Story of Joseph: Viziers and Vice Presidents

I am afraid I have nothing to say about Christmas – not my thing, but I recognize it was a profound moment for all of mankind and for those for whom it is significant I wish them all good things.

Meanwhile, around the world Jews are reading the story of Joseph (not the father of Jesus – the earlier one.)  Joseph was Jacob’s favored son, his brothers resented the favoritism and sold him into slavery (ah, those were the days…)

Joseph however had a knack for falling into manure and coming out smelling like a rose.  In Egypt he got into some trouble but through ability and foresight became head of the household of the captain of Pharoah’s guard.  When he rejected the entreaties of his master’s wife she had him imprisoned.  Joseph quickly rose to become the superintendent of the prisoners.  He also had a talent for interpreting dreams, which reached the ear of the Pharoah – who had been having troubling dreams.  Joseph interpreted the Pharoah’s dreams and was appointed vizier.  (One can easily see this tale reproduced – not as a musical, been done – but as an intrigue.)

Naturally I began to wonder, was Joseph a sort of proto-VP? (OK, I’m obsessed, but that’s what doing a PhD is, a kind of obsession.)

On most levels, absolutely not.  Pharoah set Joseph above all but himself.  But he did not make Joseph his heir.  Joseph was still “help” or, as we would say it now, “staff.”  Further, traditionally the vizier’s role was as Executive Officer.  In effect, the XO makes sure the ship is running well, wherever the Captain wants to take it.

The U.S. Constitutional system does not really have space for a formal XO.  In some ways the White House chief of staff fulfills that role.  Sometimes there is a particularly prominent cabinet member (Jim Baker in the case of Bush Sr.) who plays the role of mayordomo.  But vice presidents tend to shy away from this role, although in rare instances they will undertake efforts on the President’s behalf on particular issues in order to energize the bureaucracy.

Arguably Cheney, as Bush 43’s VP did take on this role.  Cheney does not prove that the VP is inherently unsuited to this role – it is more accurate to say that many people were unhappy with his policies.  On a gut, non-analytical level, I believe that having the VP appear to run day-to-day operations is deeply unpalatable to the American people.  On a common-sensical note, the VP cannot be fired, thus if they fail as “vizier” the President is stuck.

But Joseph achieve his role through tremendous competence (everywhere he showed up he ended up being placed in charge), but also through dream interpretation.  It is not a goofy “New Age” idea that dreams often are telling us something profound.  Further, with a little elaboration, it is easy to imagine that Joseph is collecting intelligence about what’s going on that helps inform his interpretation.  He was tracking palace intrigues as well as information from throughout Egypt.  So when the dreams were described, Joseph was well-placed to understand the deeper anxieties provoking them.

Vice Presidents are not dream interpreters.  The US probably does not need a President going through a  Jungian vision-quest.  But, one can imagine a VP, with his own sources of information, helping a President see where he really wants to take the country on a given issue.

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