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If This Is a Democracy, Why Don't We Vote for the Vice President, Too?
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Let’s say you owned a house and needed extra cash to make ends meet, so you decided to rent two of your bedrooms. Would you agree to lease those rooms to two people under the condition that you could only run a credit check on and meet one of them? Would you allow an anonymous rando to move into your second room, no questions asked, not even what their name is?

It’s an absurd question. No one would do that. Yet that’s exactly what the parties ask millions of voters to do in American presidential primaries.

Thanks to debates and news reports, we’ve gotten to know Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and the other presidential contenders pretty well. Democratic voters have the information they need to vote for their party standard-bearer. But they have no idea who will represent their party as vice president.

We don’t even know what kind of veep the candidates would pick. Would Biden balance his centrism with a progressive, or someone younger like Pete Buttigieg? Would Sanders double down on progressivism by pairing up with Warren, or vice versa?

Since 3 out of 10 vice presidents have become president, this is not an academic question. (I include those who ran for the presidency using the formidable springboard of incumbency and the name reconciliation it bestows).

You might think: “No big deal. My choice for president will select a running mate with a similar temperament and ideological leanings.” History shows that “balance,” i.e. contrast, is a common strategy. Former President George W. Bush, an affable moderate Republican, went with maniacal hardliner Dick Cheney — and, by many accounts, he was the one in charge. The U.S. (and Iraq!) lost a lot when Bush prevailed over Al Gore; whereas Gore was a staunch environmentalist and a thoughtful liberal, his running mate, Joe Lieberman, was a charmless Republican in sheep’s clothing. Whatever you thought of John McCain (in my case, not much), it would have been a tragic day for America had he croaked and been succeeded by the shallow imbecile Sarah Palin.

It is strange — nay, insane — that a self-declared democracy allows, effectively, 30% of its future leaders to be elected not by the voters but by one person, the presidential nominee of one party or, at most, by a half-dozen of his or her confidants.

Sometimes it works out. The assassination of President William McKinley gave us President Teddy Roosevelt, who set the standard for the contempt with which a president ought to treat big business. How long would we have awaited the Civil Rights Act had President Lyndon B. Johnson not been prematurely promoted? Still, this is not democracy.

It is time for the United States to require that candidates for president announce their veep picks at the same time they announce their intent to run. It’s truth in advertising.


Candidates’ terms don’t expire with them. If a president could succumb to an assassin’s bullet, a foreign drone or an aneurism prior to the end of his or her four-year term, voters — primary voters — ought to have the right to know who would finish it out. Toward that end, candidates also ought to pre-announce their Cabinet picks. Many Cabinet positions are in the line of succession. And they can make a big difference. I would not have voted for former President Barack Obama if I had known he would appoint Goldman Sachs’ Timothy Geithner to run the Treasury Department.

Announcing veeps early enough for voters to take them into consideration before casting their primary ballots would deprive political conventions of their last remaining bit of drama, but lower TV ratings are a small price to pay compared with what would be gained: transparency and choice.

It’s not like revealing the No. 2 spot ahead of time is a crazy idea no one has tried before.

“Nowadays, once a candidate has locked up the presidential nomination, we expect them to choose their running mate by whatever process they choose to employ, introduce him (or, in two recent cases, her) to the public a few days before the convention, and we all understand that the convention will rubber-stamp that choice, and the veep nominee will make a televised speech, which will occur on Wednesday night, the third day of the four-day TV show that conventions have become,” Eric Black wrote for the Minnesota Post. “In the earliest days of the Republic — and this was the way the Framers of the Constitution intended it — whoever finished second in the Electoral College voting would become vice president. That’s how John Adams, the first vice president got the job. Even as the two-party system (which is not mandated by the Constitution) developed, that remained the case, which is how Adams (when he succeeded George Washington in 1796) ended up with his chief rival in the presidential race (Thomas Jefferson) as his vice president.”

The parties usurped the voters’ role in the choosing of the vice president in 1832.

We’re a weird country. Few electoral democracies elect a president the way we do, and even fewer deal with succession the same way. Most nations replace their departed presidents with a temporary fix, typically an acting president who is a parliamentary official analogous to the Speaker of the House pending a special presidential election, or a quickie election to find a replacement. We’re pretty much on our own when it comes to figuring out a better construction.

What’s clear is that nothing would be gained and much would be gained by requiring presidential candidates to declare their running mates, and their Cabinets, upfront.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: 2020 Election, Democratic Party 
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  1. Oh my God Ted Rall actually said something that makes sense.

  2. Minnesota used to (may still, I wouldn’t know) vote for Governor and Lieutenant Governor separately. It was common for one to be Republican and the other to be Democratic-Farmer-Labor (Sickle and Hammer, get it?) to provide a counterweight.

    • Replies: @follyofwar
  3. Want real Democracy?
    1. Eliminate the Electoral College.
    2. The top two, or three, in each of the two corporate national parties’ primaries appear on the General Election ticket along with anyone who can get enough signatures.
    3. Veep is the second place finisher.

  4. anonymous[245] • Disclaimer says:

    “I would not have voted for former President Barack Obama if I had known he would appoint Goldman Sachs’ Timothy Geithner to run the Treasury Department.”

    Really? Who did you think he would appoint? You didn’t think about it at all, did you?

    It’s once again apparent that Mr. Rall was only added to the roster to replace Mr. Engelhardt. The same NPRish belief in Establishment politics, with acceptably Progressive(tm) views on Climaphobia and the other assigned issues of the day.

