Tuesday, October 5, 2004

The importance of the No. 2 candidates


Tonight's debate between Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John Edwards is generally considered a performance by understudies. People will watch not so much to hear what Cheney and Edwards think, but to get another glimpse of what life in the next term might be like under their respective bosses - President Bush and John Kerry.

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Yet there is reason to pay close attention to the vice presidential candidates themselves. Their selections, after all, were the first major executive decisions made by the presidential contenders.

The vice presidency was long regarded as a historical afterthought. Until well into the 20th century, the vice president usually was not even considered a member of the president's Cabinet.

John Adams, the nation's first vice president, called the job "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." John Nance Garner, who held the office during Franklin Roosevelt's first term, said the office was "not worth a pitcher of warm spit."

How times have changed. Deaths and illnesses in office, as well as assassinations and assassination attempts, have heightened the modern notion that the vice president is a bare heartbeat away from being the president.

Modern presidents, starting at least with Dwight Eisenhower, have included their vice presidents as key advisers, particularly on such important policy matters as national security. Jimmy Carter treated Walter Mondale almost as his chief of staff.

And some viewed Cheney as almost a mentor for Bush during the early days of the current administration.

So when you watch Cheney and Edwards argue tonight at Case Western University in Cleveland, pay close attention to the positions they articulate. They will of course be speaking for Bush and Kerry, but they also will be describing positions that they have played major roles in forming.

What do you think?

Tell us how you think Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John Edwards do in tonight's debate. Send your opinions in 100 words or fewer to letters@enquirer.com; fax (513) 768-8610; or write Letters to the editor, Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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