Tuesday, April 15, 2014


What’s a Vice-President for?

With the passing of Dec 11th, the nation once again focused on a fateful anniversary—the assassination of JFK. Fifty years had passed since the last President died in office at hands of a lone gunman, or the CIA, or someone on the grassy knoll, or take your pick of any of the hundreds of conspiracy theories. And JFK is hardly alone. We’re up to 44 presidents now, and there have been over 20 assassination attempts over the years, with four presidents lost! I’m not certain I’d like those odds.
I'm not certain who thought a convertible was a good idea...

As awful as these events are, our system of government has planned for them. We have an order of succession, something like sixteen positions deep. (Did you know the Secretary of Agriculture could become the President!? They’re only 8th on the list!) Given the time period when the Constitution was drafted, where life expectancy was much lower and a bad cold could send you to your maker, the founders may not have anticipated assassination as the principal means of requiring a new leader. But of the eight presidents who have died in office, half of them met their fate at the end of an assassin’s bullet. And two more are still undetermined and theories abound that they were poisoned! Being the president is bad for one’s health.

Assassination, especially in today’s political reality, is a poor means to political change. For the last fifty years or more, the vice-president comes from the same political party as the president. That wasn’t always the case, but modern politics have evolved in that manner. So with the death of a president and the subsequent ascension of the vice-president, little is likely to change politically. And if we have a vice-president, then why do we care? That’s what they’re for, right? Most presidents have such a pitiful approval rating that you’d think America would cheer a turnover at the top. But that’s hardly the case.

There’s something visceral for a nation about losing the man (or woman—one of these day’s America will get around to this!) at the top. Even if they were despised while in office, in death they are mourned. Take President Lincoln. Many point to him as the greatest president the nation has had. Real historians debate such titles, but at the very least if you were to take that position you’d have ample support for your stance. During his presidency, even though George Gallup hadn’t introduced approval polls until the 1930s, Lincoln is generally considered to have some of the lowest approval ratings of any sitting president. (It could have something to do with a raging war on US soil). But the nation mourned his loss. Millions of Americans came out to see the train that carried his casket home to Illinois. There’s just something about losing the person at the top.

So as we watched December 11th come and go, and a resurgence of interest in JFK rises to the forefront, we’re reminded of the volatile nature of politics in our nation and beyond. Where a single gunman can change the course of history. And a year from now, next April, we’ll once again encounter a significant anniversary. Once that will surely rise to the same level of interest and hype as the assassination of JFK. April 15th 2015 will mark the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s death, during what should inarguably be considered the time of most upheaval in our nation’s history. And while unlike modern politics where perhaps very little will change with a fallen leader, the death of Lincoln forever forged a new path in our nation, and perhaps was the single event that ended our Civil War…but more on that later!

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