Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Speculation Alert: Romney's Veepstakes

As obsessed as I am about the VP's relative increase in influence, the truth is a huge percentage of VP stories are reporters trying to fill space and - if they are lucky - make a story where there wasn't one. Now CNN pitches New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte as a possible - Romney states she is one of 15 possibles.

While Romney is the putative front-runner and there is still plenty of smart money on him, he hasn't actually won anything yet.

Let's hit some overall trends. Ayotte is from Romney's region. Geographic balance isn't an absolute necessity (see Clinton-Gore, two southerners) but New England is not an electoral power-house. Ayotte was elected in 2010 - she is probably a lot more seasoned then Palin, but she is still relatively inexperienced. Although Romney was born into a political family, he hasn't spent any time in DC - so he is still an outsider. Plus he needs someone with rock-solid conservative credentials to shore up party suspicions that he is really a moderate.

So he needs a southern conservative with DC experience. There are any number of possibilities to fit that bill - Jon Kyl and Lamar Alexander leap to mind. (Marco Rubio does not.)

One interesting character who fits it perfectly is actually Newt Gingrich - but something tells me that he isn't terribly interested in the number two slot. Gingrich is a brilliant idea machine, but even if he were interested, would number two be a good fit?

Speaking of which, I answered the Politico Arena question of the day:
Will immigration stance hurt or help Newt Gingrich?

It is likely that Newt's stance on immigration will hurt him with "the base." Fortunately for him his major rival has a number of weaknesses with the base as well. Part of the problem is that this base has calcified into a set of impossibly rigid positions that no candidate can realistically satisfy.

However, this position will serve Newt well if he can make it to the general election as it highlights him as an independent thinker and it reflects a more humane side to a Republican Party that is looking increasingly mean-spirited.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Why Republicans love Coolidge

An article in Slate explores the Republican fascination with Calvin Coolidge. The author discusses how Reagan's biggest moves seemed to be ripped from Silent Cal's play book. But the veneration of Coolidge reflects something more profound then policy preferences.

Renown Presidential Scholar Richard Neustadt wrote that the President has been transformed from a leader to a clerk. Neustadt wrote in 1959:
A striking feature of our recent past has been the transformation into routine practice of the actions we once treated as exceptional. A President may retain liberty, in Woodrow Wilson's phrase, "to be as big a man as he can." But nowadays he cannot be as small as he might like....

In instance after instance the exception behavior of our earlier "strong" Presidents has now been set by the statute as a regular requirement. Theodore Roosevelt once assumed the steward's role in the emergency created by the great coal strike of 1902; the Railway Labor Act and the Taft-Hartley Act now make such interventions mandatory upon Presidents. The other Roosevelt once asserted personal responsibility for gauging and for guiding the American economy; the Employment Act binds his successors to that task. Wilson and FDR became chief spokesmen, leading actors, on a world stage at the heights of war; now UN membership, far-flung alliances, prescribe that role continuously in times termed "peace." ...And what has escaped statutory recognition has mostly been accreted into presidential common law, confirmed by custom, no less binding; the fireside chat and the press conference, for example, or the personally presented legislative programs, or personal campaigning in congressional elections.

In form all Presidents are leaders nowadays. In fact this guarantees no more than that they will be clerks. Everybody now expects the man inside the White House to do something about everything. Laws and customs now reflect widespread acceptance of him as the great initiator... A President today is an invaluable clerk. His services are in demand all over Washington....
Critical to this transformation was FDR and the massive expansion of the Federal government in response to the Great Depression and World War II. Coolidge (Republicans would prefer not to mention Hoover) was the last leader President and part of being a leader was the option not to take action. Consider a few choice Coolidge statements:
Four-fifths of all our troubles would disappear, if we would only sit down and keep still.

If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.

Perhaps one of the most important accomplishments of my administration has been minding my own business.

They criticize me for harping on the obvious; if all the folks in the United States would do the few simple things they know they ought to do, most of our big problems would take care of themselves.

In venerating Coolidge, more than merely approving cutting taxes and other pro-business policies the Republicans are harking back to an era where little was expected of the President, the government's role was not all pervasive, but at the same time when action was needed it was decisive.

Also, while Coolidge was seen as pro-business, this attitude was heavily tempered by a belief in morality:

Industry, thrift and self-control are not sought because they create wealth, but because they create character.

It is only when men begin to worship that they begin to grow.

No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.

Prosperity is only an instrument to be used, not a deity to be worshipped.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

In Politico's Arena on the Perry Meltdown

This morning, the Politico Arena question of the day was Can Rick Perry recover?

My answer, in a word: No! The full answer is below:
Perry's campaign was always a long-shot because, quite frankly, Texas has had its turn in the White House. Voters are inclined to give other states a chance.

It is often remarked that the primary system the United States has is no way to pick a president. It is unclear if this system shows who is fit to be president, but it is safe to say that at least it shows us who is not up to the job.

