The varying role of the vice-president

As the public profiles of the presidential candidates grow in magnitude with each passing week, another huge component of the race cannot be forgotten: the vice presidency.

 “I don’t see any trend line in the duties of the vice president,” said political science professor Bruce Newman.

“Sometimes it seems as if they are in the president’s ear. However, the amount of duties that are picked up are more of a reaction to who the president is and what the demands are.”

Some vice presidencies are marked by activism and influence. Al Gore, vice president under Bill Clinton, served as a major adviser and assisted legislation promoting the growth of information technology and the protection of the Internet.

Dick Cheney, whom Newman believes “represents a presidency in which the president was over his head,” played a major role within the plans of the executive office and is seen by many as the chief architect of the Iraq war.

Still, the only officially defined powers of the vice president are to serve as the official head of Senate and to stand by as the next in line to rule should something happen to the president.

“Some vice presidents are nothing more than dead wood, waiting for the president to die,” said DePaul media expert, Michael Conklin.

Dwight Eisenhower was once asked about vice president Richard Nixon’s greatest accomplishments and responded, “Give me a day. I’ll find you one.”

While there are inconsistencies in the perceived role of vice president, the primary reason they are chosen is often for political reasons, rather than their ideological or leadership qualities.  According to Conklin, “presidents and vice presidents are often paired as a marriage of convenience; vice presidents exist to help balance the ticket.”

When Obama ran in 2008, many were concerned about his lack of experience. Veteran politician Joe Biden was chosen as Obama’s running mate to put some of these fears to rest and garner appeal from a larger base of people.

Romney’s choice of hard-line conservative Paul Ryan is often analyzed as a ploy to appeal to Main Street Republicans who were put off by Romney’s moderate-leaning views.

Despite this political mindedness, some would say that the actions of the running mate have little factor on the outcome of an election.

For example, a New York Times study claims that historically the vice presidential candidate has provided approximately an extra two percentage points in his home state’s votes.

“I don’t think that vice presidential candidates have a major positive affect,” said Newman. “More likely, they can screw up in the public eye and affect elections that way.”

Yet in this election, polls indicate that this could be a tight race, so some are saying that every little boost could count.

Thursday’s vice presidential debate has been touted as one of the few vice presidential debates that may actually matter.  Biden’s energy and pressure to get Ryan to speak about actual policies and plans renewed hope in the Democratic Party after Obama’s poor showing at the first presidential debate.

However, others were turned off by what they felt were very rude and inappropriate reactions from Biden.

Citing past history, Conklin claims that “for Kennedy, every boost from Johnson counted. This could be another one of those years.

Should Obama win, Newman believes that Biden will continue his integral role of “being a part of the president’s ear, affecting policy behind the scenes.”

Should Romney win, Conklin believes that Ryan would have an important role. “Romney has never been in Washington before,” said Conklin. “Ryan’s experience in the House would help him ram legislature through,” said Conklin.

On the other hand, some question the amount of focus that is placed on the vice president, wishing that public attention could be placed on the entirety of the political sphere.

“The focus on the vice president sometimes feels like a parlor game,” said Conklin. “Right now they should get to the even more important stuff. I wish they would publicize the process through which candidates pick their cabinet members.”