Posted by: Janine Balekdjian, Consular Intern
Presidential nominations are a heated contest of primaries and caucuses, and once a party’s nominee is clear, the next big step for the presidential ticket is for that nominee to choose a running mate. The nominee has total discretion over whom to pick and when to announce the decision, and most nominees announce their Vice Presidential (VP) pick towards the end of the summer to signal the beginning of a season of intense campaigning until the election. Presidential candidates have to manage a delicate balancing act of finding a Vice President who is different enough to complement his or her strengths and weaknesses, but similar enough to avoid serious ideological disagreements. Many Presidential nominees actually pick someone that they ran against in the primary as their VP candidate, both because the nominee is well versed in the policy platforms of his or her erstwhile rivals, and because it can heal any tensions within the party created by an acrimonious primary. President Obama picked Joe Biden, a former primary opponent, to be his running mate in 2008, and the pair will again run on the Democratic ticket this year. Currently, news outlets are rife with speculation over who Mitt Romney will pick to join him on the Republican ticket, a decision he is expected to announce before the Republican National Convention.
Vice Presidents have certainly made waves in the past. Below are what I consider the four most noteworthy Vice Presidents or Vice Presidential nominees.
4. Aaron Burr
Aaron Burr was certainly a noteworthy Vice President – but not in a good way. Burr served as Vice President from 1801-1805 under the United States’ third President and principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson. In the early days of the United States, the Vice President was the person who received the second-most votes for president, not someone chosen by the President. Jefferson and Burr actually tied with 73 electoral votes each, and the House of Representatives had to decide which would become president. The House voted for Jefferson, and Burr blamed his narrow defeat on the influence of his former friend Alexander Hamilton, another of the United States’ Founding Fathers. After Burr’s term as Vice President was over, he challenged Hamilton to a duel to the death, shooting and killing him. Burr was charged with murder but the charges were eventually dropped.
3. Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt
Teddy Roosevelt’s Vice Presidency marked a major transition for U.S. politics. Roosevelt became Vice President under William McKinley, who beat the populist Democrat William Jennings Bryan and had close ties to the corrupt business establishment and political machines. Roosevelt’s strong anti-corruption views were diametrically opposed to McKinley’s, although the two men agreed on foreign policy. McKinley was assassinated just 9 months into his second term (his first with Roosevelt as Vice President). Roosevelt became president, finishing the rest of McKinley’s term by ushering in the Progressive Era, a major effort to reform the banking, business, and political establishments, requiring them to follow government regulations, and introduce transparency in both business and government. Roosevelt won another term, serving as president until 1908, and the Progressive Era he inaugurated lasted another decade.
2. Geraldine Ferraro
Geraldine Ferraro never actually became Vice President, as her running mate Democrat Walter Mondale lost the 1984 election to the popular Republican Ronald Reagan, but her nomination was a momentous event for the United States and for American women. Ferraro, a three-term Congresswoman, was the first woman to be nominated as Vice President of a major party (to date, Republican Sarah Palin has been the only other). Ferraro was a feminist and openly challenged the sexism she faced in the media and from other politicians as she and Mondale campaigned. She pointed out the implicit sexism when reporters asked her questions such as, “Are you tough enough?” and scolded the Republican Vice Presidential nominee, George H.W. Bush, when he acted patronizingly towards her in their debate. Ferraro’s Vice Presidential run pushed news outlets to finally adopt the honorific “Ms.” for women; she was married but used her maiden name, so neither “Mrs.” nor “Miss” were appropriate. Ferraro went on to become the United States Ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, work as a journalist, and work on the 2008 Presidential primary campaign of Hillary Clinton.
1. Lyndon Baines Johnson
Lyndon Johnson, or LBJ, was one half of a dynamic Democratic duo, serving as Vice President under the popular John F. Kennedy. Kennedy and Johnson actually did not get along; Kennedy had offered the Vice Presidency to LBJ, who was from Texas, as a way of winning the support of Southern Democrats. Despite their personal disagreements, Johnson’s domineering, aggressive style helped advance Kennedy’s legislative agenda, and Johnson’s focus on domestic policy nicely complemented Kennedy, who concentrated more on foreign policy. Johnson became President when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. As President, Johnson was a champion of fairness and equality, and referred to his vision of a more equal United States of America as the “Great Society”. He responded to the Civil Rights Movement enthusiastically, signing the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act which helped combat discrimination against both African-Americans and women. Johnson then declared a “War on Poverty,” pouring millions of federal dollars into programs like Head Start, food stamps, and Community Action Programs. Most famously, Johnson established Medicare, federal health insurance for the elderly, and Medicaid, state health insurance for the poor. Due to his repeated escalation of the unpopular Vietnam War, Johnson’s approval ratings fell precipitously, and he did not seek the 1968 Presidential nomination. That election culminated in the Democratic National Convention fiasco of 1968 and the victory of Republican Richard Nixon, putting an end to four decades of nearly uninterrupted Democratic government. Johnson’s legacy of Great Society legislation, however, remains a key part of U.S. life to this day.