Saturday, February 2, 2013

the president versus the vice president

The one executive branch official the president can't fire is the vice president. But he can be ignored, sidelined, sent to funerals overseas, and otherwise abused. History provides a full spectrum of examples, from familial to deeply conflicted. I think it's good for the country that recent presidents have given their vice presidents important roles in various policy areas, the kind of experience that would help them if they ever succeeded to the presidency.

There are some new books about Richard Nixon and how he was treated by President Eisenhower.

Here's just one example of how the old warrior dealt with his running mate:
At a formal launch of the 1956 campaign on Eisenhower's Gettysburg, Pa., farm Nixon offered a rousing defense of the president and dutifully posed with his ticketmate and the property's livestock. But when the photo-ops and speeches were done, Nixon was left with his nose pressed against the proverbial glass. "Afterward," Mr. Frank recounts, "Eisenhower went off to the farmhouse, joined by a couple of pals. A Nixon friend told the journalist Theodore White that as Nixon watched them disappear inside, he said—bitterly, as the friend recalled—'Do you know, he's never asked me into that house yet?' "

This was after nearly four years of serving together in the White House. And it was hardly the only slight. Nixon never would see the inside of the Gettysburg house or even Eisenhower's White House living quarters. But what bruised more than Nixon's fragile ego was what Eisenhower said in 1960, when he was asked at a news conference to name a "major idea" that his vice president, then the GOP presidential nominee, had offered over the previous eight years: "If you give me a week I might think of one." The comment undercut Nixon's claims of having superior executive experience compared with his opponent, John F. Kennedy, and burned Nixon deeply.
That's from a review in the Wall Street Journal. A longer piece in the New Yorker by Thomas Mallon, a talented novelist of stories set in Washington, covers Nixon's career and marriage. The point to remember is that these officials are human beings, and the organization chart does not predict how well they work together.

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