4 Things To Remember On Election Day

presidential-electionIt’s difficult to talk about this American election without somebody going off the deep end.  People all over the world have drawn their own Clinton/Trump battle lines and are defeating them to the death.  Plus, from what I’ve seen in my own country, neither side is taking any prisoners and both sides are shooting the wounded.  Nobody on this planet is indifferent to what’s going to happen in America today.  This is full contact politics. and it’s not for the faint of heart.

However, this is America’s Election Day and we need to remember a few things before tearing our hair out, shooting our mouth off or declaring the Antichrist has risen and the Apocalypse is upon us.

1 — These are Americans.  They’re loud, they’re noisy, they’re brassy, and they’re rude to each other — but they don’t mean anything by it.  Most of the shouting done during an election is just rah! rah! rah! from the cheap seats.  It’s not serious.  The time to take Americans seriously is when they’re not shouting at each other.  (Remember what happened when they quit calling George III names?)

2 — Americans are not as dumb as the rest of the world thinks they are.  The stereotypical redneck from Rubberboot, Arkansas is funny — to a  point.  However, remember that Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Disney — and a whole lot more — are all American companies, fueled by American ideas.  This election might look a bit hillbilly from the outside, but most Americans know what’s at stake and are making their choice accordingly.

3 — The President of the United States doesn’t have as much power as a lot of people think.  The beauty of the American system is that each one of the three branches of government keeps a wary eye on the other two branches — so nobody really steps out of line.  Rhetoric is easy, and all candidates talk a good fight (see #1) but the President of the United States is not a monarch, a dictator or even a pro-consul, and once they’re in the Oval office, they find that out — very quickly.

4 — The sun is going to come up tomorrow — just the same way it did the day after Lincoln was elected, or the morning after Teddy Roosevelt was sworn into office, or even after George W. Bush won The Battle of the Hanging Chads in 2000.  (FYI, every one of those events was labelled the end of the world — at the time.)

This is our time, and regardless of who wins today or what the various media outlets say about it, it’s not  going to be the end of the world.  However, just one more word of advice: buckle up, boys and girls! The next four years are going to be interesting.

The Vice President: A Short History

Despite what the pundits have been telling us for a week or so — and all the yipping that went on last night — the vice president (not this one particularly) really isn’t worth that much.  His (or her?) job is to wake up every morning and ask the important question: “How’s the president feeling, today?”  After that, he can have a leisurely breakfast, read the paper, work in the garden or play on the Internet, if he likes.  Of course, if some second tier somebody dies somewhere in the world, he has to show up and look sad, or if some not-so-notable notable comes to Washington, he has to show up and look happy.  To paraphrase Dorothy Parker: “His emotional range must run the gamut from A to B.”  However, for the most part, the vice president’s time is his own.  Yet, even though the office is totally useless on a daily basis, it does serve an essential purpose: the vice president must be ready and able to run the country if the president can’t.  It’s kinda like the first runner up in a beauty contest.

Actually, originally, that’s the way it worked.  The vice president was the guy who lost the election.  Obviously, this wasn’t an ideal arrangement, even back in the day.  For example, John Adams’ vice president was Thomas Jefferson.  I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall when those two started tearing into the nation’s business.  After all, about the only thing they ever agreed on was when to die.  To put this into perspective, in this century, George Dubya’s vice presidents would have been Al Gore and John Kerry; Barack Obama would have been stuck with John McCain.  Just let that sink in for a moment.

Oddly enough, the vice presidency is not an automatic ticket to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue1.  Actually, it’s almost a political dead end.  Of the forty-seven vice presidents so far, only fourteen have ever gone on to become president.  Eight of them took office when their bosses suddenly died; one, Gerry Ford, became president when Richard Nixon resigned and only five have ever been elected independently (and one of those, Richard Nixon, had to run twice.)  In fact, most politicos regard the office with some disdain.  Daniel Webster, who was offered the vice presidency by two separate administrations,2 replied the first time by saying “I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead and in my coffin.”  Likewise, John Nance Garner, who was, for a time, Franklin Roosevelt’s vice president, described the office as “not worth a bucket of warm piss.”  Not much has changed since Garner’s time.

