ignored a specific threat and admitted the former Shah to the U.S. for medical treatment).

LBJ was many things, but he was not the origin of the Democrats-weak-on-national-security attack.

...there are some important reasons to inform the American public prior to the election who the successor would be.

Easily fixed. Have presidential candidates name cabinet successors as running mates prior to the election.

"Wha?? How do you figure that? By massively escalating an inherited war and thus stimulating an antiwar current in his party?"

By being successfully cast as a loser, despite all Johnson's squirming and bellicose attempts to avoid that.

Nixon won by, among other things, casting himself in opposition as the guy who Would Win The War, and Save The Country From The Hippies. The Republican Party under Nixon cast itself as the opposition to the filthy anti-war hippies. Although certainly the counter-culture and antiwar movement wasn't part of the Democratic Party in any way, the two separate groups were nonetheless seem as being in opposition to the Republicans (true enough), and all tarred by Nixon and the Republicans and their hardhat/Silent Majority supporters as unpatriotic and untrustworthy and squishy on National Defense.

Though continuing this theme throughout the Nixon Presidency, taking in the tarring of George McGovern, this was all before Jimmy Carter.

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