Athens Review, Athens, Texas

July 20, 2012

Picking the second-in-command can pose a few pitfalls

Rich Flowers

Athens — Now it’s time to play “Pick the Veep.” Republican nominee-to-be Mitt Romney is weighing his options in hopes of picking a vice-presidential candidate that will give his campaign a boost, preferably in the battleground states.

Failing that he’d like to find one who is not an albatross around his neck, in what looks to be a pretty close presidential election.

Vice presidential candidates are known for leaving little messes lying around that the nominee has to clean up. Remember Richard Nixon and his “Checkers” speech.

Old Tricky was on the ticket with the beloved Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, when word got out that he had made improper use of a fund set up by his backers to help with his political expenses. In September, 1952, less than two months before the election, Nixon appeared on national television to plead his case.

Not one Lincoln-headed penny of the fund had been used for his personal use, he said. Nixon did admit to getting one gift, a little cocker spaniel named “Checkers.”  For the sake of little Tricia and Julie, the dog is staying, he said.

John F. Kennedy did a little better with his vice-presidential pick. The most powerful man in the Senate, Lyndon Johnson, joined the ticket to get him help where he needed it the most – the South.  Johnson ignored the sentiments of fellow Texan John Nance Garner, who served under FDR, who said the vice presidency was not “worth a bucket of warm spit.” (spit is the family version)

LBJ thought incorrectly that his stature as Senate Majority Leader would transfer with him into the vice presidency. He was wrong. The Kennedys knew a lot about welding power, not sharing it.

Of course the VP job is one heartbeat from the presidency, and in Johnson’s case, the cliché proved all too true. Lyndon was soon in the driver’s seat making a few right turns, like the Civil Rights Act, and some wrong ones.

In 1968, Richard Nixon chose a promising governor from Maryland to help him fend off Vice President Hubert Humphrey on the road to the White House. Agnew was a shoot-from-the-hip orator, who one referred to the administration enemies as “an effete corps of impudent snobs.” 

The appearance of the word, snobs, in that phrase makes me tend to believe it was meant as an insult.

Agnew didn’t last as long as his boss, resigning in 1973, because of some shenanigans he pulled as governor.

Missouri Sen. Thomas Eagleton was Democrat George McGovern’s vice-presidential choice in 1972. Sadly, word came out that Eagleton had been treated for mental problems, and he was removed from the ticket.

That turned out to be a blessing when McGovern went down in flames. Eagleton was elected twice more to the Senate, retiring after thee terms..

George W. Bush went for a heavy hitter in Wyoming Congressman Dick Chaney. Cheney had been Secretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush, and figured to make up for the Texas Governor’s inexperience on foreign affairs.

Chaney was a controversial VP, but no lightweight. He had the Commander-in-Chief’s ear on important policy decisions. Unlike Gerald Ford, who occasionally pelted people with golf balls, Cheney did his damage with  birdshot.

In 2006, Cheney shot 78-year-old Harry Whittington, during a quail hunt in Kenedy County, Texas. Despite the fact that the pellets missed the victim’s heart, Cheney’s approval rating dropped in the polls by five percent.

In 2008, the lackluster John McCain campaign went for a little spice, and chose Alaska Gov.  Sarah Palin as the running mate. Palin rose to the occasion, and accepted the nomination with what had been lacking from recent GOP candidates, a rousing speech.

The bloom was soon off the rose when Palin showed up on the national talk shows, and didn’t fare well when under the scrutiny of the likes of Katie  Couric.

So, Romney has to have those former VP picks in mind as he mulls his choice. Mitt hopes he can beat the odds and select a good one.

Or maybe he can just get lucky like Barack Obama, who chose Joe Biden, and got away with it.

Rich Flowers is a Staff Writer for the Athens Daily Review.