A few weeks ago The Washington Post Outlook section ran a lengthy article arguing that party conventions should select the vice president, rather then the presidential nominee. The key was that the office was too important to leave to presidential whim and the convention delegates would select stronger candidates more fit for the presidency.
I dashed off a letter to the editor disagreeing, but it was not printed. So, here goes:
Mr. Leahy’s recent Outlook feature argued that party conventions should select the vice president. This idea appeals to political journalists because it would make conventions interesting. But it would not result in better vice presidents. The conventions selected some vice presidents of great ability such as Teddy Roosevelt, but also many non-entities and a few scoundrels (consider Aaron Burr or Schuyler Colfax.)
More importantly, the era of party selected vice presidents was characterized by poor relationships between the two nationally elected officials. Coolidge’s Vice President Charles Dawes’ refusal to attend cabinet meetings illuminates this situation. Dawes (an outstanding figure who won the Nobel Peace Prize, was a WWI hero, and popular composer – but an utter failure as vice president), did not want to set a precedent of vice presidential attendance because, he wrote, the relationship between a President and his advisors “…is a confidential one, and the selection of a confidant belongs to him who would be injured by the abuse of confidence-however unintentional. Suppose, in the future, some President, with this precedent fixed, must face the alternative of inviting a loquacious publicity seeker into his private councils, or affronting him in the public eye by denying him what has come to be considered as his right-how embarrassing it would be!”
Presidents should continue to choose their running mates because a President that does not have complete confidence in the
vice president’s discretion and loyalty will exclude the vice president from the decision-making process. In the modern complex world the United States cannot afford an ill-informed vice president ascending to the nation’s highest office.