COLUMN: The Original Mr. Irrelevant

Harry Caines contributes a weekly column to His column is a work of opinion, and does not reflect the views of Cache Valley Daily, the Cache Valley Media Group, or its employees.

Referring to the office of Vice President of the United States, John Adams, the first holder of that office said, “

My country has, in its wisdom, contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived, or his imagination conceived.”

In one of the most historically brilliant lives ever lived, Thomas Jefferson’s worst years were the four he spent as Adams’s Veep. He spent those years secretly funding hatchet men disguised as journalists to savagely impugn the reputations of Adams and his fellow Federalists. One can only assume Jefferson’s near treasonous behavior was partially to blame on boredom.

And then there was Aaron Burr. First, he refused to accept the vice presidency when he tied for votes in the Electoral College with Thomas Jefferson, the presumptive presidential candidate. Then he kills Alexander Hamilton in a dual because Hamilton had been a driving force against Burr’s defeat for governor of New York; which would have allowed Burr to resign as vice president.

Maybe he should have just said no.

This is the early history of an office created to prevent the states from throwing a plethora of local candidates into the presidential mix as a means to cause chaos in the election process. When anyone tries to convince me of the omniscience of the Founding Fathers, I point to the office of vice president as the antithesis argument.

This is the backdrop for one of the most peculiar events in the American political landscape–a vice presidential debate. An argument between two men who will discuss policies and initiatives that they themselves will have almost no power to implement.

And the unfortunate irony in this event is that the two men, current Vice President Joe Biden and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, would be better candidates for president than the two guys whose names appear above their own on the placards.

While it is easy to lambaste Biden for his continuously losing battles with the English language, it should be noted that few Americans have inside their brains the political acumen that he possesses. Biden may give Obama’s handlers fits whenever he stands in front of a live microphone; but, a man with his knowledge of foreign affairs has to be respected.

And then there is Paul Ryan. Ryan loves the smell of 40 page policy initiatives in the morning. He listens to Rage Against The Machine while critiquing farm subsidy reports.

Ryan is Willy Wonky. A man with a childlike fervent love of all things Washington. I can easily see him doing a two-step dance whilst singing a ditty about the wonders of a Ways and Means subcommittee meeting. Ryan does not have any Oompa-Loompas at his disposal–unless you count Mike Lee.

And so the stage is set. Biden will try to paint Ryan as an extremist whose ideas do not mesh with middle America, or even those of his running mate. Ryan will methodically break down the failings of the Obama administration. And all the time, the elephant in the room will mostly be ignored. The real question, uncouth and awkward as it may be to ask, will not be asked.

Are you apt to take control of the country if the president is assassinated?

That is the only thing that matters when it comes to this rather unique office. If we can handle such a macabre subject, both Biden and Ryan should spend the entirety of the debate answering hypothetical questions about how they deal with pressure.

It may not be appropriate, but it should be mandatory for any vice presidential nominee to discuss in detail. Consider this quote by the great American satirist Will Rogers:

“The man with the best job in country is the vice-president. All he has to do is get up every morning and say “How is the president?”

No questions about jobs bills. No gotcha moments where the candidates defend quotes that run counter to the opinions of the guy on top of the ticket. No being the ‘pit bull’ for the party and the nominee. One question. Two 20 minute responses followed by two 20 minute rebuttals.

Vice President Biden. Congressman Ryan. The president’s convoy has just been hit by a short range missile while on a trip to Asia. He is dead. It is 3 a.m. when the Secret Service pulls you out of bed and hurries you to a secure location somewhere in Washington. Information is unreliable and everyone is frantic. What do you do?

No other question asked would be germane to the duties of vice president.  Everything else is irrelevant; much like the office itself.

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