How McCain or Obama Could Really Screw Up a VP Choice: "His Accidency"

With all the chatter about potential VP picks recently, Barack Obama has finally shed some more insight on his potential selection- he wants “somebody with independence, who’s willing to tell [him] where he thinks or she thinks [he’s] wrong.” Although Obama will probably pick a mainstream Democrat, there have been rumblings about Joe Lieberman going onto the McCain ticket.

Would any such independent be a problem instead of a unifier? Yes. Case-In-Point: John Tyler, aka “His Accidency”.

Tyler was the first VP to succeed into the Presidency without having been elected himself. On April 4, 1841, William Henry Harrison died after only a month in office, and on April 6, Tyler was sworn in. The absurd timing of the incident allowed Tyler to set the precedent that a VP actually becomes President, not just acting President, whenever the President dies; since there was 98% of Harrison’s term remaining, it was illogical to have just an acting President for four whole years. So, Tyler took the oath, and all hell broke loose.

Originally a Jacksonian Democratic-Republican, Tyler agreed to sign up with the Whigs after they offered him the VP nomination in 1840. The idea was to merge a slave owning Southerner, Tyler, with a war hero Northerner, Harrison, and guarantee a nationally appealing ticket. But after Harrison died, Tyler went right back to his old politics. Almost immediately, he twice vetoed Whig attempts at national banking acts. As a result, Tyler was cut off from the Whig party officially, labeling him “the man without a party.” Subsequently, Tyler’s entire cabinet resigned, save one, and he failed six times to get his Supreme Court nominees confirmed throughout the rest of his term. Moreover, Congress brought impeachment articles against him in 1843 over his veto of a tariff bill, but the charges never passed muster. To top it all off, he became the first President to have an overridden veto, occurring on his last day in office. Tyler really couldn’t do anything with his term, except for appointing John C. Calhoun as Secretary of State, which only served to solidify Northern Whig versus Southern Democrat partisanship.

Eventually, Tyler, who supported the annexation of Texas based on the hopes of creating five more slave states, served in the Provisional Confederate Congress in 1861 and won election to the Confederate States House of Representatives. Before serving in the House, he died of illness in Virginia, potentially with the dubious distinction of being the only President to die outside the United States, depending on one’s viewpoint of Virginia’s secession.

My Point: Nobody knows if John Tyler would have been a quiet and obscure VP if not for Harrison’s death, but he was definitely an independent, and when he became President, his independence was definitely bad for everyone involved. He shirked his old party when he ran for VP, and he shirked his new party when he vetoed their most platform-oriented legislation. He not only lost his friends, but he managed to unite an otherwise partisan Congress against him almost to the point of impeachment. He couldn’t get his court appointees in, and he was embarrassed by an overridden veto. In retrospect, his most legacy-leaving act, that of taking the Presidential Oath, was the same that doomed him and the country to four years of stalemates. And after it all, he turned his back on his country and joined the leadership of the Confederacy. This is the kind of risk that Obama or McCain would be taking if either selected an independent VP candidate. OY!

I focus on Lieberman because there is nobody on the perceived 2008 Democrat VP nomination short list who quite fits the bill like Lieberman does for the Republicans. But, this still sheds some light on the kind of thinking used by Obama- though one can certainly see the logic of wanting a VP who checks the President on occasion, is Obama really incapable of seeing the potential implications of such a selection? With all the talk about him as effective “Messiah”, maybe he really doesn’t bother to think beyond himself and what might happen in the future.

To put this all in perspective, Tyler’s was the only Presidential death not to be officially mourned by the United States.


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