Friday, December 29, 2017

VPWriting1: Inspired to write, something else...

2017 was not a great year for me, especially on the writing front. 2013-2016 were. In 2014 I finished my PhD. In 2015 I wrote the better part of a book on South Asia (more on that anon). In 2016 I wrote the equivalent of a book in conference papers and internal white papers (also I had a pretty good article in War on the Rocks.)

In 2017 - so far - I dithered with a couple of papers that were almost done, but still not quite - maybe I'll finish them on Sunday...

But hanging over all of this is my dissertation, the topic of this blog. It needs to be a book. There are even publishers willing to talk to me about. But it has to get done. Anyone can tell you that a dissertation is not a book and my writing skills are good enough (not amazing, but pretty good) that with some work the book can be more readable than the dissertation by several orders of magnitude. Plus, while the book won't be as analytical as the dissertation, the fundamental question has inverted.

In the dissertation I asked, "Why did the VP go from nothing to something." But now I want to know, "What does the President gets from the VP?" The first question has been answered adequately - not just by me. The second seems more interesting and insightful.

My dissertation is the raw material, but I have to break it apart and reconstruct it. It was hard enough assembling the 130K words of the dissertation. Now, I need to break it all down and rewrite it. It's a lot of work, and I have a day job (which also has a lot of writing projects.) Doing this takes time and I have not had tons of it between a real job, a long commute, and kids who need to be driven places constantly.

I thought I would take the holiday week off and really invest some time into the project. I have a decent intro and my Mondale chapter is in pretty good shape. But that's been my status quo for over two years. I thought if I put in some serious time up front and sort of "broke the seal" I could get into a rhythm and bring the project together.

This involved going to bed and waking up early (both of which I hate) and getting serious writing hours in each morning. It hasn't gone so well.

Over at War on the Rocks, the eminent Van Jackson has been journaling his efforts to write a book in six months. Honestly, it's been heartening since he's terrific and like me knows his topic back and forth (so he isn't doing fundamental research, just writing.) Still, some of his good days are only a few hundred words and he too loses hours to rabbit holes and anomie.

So, in that spirit, I thought I too would share my writing experiences, intermittently. Of course in my case, this might just be another procrastination mechanism - writing this when I should be, you know, writing my book. But, here the words flow, whole post was less than 30 minutes and it is nice to get this stuff off my chest.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

New Partial Paradigm for President-VP Relationship

I recently gave a presentation summarizing my research on the vice president and the next stage in
this research. My regular readers (should I have any) know that the central premise of my work is that outsider presidents find themselves relying on insider vice presidents. But I keep finding that I want to know more, what exactly is it that these insider vice presidents know that no one else can tell them?


I'm still wrestling with that question, with mixed success. But in putting this presentation together I did find a common trope that supplements with outsider/insider paradigm.

Policy & Politics
Usually, one of the two is more focused on policy and the other is more focused on politics. Carter, the engineer/technocrat famously hated to consider things politically - he wanted the optimal solution. Mondale was his "invaluable political barometer." The Clinton-Gore relationship was almost the exact opposite. Few figures in recent history have had the kind of politically sensitive antenna of Bill Clinton. Gore, on the other hand, was the policy-wonk. The Obama-Biden relationship appeared similar to Clinton-Gore, with Joe Biden, a talented retail politician, supporting the famously cool and analytical Barack Obama.

The Republicans on the other hand seemed to elect presidents more focused on the politics, with vice presidents focused on the policy. Reagan was famously big picture, while his Vice President took on details. His son, Bush 43, took on politics, while his super-staffer VP, Cheney, focused on the hard policy issues.

Although Bush-Quayle is an outlier, since Bush was an insider who did not particularly need his vice president's advice, he remained a policy-focused President, letting his VP tend to political affairs.

Seems like a pretty neat way to characterize the President-VP relationship.

Paradigmatic Problems
The problem is that this explanation is much, much too neat. None of these figures - who rose to great heights in national politics - can be considered unsophisticated on political or policy matters. It is more of a continuum, with Gore, Carter, and Cheney on a particularly hard end of the non-political and most others closer to the middle.

Still not happy, because it simplifies too much. What do we mean by politics, anyway? Cheney, was extremely astute in legislative strategy. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Carter called for an embargo on grain sales to the Soviet Union. Mondale, worried about the Iowa primaries (Ted Kennedy was challenging Carter for the nomination) advised against it. Carter thought the the embargo was the right thing to do. But he also thought the American people would ultimately rally around the president. Mondale had a tough time campaigning in Iowa - but Carter was right!

Gore was not a terribly effective liaison to Capitol Hill (he had served there for a dozen years, but was did not take to the place like Mondale or Biden.) But, Gore pushed himself forward as the spokesman on NAFTA and helped deliver the win.

It might be more accurate to say that different people absorb and process inputs differently and that presidents and vice presidents ideally complement one another. But that's pretty generic and hence why we only have a partial paradigm.