Perry, unable to recite his own talking points, has shown the voters which category he best fits.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Confluence of Veeps - Past & Present

In 1975, in the wake of Watergate, Congress began investigating the CIA. President Ford, a former VP replaced the CIA director with George H.W. Bush (a future VP.) Also, to head off the congressional investigations he assigned his own VP, Nelson Rockefeller, to head a committee. Reportedly the White House chief of staff orchestrated these moves. In the case of Rockefeller he was trying to weigh Rocky down with committee work so he couldn't get anything done as the chair of the Domestic Policy Council. Rumsfeld had also brough Bush into the CIA to hurt his future political career - Rumsfeld harbored presidential ambitions of his own. Decades later Rumsfeld's machinations were remembered and his appointment to Defense was not a popular move amongst the Bushies.

But Rumsfeld had an important ally in the Bush 43 administration. His old deputy and successor at the Ford White House, future VP Dick Cheney.

I can think of several points where two past, future & present VPs worked together (any where the President had been VP for starters) but FOUR on one particular issue must be some sort of record.

Friday, November 4, 2011

VP Garret Hobart - hot or not?

In my endless quest for vice presidential influence it is always a pleasure to learn something new and non-trivial!

Garrett Hobart, McKinley’s first vice president, mattered – his home (VPs had to arrange their own lodging until 1975) was called the “Little Cream White House” (which had once been McClellan’s HQ) and he was often referred to as “Assistant President.”

One newspaperman wrote:
For the first time in my recollection, and the last for that matter, the Vice President was recognized as somebody, as a part of the Administration, as a part of the body over which he presided.
Hobart had been the speaker of the New Jersey House, President of the New Jersey Senate, and was a wealthy attorney for the railroads. He was not McKinley’s choice for VP, but the Republican party needed New Jersey and he fit the bill (although he was caught between his desire to enjoy a private life and his ambition and sense of duty.)

What is fascinating (to me at least) are the sources of Hobart’s unique influence. He was by all accounts an engaging individual who gave prudent advice. His wife looked after McKinley’s wife, who was ill and found her duties has First Lady onerous. The Hobarts also entertained Washington, sparing the McKinley's that duty. Hobart also helped McKinley manage his investments. Was this personal connection sufficient to allow McKinley to break a decades-old institution of ignoring the VP? Does it also matter that Hobart, having never held national office, was not a political threat?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Simple Idea for Background Reading

I wandered by the UMD library today and picked up The American Presidency: An Analytical Approach, by UMD prof Irwin Morris (who I don't know.)

Writing about the VP, I need a decent foundation on the study of the president and the presidency. There are endless volumes devoted to the topic. But Morris' book, which is designed as a good undergrad textbook, provides a strong overview of theories and the state of the field.

For background reading, an up to date textbook is a good idea - I wish I had thought of it a few years ago - would have saved me a lot of time trolling around in back issues of Presidential Studies Quarterly.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Implications of VPs as a punchline

I like the funnies, and Frazz is a good one. But I was a little bummed to see them go for the easy laugh here. Sure memorizing vice presidents is pointless, but strictly speaking so is memorizing presidents, state capitols, mythological deities. Multiplication tables and poetry may, in fairness, make some sense. But on the off-chance one finds themselves in a profession that requires knowledge of the 50 state capitols (or the VPs like yours truly) pick it up in on-the-job-training.

My different selves are caught on this. The academic in me wants to right the wrong of VP inconsequence mostly to expand my own academic micro-niche. But the small government conservative says, it is a good thing that government officials are not taken too seriously - government should matter less, not more. But the policywonk in me has a deep respect for people who, as Teddy Roosevelt says "is in the arena." Full quote is here:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Response to WaPo on VP Selection

A few weeks ago The Washington Post Outlook section ran a lengthy article arguing that party conventions should select the vice president, rather then the presidential nominee. The key was that the office was too important to leave to presidential whim and the convention delegates would select stronger candidates more fit for the presidency.

I dashed off a letter to the editor disagreeing, but it was not printed. So, here goes:
Mr. Leahy's recent Outlook feature argued that party conventions should select the vice president. This idea appeals to political journalists because it would make conventions interesting. But it would not result in better vice presidents. The conventions selected some vice presidents of great ability such as Teddy Roosevelt, but also many non-entities and a few scoundrels (consider Aaron Burr or Schuyler Colfax.)

More importantly, the era of party selected vice presidents was characterized by poor relationships between the two nationally elected officials. Coolidge's Vice President Charles Dawes’ refusal to attend cabinet meetings illuminates this situation. Dawes (an outstanding figure who won the Nobel Peace Prize, was a WWI hero, and popular composer - but an utter failure as vice president), did not want to set a precedent of vice presidential attendance because, he wrote, the relationship between a President and his advisors “…is a confidential one, and the selection of a confidant belongs to him who would be injured by the abuse of confidence-however unintentional. Suppose, in the future, some President, with this precedent fixed, must face the alternative of inviting a loquacious publicity seeker into his private councils, or affronting him in the public eye by denying him what has come to be considered as his right-how embarrassing it would be!”

Presidents should continue to choose their running mates because a President that does not have complete confidence in the
vice president’s discretion and loyalty will exclude the vice president from the decision-making process. In the modern complex world the United States cannot afford an ill-informed vice president ascending to the nation’s highest office.