  5. Go fuck yourself Ted. What you said about Lyndon Johnson? Please go fuck yourself, please?

    • Agree: follyofwar
  6. You Ted Ral sit in your little perch in your echo-chamber of lies and delusions and generate (extrude) text that passes for writing. You can do this because John F. Kennedy saved the world during the Cuban Missile Crisis and you, like a little naive child, don’t realize that. No, you are here today, free to write things like, “Sometimes, it works out…”

    Works out? WORKS OUT???? You sniveling little piece of bitch. The set of assumptions and presumptions required to make this attempt at an assertion? JFK – a hero in ways you can’t begin to understand – was murdered in cold daylight and because you assume that we would have “had to wait” for the sacred Civil Rights legislation, your notion here is that that murder was a good thing, that it somehow “works out.”

    Fuck you.

    • Replies: @anonymous
    , @follyofwar
  7. anonymous[245] • Disclaimer says:

    Don’t be too hard on the shallow imbecile. It’s not like he really thought it through.

  8. The Founders did not really intend for this to be a democracy at all. That’s the problem. We have too much Presidential primary and too much election. To restore what the Founders intended we would dump the entire Presidential primary system and probably the general election. States would select “electors” and the real fight would be in the electoral college. Local elections would matter. Indeed, the most important elections might become those to a state legislature–an election which is quite close to the people.

    Likewise to get what the Founders wanted we would dump the direct election of senators and return to the days when states selected senators.

    • Agree: Cowboy, nokangaroos
  9. If This Is a Democracy

    At this point, anyone who knows what the political system is in the US should have stopped reading.

    It’s very deliberately not a democracy – by conscious design, as made absolutely fucking clear by half the people involved in the foundational documents of the system. And that was a good thing – even though the Constitutional Convention was actually a coup d’état by the power-mad Hamilton clique.

    Democracy is the worst system imaginable – even if men were angels, democracy can’t do what it claims (obtain an estimate of social preferences by aggregating individual preferences) because that is mathematically impossible.

    Everything thereafter is just piling different types of failure on top of the foundational failure. The second-stage failures have emerged even in the US system – which sought to avoid the pitfalls of ochlocracy.

    Representative government is a doxastic trope, rather than an idea that has epistemic merit. It can be believed(-in), but it can’t be known (-about) – because only true propositions can be known (-about).

    Veridicality of Kₐφ→φ is a foundational axiom of epistemic logic, whereas in doxastic logic there is no requirement that Bₐφ →φ.

  10. “This Is a Democracy, Why Don’t We Vote for the Vice President, Too?”

    Where did the author ever get the foolish notion that America is a democracy?

  11. JImbobla says:

    So you jump from who will be VP to who will head the Treasury Dept? Who would you have voted for, if not Obama. It appears your world view has you pretty severely constrained as to your voting choices (my guy good, your guy bad). Come on Ted, this is all just like getting to vote for your own executioner.
    After this turd ball we have for POTUS now (with a VP that believes in the Rapture), no one not carefully vetted by the demopublicans will ever get near that seat again.
    Give up. Your beloved Democracy (I would say Republic, but you don’t believe in that) is gone to hell in a hand basket. What we have left are the scavengers fighting over the carrion.

  12. America is not a democracy.

  13. If Fukushima is a powerhouse, let’s turn this little knob 2 degrees to the right.

    You’re ruled by a criminal enterprise with impunity for universal-jurisdiction crime including gun-running, child trafficking, drug smuggling, torture and assassination of US nationals, macro-scale asset stripping from defense, housing, financial markets and other resources, and armed attacks on the civilian population to justify intensified repression. This criminal enterprise has two sets of books; complete forbearance of courts under the ‘deference upon deference’ and ‘political questions’ doctrines; the power to make the identities of its criminals a state secret (Intelligence Identities Protection Act,) and conceal evidence of their crimes from the Freedom of Information Act (‘operational files exemption.’) This criminal enterprise gelded Congress in the 70s with a threat of martial law (ask Don Gregg) and now Congress grovels for them. When this criminal enterprise doesn’t get slavish obedience from the president you pick, they purge him (Nixon, Carter,) threaten him (Ford, Obama,) or shoot him (JFK, Reagan.)

    And your plan is to vote for an underling to the puppet ruler they let you pick. Are you in Mary Kay Letourneau’s fourth grade civics class or something? Be careful, wear a rubber, Villi Jr.!

  14. @SaneClownPosse

    My home state of Pennsylvania votes for them separately in the primary. Our current lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, a big hulk of a man who looks more like a professional wrestler, was hated by the democrat establishment and current governor Tom Wolf, but prevailed over the party’s favorites. In the general election, though, they run together.

    That is far superior to the presidential system we have now, where the nominee hand picks his successor. In today’s world, I’m not sure if it is a good idea to have a president and VP from opposing parties.

    • Replies: @anonymous
  15. @JessetheGreen

    I wanted to hit the Agree button but used it up on comment #5 above.

  16. anonymous[245] • Disclaimer says:

    Opposing what?

  17. TG says:

    Excellent points, but:

    1. We do vote in the general election for the combined ticket. If the presidential candidate picks a corporate bootlicker, well, we are free to use that information to not vote for the ticket. Although that doesn’t always work out (thank you, Senator/Vice President from Mastercard, Joe Biden “The Backstabber”).

    2. But the whole idea is that we DON’T know what we are voting for! Even with a combined ticket in the general election, once elected a candidate is free to do whatever their wealthy patrons want, public interest or campaign promises be damned. (Thank you, corporate whore extreme, Barack Obama).

    3. Mark Twain was right. If voting really mattered, they wouldn’t let us do it. The only thing that can possibly help, is if the elites are worried that social instability will upset their own apple-carts. Otherwise, forget it.

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