Sunday, November 20, 2011

Vice President Dawes on the Vice Presidency

Happy birthday to Joe Biden (Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.), 47th Vice President of the United States, and current holder of that not-always-well regarded office. He turns 69.

Back in 1935, former Vice President Charles G. Dawes published a book called Notes as Vice President, 1928-29, which was essentially a version of a diary he kept during the last year of his term. In as much as Dawes' vice presidency is remembered now, his rocky relationship with President Coolidge is usually mentioned. At one low point, the vice president missed being in the Senate to cast a tie-breaking vote in the administration's favor, infuriating the president.

In any case, Dawes puts the best face on the vice presidency in the first few paragraphs of the book. "My experiences in this office I have found far from uninteresting and unimportant," he wrote. "The superficial attitude of indifference which many public men assume toward the office of Vice President of the United States is easily explained. It is the office for which one cannot hope to be a candidate with sufficient prospects for success to justify the effort involved in a long campaign...

"The office is largely what the man it in makes it -- which applies to all public offices... For his prestige as a presiding officer, it is to his advantage that he neither votes nor speaks in the Senate Chamber. Outside the Senate Chamber, his position as Vice President gives him a hearing by the general public as wide as any Senator, other things being equal. If he lacks initiative, courage, or ideas, he of course will be submerged; but that is true also of a Senator or any other parliamentary member."

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