Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The virtues of the VEEP

I was just watching the excellent videography of LBJ on PBS's American Experience tonight. There are so many relevant moments in it--his obsession with politics and power, his checkered record on civil rights, his determination to keep the Vietnam war going despite his forebodings and his essential disinterest. One thing in particular, though, caught my attention...it seems an obvious point, but there it is: Lyndon Johnson gained the Presidency when John F. Kennedy died.

LBJ had always wanted the Presidency. He had climbed the ladder by l960, from local Texas politics to the House to the Senate. He was an outstanding politician in his generation, and the logical choice for President in l960. As we know, the Barack Obama of that day, John F. Kennedy, outdid him in that competition. Kennedy chose his runner-up for Vice President, mostly because he would help the ticket win Texas, a much-coveted southern state. As JFK told his outraged supporters, he wasn't going to die in office, and if LBJ were in the Vice Presidency, he could have Mike Mansfield, a key ally, as Majority Leader in the US Senate. Lyndon Johnson knew he was going to be marginalized, a chief mourner at funerals, a gladhander, a meet-and-greeter. He thought his political life was over, that all of it was behind him.

That all changed in the blink of an eye on November 22, l963. John F. Kennedy's Vice President became President when Kennedy died. Who could ever have predicted that a popular US President could be shot down at mid-day in a major American city in the middle of the 20th century? When the shock and the grief subsided, maybe the American public resented Johnson, but there was no question that he was fully qualified for the job in every way. In fact, as we all know, he took advantage of the public's desire to memorialize the late President by getting his entire program enacted into law. A very skillful and gifted politician was Lyndon B. Johnson.

The point of this rambling, and we are definitely getting there, is that the Vice Presidency MATTERS. The McCain-Palin people were obviously counting on Palin to help elect McCain...there was no thought of anything except her ability to rally and energize the base, to get him over the top. But no one should doubt that she COULD EASILY become President...in the last century, four Vice Presidents, including Johnson, did.

That's way too high a percentage for someone like Sarah Palin. LBJ's experience is the best possible illustration of why your VEEP MATTERS.

A lot.


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