For many years, both parties either let the backroom boys choose their vice presidential candidate or threw it open to the convention floor.  Either way, there have been some spirited campaigns for this worthless office – John Kennedy in 1956, for example.  However, in 1976, Ronald Reagan ran into political trouble and needed a boost to try and unseat Gerry Ford during the primaries, so he named his running mate, Richard Schweiker, early.  It didn’t help: Ford won the nomination.  However, this has become the norm.  Now, all the campaigning for second banana is done in the backrooms, long before the delegates ever meet.

Also, for many years, being selected as a vice presidential candidate was sort of a consolation prize for not getting the Big Kahuna.  However, these days, vice presidents usually bring balance to the ticket, either geographically, politically or — twice — (Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin) by gender.  Of course, there are some cynics who maintain that the vice president is chosen simply as assassination insurance.

Regardless, most vice presidents have done their jobs uneventfully and vanished into history.  And the nine who were called upon to fulfill their primary function have served adequately, if not spectacularly, with one notable exception: Theodore Roosevelt, who was so good at it, they put him on Mount Rushmore with Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.

1BTW, some people think the vice president lives and works in the White House – he doesn’t.  Actually, up until the 1970s, the vice president had to find his own accommodations in Washington.  And it wasn’t until Jimmy Carter made some space for Walter Mondale that the VP even had a formal office in the West Wing.

2From the Pretty Darn Strange Department: If Webster had shut up and taken the job — either time — he would have ended up as president.  Both men who invited him to be their Veep died in office.

Election 2012: Obama’s Turn

The odd thing about elections is that they’re so easily sidetracked.  Major issues give way to pivotal moments that wouldn’t warrant a page five headline in normal times.  Michael Dukakis’ now infamous joyride on an M1 Abrams tank in 1988 comes to mind.  Few, if anybody, really remembers what Dukakis had to say in ’88 but the image is still there – slightly silly – definitely un-presidential.  It’s the simple things that define an election.  The thing is most concepts are just too complex to explain in a sound byte or a television ad.  Thus, candidates have to distill a broad spectrum of ideas into one overwhelming message and hope it sticks to the electorate.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt did it with The New Deal, John Kennedy with The New Frontier and in 2008, Hope and Change carried Barack Obama to the White House.  The problem is these encapsulated messages are fragile creatures, and like Humpty Dumpty, if they shatter, there’s no way to pick up the pieces.

There’s not a lot of talk about Hope and Change in the Obama camp these days.  The mood is more hunkered-down.  The Democratic National Convention still has the hoopla, but the party atmosphere of 2008 is gone.  People are serious.  This isn’t going to be a skate to November like it was last time.  There’s a broad admission that, “We’re not there yet.” and there’s a lot of work to do.

Tomorrow, the Democrats bring out the big guns – Bill Clinton and the president himself.  Barack Obama doesn’t need to convert the faithful anymore; he needs to reconvert the sceptics.  It’s a difficult situation.  In 2008, Obama’s message was one simple idea — I am the solution.  Here in 2012, it’s more complicated than that.   He’s got to tell the electorate that he is indeed still the solution, but he also has to convince them that he’s not actually the problem.  Meanwhile, the Republicans have branded their guy a matte finish Mr. Fix-it.  No gloss, no gleam, just a clear picture of a repairman who can spot-mend the immediate mess and hold the line until Christie and Ryan and Rubio are ready to take over.

So far, there has been no defining moment in this election, but there will be.  If Obama is smart — and I know he is — he will stay away from going toe to toe with the Republicans.  He needs to bring on the glitter, paint the Republicans as joyless suits and ties, and rekindle those personal flames that were burning election night four years ago.  If he does that, he’ll probably get four more years; if he doesn’t, he can get busy planning his library.