Steve G.

Posts Tagged ‘FDR’

The American Vice Presidency… Graveyard of the Constitution

In Congress, Democracy, Democrats, History, Law, Libertarian, Politics, Republican, US Government on August 27, 2009 at 7:12 pm

America’s first Vice President, John Adams, described the office as “the most insignificant office that ever the Invention of Man contrived or his Imagination conceived”. When Daniel Webster was offered the nomination of Vice President, he said “I do not intend to be buried until I am dead”. Perhaps the most succinct assessment of the office was given by Texan John Nance Garner, a former and powerful Speaker of The House of Representatives and Vice President under FDR for two full terms, who claimed that the office wasn’t “worth a bucket of piss”.

In many ways, the office of Vice President of The United States can be seen as the most singular indication of the noble goals and yet practical failure of The United States Constitution, and its fate was sealed before the 19th Century even began. While there might have once been a chance for the Vice Presidency to have been an office of viable contribution to the functioning of The United States’ government, there are five key moments in early American history which, I believe, combined to relegate the office itself to impotence and insignificance only moderated by either the good will of any particular President or by the vacation of the office of President and subsequent elevation of a Vice President to that office. The first of these moments was the creation of the office itself (1787).  The idea was that it would be held by a major statesman, the candidate for President who came in second and who would, for the greater good of his nation, join the administration of the victor.  Yet within this idea was still recognition of the reality of opposition and the understanding that you would not want to give the primary challenger of the President any real power with which to work against the Chief Executive.  Thus was an office created in which the primary requirement was, apparently, to have a pulse. 

While, primarily because of their revolutionary credentials, Washington’s Vice President, John Adams succeeded him as President, and then Adams’ Vice President, Thomas Jefferson succeeded him, the office of Vice President has not been seen as a natural stepping stone to the Presidency.  After Jefferson, and after the adoption of the 12th Amendment to The Constitution (which provided for the direct election of the Vice President) the only Vice Presidents who have been elected to be President WITHOUT FIRST having already assumed the office through the death or resignation of the previous holder of that office have been Martin Van Buren (1836), Richard Nixon (1968), and George H. W. Bush (1988).  Furthermore, of those three men, Richard Nixon was not the current Vice President when he was elected, having lost to John Kennedy in 1960.  Thus, the two men after Jefferson who were elected to the office of President while holders of the office of Vice President served only two terms between them for a total of eight years, and the three men combined for 4 terms and less than 14 years out of the whole of the history of The United States.  By contrast, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams and James Buchanan (the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 15th Presidents) all served as Secretary of State and served as President for eight terms and a total of 32 years, while several others served as Ambassadors or envoys to other sovereign nations.  So, we can see that diplomatic credentials have been seen as better qualifying a candidate to be President than serving as Vice President has been.

The second moment in history’s conspiracy to insure the insignificance of the office of Vice President was George Washington’s view that the office was a part of the Legislative branch of the government rather than part of the Executive branch (1789). As a result, Washington not only did not include Adams in his cabinet meetings or consult him very frequently on matters within the Executive Branch. He believed, in fact, that he was not ALLOWED to do so as part of The Constitution’s requirements for separation of powers. It is impossible to minimize the influence Washington had on establishing the precedents and operational functions of The United States government as established by The Constitution. If any man in history had it in his power to make from nothing a relevant constitutional office of the Vice Presidency, it was Washington; but he did not do so. As aware as the Revolutionary generation was that they were making history, they seemed to have had no awareness of the importance of the precedents which they were establishing every day as part of a continuity of history which would last for centuries.

In many ways, they were making it up as they went along and the openness of the Experiment they had initiated would have permitted them to follow almost any vision that they could have put into practice.

The third moment in this sorry tale was the decision of The Senate to forbid the Vice President from being part of the debates and deliberations of their body (1789). We can never know how much of this decision was inspired by the personal rancor and dislike felt by many members of The Senate for the person of John Adams and how much was an inevitable course which would have been followed no matter who had been The Senate’s first presiding officer.

In the end, it makes little difference. While Washington did not consider the Vice President a member of the Executive Branch, The Senate did not consider the officeholder a contributing part of their august body or, therefore, of the Legislative branch of government. While a man with more people skills and a more stable temperament might have been able to make the Senators accept the Vice President as a full member of The Senate, John Adams was not that man. As Adams wrote to his wife Abigail, “It is to be sure a punishment to hear other men talk five hours every day and not be at liberty to talk at all myself, especially as more than half I hear appears to me very young, inconsiderate and inexperienced.” If Washington had made the Vice President insignificant as a member of the Executive branch, The Senate itself made him insignificant as a member of the Legislative branch. All of this, of course, reaches new heights of irony in the person of our former Vice President, Dick Cheney, who has used this ‘confusion’ to declare himself the beneficiary of the rights and privileges of both branches while, at the same time, free of the obligations or restraints upon either branch. The burden of the fourth moment in our tragic history of the establishment of the role of the Vice Presidency falls squarely on the shoulders of the second holder of that office, Thomas Jefferson (1797).

