I have already written, during this election cycle and during
earlier ones, how exaggerated are the vice presidential
selections as usually treated in the media, and by voters
when they cast their ballots. There are obviously exceptions
to this commonplace, although they are few and historically
The most important exception happened 72 years ago when
President Franklin Roosevelt was pressured by Democratic
Party leaders to replace Vice President Henry Wallace on his
1944 ticket. For all his government and business experience,
Mr. Wallace was politically naive and weak. What only Mr.
Roosevelt’s physicians knew and only a few others suspected,
was that the president was dying, and unlikely to finish his
term. In fact, FDR only survived his fourth inaugural by less
three months, and the momentous decisions to drop the
atomic bomb on Japan and to create a post-war world fell on
a most unlikely politician, Harry Truman, who had been
hand-picked at the last minute by Roosevelt to replace Mr.
Mr. Truman did not have a college degree (he attended a
business college for one semester), had briefly co-owned a
failed haberdashery in Missouri, and had been associated
with one of most corrupt political machines in the nation.
But Mr. Truman had much personal integrity, intelligence,
courage, and was an avid reader of history. Although many of
FDR’s actions are lauded now by historians (and some now
severely criticized), his choice of Harry Truman might be one
his greatest decisions, and one that produced the greatest
Our arguably greatest president (other than George
Washington) was Abraham Lincoln, and he, too, was faced
with a crucial choice for picking a new vice president for his
re-election. The Civil War was not going well for the North
in early 1864, and Lincoln’s Democratic opponent was to be
a controversial general he had earlier replaced. Republican
Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln decided, needed
to be replaced by a Democrat for the problematic re-election.
Lincoln settled on an erratic and alcoholic Andrew Johnson.
Although he himself thought he would lose, it turned out
that Mr. Lincoln won with relative ease after several
important Union victories just before the election, but as in
the case of FDR, Lincoln survived only about a month before
he died in office. Now president, Mr. Johnson was
ill-prepared for the post-Civil War period, and probably many
reconciliation opportunities were lost, setting up civil rights
strife that lasted well into the next century.
Those are perhaps the extremes, although President Nixon’s
choice of the corrupt Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew for
his vice president led eventually to Agnew’s resignation just
before Nixon’s own resignation in 1974, was also an
extraordinary disaster. Fortunately, a constitutional
amendment had provided for a sitting president to appoint a
vice president who had prematurely left office, and Nixon’s
choice was Gerald Ford, an honorable and decent man who
filled out Nixon’s second term.
Both the presumptive major party nominees in 2016 are about
70 years old. Mrs. Clinton has just narrowly avoided
indictment for her actions when secretary of state. Mr. Trump
has virtually no government experience. Both appear healthy,
but there are very few jobs in the world with more stress than
being president of the United States.
I very recently wrote a column stating that, all other
considerations aside, the number one qualification for vice
president is being able, on a moment’s notice, to assume the
We are days, perhaps even only hours, away from Mrs.
Clinton and Mr. Trump announcing their running mates.
There are only a limited number of truly qualified persons
in both parties to serve as vice president beginning in
Let us all hope that, the strife of the nomination campaigns
behind them, each nominee makes a truly good choice.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.