There has been a lot of speculation surrounding the reasons Gov. Mitt Romney chose Congressman Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate. Many are suggesting that Romney’s campaign depended upon Paul Ryan to deliver Wisconsin, as it was “a state both sides [saw] as an important safety net in their Electoral College calculations.” The article goes on to state that a win in both Ohio and Wisconsin could score Obama his second term. This article refers to Wisconsin as a “hotly contested battleground state” because of recent Republican gains in statewide offices and Congress. As expressed through everyday media, there is a widely held belief that one’s vice presidential pick will guarantee electoral votes from that candidate’s state; however, Ryan is living proof that a candidate’s name on a party ticket does not ensure its electoral votes. Obama won Wisconsin by about 7 percentage points, and Ryan’s home town, Janesville, Wis., went blue as well.

There were several vice presidential nominees included in 2012’s “veep watch,” including Chris Christie, Nikki Hayley, Susana Martinez and Tim Pawlenty. “Romney announced his selection in dramatic fashion, with each man stepping down the deck of the USS Wisconsin — a World War II-era battleship named for Ryan’s home state — to the soundtrack of the movie ‘Air Force One.’” Considering the substantial buzz surrounding who Gov. Romney’s “right hand man” would be, I’m interested in knowing why the VP role is such a “coveted” title. Has it always been a substantive position?

According to Joel K. Goldstein, American history has long considered the nation’s second office to symbolize weakness. John Adams famously summarized his views on this position when he stated “my country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived . . . I can do neither good nor evil.” Nowadays, many consider the vice presidential position to be a stepping stone to the presidency. “Virtually all vice presidents from 1952 to 1976 became serious presidential contenders [with] Nixon, Johnson, Humphrey, Gerald Ford, and Rockefeller among the most talented members of their political generation.” Somewhere along the way, our country began to see this title a bit differently than John Adams.

Goldstein’s article states that the VP’s role began to change at the start of the twentieth century. The office began acquiring names of “greater stature” (Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Calvin Coolidge) and grew to envelope a more diverse set of responsibilities including meeting with the cabinet and traveling abroad. Additionally, “[t]echnological change, including air travel, television, and the growth of mass media” necessitated the development of the VP’s role.

By 1976, the office had moved in two directions. It had moved up, in that it had become a more serious position, and it had moved over, closer to the executive branch.” Goldstein refers to Walter Mondale’s vice presidency as the “institutional big bang” that helped transform the office. In particular, it was President Jimmy Carter who most impacted the office, as he made a conscious and committed effort to “make something of the vice presidency.”

For the first time ever, Mondale made the vice presidential position a “central, across-the-board figure in the executive branch… and established a new set of vice presidential resources and expectations that permanently transformed the office to the benefit of their successors and the country.” Mondale is credited with defining the role and responsibilities for vice presidents, which include serving as an “across-the-board advisor,” a “trouble shooter” and avoiding “line responsibilities.”

Ultimately, Mondale gave the vice presidential position credibility. He “obtained for the institution a set of resources that gave his successors the capability to become significant figures in the executive branch. The West Wing office, private meetings with the president, access to the president and other top officials, inclusion in central decision-making bodies, appropriate staff support and integration, and inclusion on the distribution list for White House papers.” Althought these are only a few of the changes implemented by Mondale, each of these tasks provided the vice president with authority and allowed for the occupant of this title to become a true “player in the White House.” These adjustments solidified the VP’s power, as it would have been difficult to take these precedents away after having established them.

After reading Goldstein’s article, it is clear that Mondale helped to institutionalize the vice presidential position. Mondale worked closely with the president to acquire legitimacy for the role, by defining its duties and obtaining access to resources. Now, this position is fulfilled by a trusted and seasoned political leader who assists the president by advancing his/her platform. Over time, this position has developed into one of high merit, often serving as a launching platform for many politicians. Given a VPs newly defined role and comprehensive list of responsibilities, it’s easy to see why there is so much speculation surrounding the selection of the VP.


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