Adams, for all of his faults of personality, truly cared for what was best for the nation he served. He did not plan to treat Jefferson, as Vice President, as he had been treated himself (or, as Tom Lehrer put so humorously in his satirical song about Hubert Humphrey and the treatment of Humphrey as Vice President by Lyndon Johnson as President, “I’ll do unto you as they did unto me.”).  As Joseph Ellis tells so well in his Pulitzer Prize winning book ‘Founding Brothers, Adams fully desired to work with Jefferson to create a bipartisan administration which utilized both of their talents and skills (Chapter Five: The Collaborators). 

He wanted Jefferson to be a functioning member of his cabinet and an active participant in foreign policy efforts. Jefferson, influenced greatly by the advice of James Madison, chose to be a party man and watch the Adams administration fail without him. Jefferson, at this time, chose the good of his party over the good of his nation. After Adams’ desire to give the office a ‘place at the table’, it wasn’t until Warren G. Harding took office in 1921 that a President again made the choice to include his Vice President in his cabinet meetings, and it wasn’t until Richard Nixon’s service under Dwight Eisenhower that a Vice President was given a substantial and public role by the President but, in all cases, up to and including the present, the role and power of a particular Vice President has been dependent upon their President to give it to them.

If the damage done to the office of Vice President was not already irreversible by the election of 1800, that election itself ensured that it was permanent, and the blame for it can be placed on the personage of Aaron Burr. If one wants to make the case that the Adams’ Vice Presidency was not a standard to judge by because of the newness of the office, or that the Jefferson Vice Presidency cannot be used because he was of an opposition political position to his President, then there is no excuse for the damage done to the office by Burr before he was even inaugurated, damage so great, in fact, that the first substantive change to The US Constitution was made to prevent the circumstances from ever again even being possible through the adoption of the 12th Amendment. For the election of 1800, the supporters of Jefferson and his Republican / Anti-Federalist movement conspired to maneuver the election so that their candidates would end up holding the offices of both the Presidency and the Vice Presidency. While they succeeded in the goal of having all of their electors vote for both Jefferson and Burr, they apparently never considered the ramifications of this actually happening. They believed that somehow, without any need to orchestrate it as well, some random elector would cast his vote for Jefferson but not cast their second vote for Burr. The conspiracy, however, was too well planned and the soldiers followed their marching orders without deviation…and Jefferson and Burr ended up exactly tied in the electoral vote totals.

At this point, a good party man would have fallen into line and worked to finish what had been started, but Burr was an opportunist whose personal desires completely overshadowed any belief he may have had in the greater good. When the election went to The House of Representatives, Burr fought to win the Presidency for himself. He almost managed to pull the feat off as it took 36 ballots in The House before Hamilton intervened and one member chose to abstain. Well, after that, what President would trust the man he was stuck with as Vice President? And so, Burr alienated himself from any role in Jefferson’s first administration and The Constitution was changed…and changed VERY quickly.

The new nation went through only four elections, three administrations and 12 years before the first substantial flaw in the design of the governmental structure of The United States had to be addressed. 46 men have been dumped into the graveyard of The Constitution, including 2 men who each served under two different Presidents (George Clinton under Jefferson and Madison, and John C. Calhoun under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson). Except for the ones who eventually became President themselves or who have served in a person’s own lifetime, how many people can name even one of them? The Vice Presidency is a unique office with a unique role in government. If we want evidence of the lack of experience which burdened the men who created The Constitution, all we need do is look at the Office of The Vice President of The United States. However, if we do look at it, we will have done more than most people ever do.

P.S.– It might also be of interest, for anyone who wants to consideration how truly UNimportant the office of Vice President has been to our nation over the entire course of its history, for me to point out that, while we have never had any real period without a President since Washington first took the oath of office in 1889, between the years 1812 (when the office was vacated upon the death of Vice President George Clinton) and 1974 (when the office was vacated by the elevation of Vice President Gerald Ford to the Office of President) (a period of 162 years), there were 18 different times when we were without a Vice President totaling more than 426 months (35.5 years, an average of 23.666 months per vacancy). This includes two periods when the office was vacant for 47 months (out of a 48 month term of office), but does NOT include any periods when the holder of the office just left Washington and ignored his role in government (as, for example, Richard Mentor Johnson did during Van Buren’s administration).

As an indication of how little impact the absence of a Vice President has meant to the functions of our government, I would simply ask how many of you reading this have ever even wondered just how often the office has even been vacant because there WAS no holder of the office?

