Vice-Presidents and Readiness

Nate Silver makes a really good point I haven’t seen anyone else make:

In a perfect world, we would all like a president who is Ready on Day One (TM); it is not uncommon for a newly-elected president to face a major crisis almost immediately upon taking office. But more commonly, a president takes the Oath of Office under relatively calm waters, allowing them something of a learning curve.

On the other hand, when a vice president takes over for a president, the nation is necessarily undergoing a crisis, because the death (or resignation) of a president is perhaps as traumatic an event as can reasonably be imagined (in the “best” case resulting from a slowly-developing illness, and the worst, an attack by terrorists or foreign adversaries).

From Lincoln though Clinton, Americans have frequently been willing to gamble on a relatively inexperienced President, exchanging some assurances of near-term readiness for longer-term upside (what might be described as “vision”). But the optimal skill set for a vice president is somewhat different. “Vision” hardly matters; a vice president taking over for a president will not get to name his own cabinet, and will initially at least be left to execute upon somebody else’s agenda. Instead, the readiness component is rendered more important.

I have no idea if this is, roughly, how people view Vice-President’s, but it sure seems to stand up on first blush. Generally speaking, tickets with “new” Vice-Presidents have not really done that well, at least not since Eisenhower-Nixon, in which case the star power at the top clearly carried the day. Since then, arguably the only exception that might stand out is Quayle, but people sort of forget that for Quayle’s youth and verbal clumsiness, the guy actually had been a member of congress for 12 years, and was pretty respected in defense policy circles. And George H.W. Bush also had a brain trust of foreign policy people around him that was still respected in many ways.

I don’t know if this is how people will view Palin, or whether the fact that the VP hasn’t had to step in for the President since 1974 will change the way we view things, but intellectually speaking the only formal job of the Vice-President is to assume the office of President if need be, and almost no one, not even her defenders, are making the claim that Palin is up to that task. That obviously says a lot about John McCain.