As a point of useless trivia from an infomaniac, did you know that the first Vice President to die in office (George Clinton) died about a year before the end of his second term (Clinton had served one term as President Jefferson’s second Vice President and his second term as Vice President was consecutive to his first when he was elected to be Vice President under Jefferson’s successor, President James Madison, for Madison’s first term.  For Madison’s second term of office, he ran and served with Vice President Elbridge Gerry, who THEN proceeded to die in office after about a year and a half into his term.  As a result, President James Madison served with a different Vice President for each of his two terms in office and neither of them lived to complete their own terms.

Rhys M. Blavier
Romayor, Texas 
 

Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all Honor

© copyright 2008 by Rhys M. Blavier
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Thank you for reading this article. Please read my other articles and let me know what you think. I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.

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Gravel announces Libertarian presidential run

In Congress, Global Warming, Guantanamo, Health, Iran, Libertarian Party-US, Politics, Presidential Candidates, Science, Taxation, Torture, US Government, Veterans, War on March 26, 2008 at 4:59 pm

Mike Gravel

A Personal Message from Mike

I wanted to update you on my latest plans before news gets out. Today, I am announcing my plan to join the Libertarian Party, because the Democratic Party no longer represents my vision for our great country. I wanted my supporters to get this news first, because you have been the ones who have kept my campaign alive since I first declared my candidacy on April 17, 2006.

The fact is, the Democratic Party today is no longer the party of FDR. It is a party that continues to sustain war, the military-industrial complex and imperialism — all of which I find anathema to my views.

By and large, I have been repeatedly marginalized in both national debates and in media exposure by the Democratic leadership, which works in tandem with the corporate interests that control what we read and hear in the media.

I look forward to advancing my presidential candidacy within the Libertarian Party, which is considerably closer to my values, my foreign policy views and my domestic views.

Please take a moment to make your most generous donation to my presidential campaign today. $10, $20, $50 — whatever you feel you can afford.

I want to thank you all for your continued support.

_______________________________

So, what are Gravel’s views on the issues? Here are some issue statements from his website:

The War in Iraq Senator Gravel’s position on Iraq remains clear and consistent: to commence an immediate and orderly withdrawal of all U.S. troops that will have them home within 120 days. The sooner U.S. troops are withdrawn, the sooner we can pursue aggressive diplomacy to bring an end to the civil war that currently consumes Iraq. Senator Gravel seeks to work with neighboring countries to lead a collective effort to bring peace to Iraq.

One of the leading opponents of the Vietnam War, Senator Gravel was one of the first current or former elected officials to publicly oppose the planned invasion of Iraq in 2002. He appeared on MSNBC prior to the invasion insisting that intelligence showed that there were indeed no weapons of mass destruction, that Iraq posed no threat to the United States and that invading Iraq was against America’s national interests and would result in a disaster of epic proportions for both the United States and the Iraqi people.

Today, more than four years into the invasion, the death toll of U.S. troops has climbed over 3,300 with over 50,000 more permanently maimed, some having lost limbs, others their sight. Tens of thousands more are afflicted with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and urgently need psychological care. The Iraqi civilian death toll nears three-quarters of a million, and still there remains no end in sight to the bloodshed.

As President, Senator Gravel will call for a U.S. corporate withdrawal from Iraq and hand over reconstruction contracts to Iraqi businesses which will empower Iraqi nationals to reconstruct their own country.

The National Initiative for Democracy Mike fully supports the National Initiative for Democracy. The NI4D is a way to bring legislative power back to the people. In many states, citizens can put measures on the ballot and Mike believes as citizens of the United States we should all have that power.

Iran and Syria Senator Gravel opposes a military confrontation with Iran and Syria and advocates a diplomatic solution to the current situation.

Global Warming/Climate Change Senator Gravel believes that global climate change is a matter of national security and survivability of the plant. As President, he will act swiftly to reduce America’s carbon footprint in the world by initiating legislation to tax carbon at the source and cap carbon emissions. he is also committed to leading the fight against global deforestation, which today is second only to the energy sector as a source of greenhouse gases. However, any legislation will have little impact on the global environment if we do not work together with other global polluters. China, India, and under-developed nations all work together fighting climate change can only be effective if it is a collective global effort. As President, Senator Gravel will see that the U.S. launches and leads a massive global scientific effort, integrating the world’s scientific and engineering community, to end energy dependence on oil and integrate the world scientific community in this task.

Progressive Taxes – A fair Tax Senator Gravel’s Progressive Fair Tax proposal calls for eliminating the IRS and the income tax and replacing it with a national sales tax on new products and services. To compensate for the tax on necessities, such as food, lodging, transportation and clothing, there would be a “rebate” to reimburse taxpayers. This would be paid in a monthly check from the government to all citizens. The focus on taxing new goods would also help tackle the global climate change problem.

Healthcare Senator Gravel advocates a universal healthcare system that provides equal medical services to all citizens, paid for by a retail sales tax (a portion of the Progressive Fair tax). Citizens would pay nothing for health benefits.

Reproductive Rights Senator Mike Gravel supports a woman’s right to decide if and when to have children. He also supports a woman’s right to make the difficult decision about abortion without interference by government authorities. Comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education, including accurate information about contraception, can always be provided in order to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions. Parity in health insurance and access to specialized family health care services, including family planning education, would also benefit the health and welfare of infants and children, who need and deserve to be wanted and loved.

Immigration Senator Gravel favors protecting our borders and monitoring the flow of immigrants into our country. He also favors a guest worker program and setting up naturalization procedures that would fairly bring immigrants into legal status. America must address the root cause of illegal immigration. Any discussion of immigration must include NAFTA and the concept of “free trade.” The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been a disaster for the working class of both the U.S. and Mexico and a boon to the international corporate interests. A study by the Economic Policy Institute found that over 1 million U.S. jobs were lost as a result of NAFTA, a third of them manufacturing jobs. In Mexico, 1.3 million farm workers lost their jobs in the same period. This has led to a wave of immigrants looking for work in the U.S. Reforming unfair trade policies spawned by measures like NAFTA will stimulate job growth on both sides of the border.

LGBT Rights Senator Gravel supports same-sex marriage and opposes the Defense of Marriage Act. He supports expanding hate-crime legislation and opposes laws that allow discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or one’s gender identity or expression. Senator Gravel strongly opposes the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” legislation on the grounds that it is unconstitutional, as it restricts the rights of gay Americans. He opposes any state or national constitutional amendment that restricts the rights of the gay community.

Social Security Senator Gravel wants to put real money, rather than borrowed money, in the Social Security Trust Fund. He advocates investing it properly and identifying the interests of individual beneficiaries so they can know what their retirement fund is and leave surplus funds to heirs.

Education Access to public education is a bedrock American value. Why is it then that the United States ranks 49th in literacy and that an estimated 30% of our students don’t graduate from high school? Investing in education provides a pathway to a thriving national economy, to individual and family economic opportunity, and to the reduction of poverty. A successful education system requires the commitment of families, the community, and government. It’s time to re-order our national budget priorities in order to improve the American education system. Parent education and access to preschool programs such as Head Start need to be expanded so that children from low income families are equally ready to benefit from elementary school. Universal pre-kindergarten would also enhance readiness. Encouraging our students to be the best they can be will require flexibility from the federal and state governments, within school systems, and from groups with a stake in educational success. Flexibility may mean extended school days and summer learning opportunities or extended school years. It may mean online and broadcast courses to provide access to highly qualified teachers. It may mean charter schools to address the needs of local communities, smaller classes, enrichment programs for students at risk, and vocational options. One thing we know for sure: No Child Left Behind has left too many children behind. It needs to be reformed and adequately funded. It needs to acknowledge the need for a fuller curriculum that encourages critical thinking-not just math and science test-taking. A high school diploma should be the minimum goal for all students; without it, our children will be condemned to a substandard economic existence.

Veteran’s Affairs As President, Senator Gravel would ensure that veterans receive full funding for their most important needs, including healthcare that is indexed to the increasing cost of care and medicine. He would make sure that all soldiers receive a full medical diagnosis to assess what their individual needs would be. He would also make sure that the VA system is fully financed and has sufficient well-trained personnel to provide the finest care that is available. As the Senator says, “We can do no less and we will do much more.” Mike Gravel is the only military veteran in the democratic race.

The War on Drugs The War on Drugs has been a failure. It is time to end prohibition and start treating addiction as a public health problem. This has ravaged our inner cities, and we are losing an entire generation of men and women to prisons. We must regulate hard drugs for the purpose of treating addicts, which would emphasize rehabilitation and prevention over incarceration. We must decriminalize minor drug offenses and increase the availability and visibility of substance abuse treatment in our communities as well as in jails and prisons. The United States incarcerates more people and at a higher rate than any other industrialized nation in the world. Some 2.3 million Americans are now behind bars. This tragedy must end.

Net Neutrality Net Neutrality aims to keep the Internet free from large companies, which are trying to limit the number of web sites their customers can view and the speed at which they can view them. Senator Gravel guarantees a free and open Internet with unlimited access to all sites. He will do this by supporting legislation and regulation that keeps you in control of your Internet usage and promotes free speech.

Human Rights Senator Gravel is adamantly opposed to torture, indefinite detention, and the deprivation of lawyers/speedy trials. He opposes the Military Commissions Act, flagrant ignorance of the Geneva convention, and Guantanamo.