A new precedent for powerful influence in the White House

Last ThursdayâÄôs vice presidential debate was by far the most watched vice presidential debate in American history, and was the second-most watched televised debate ever. This candidatesâÄô popularity with the people, not just in the United States, but around the world, has demonstrated the growing fascination with the office of vice president. This fascination is part of a longer trend that has lasted several decades in which the vice president and vice presidential candidates have become more influential in shaping executive decisions than ever before. Historians generally concur that Vice President Dick Cheney has wielded more power than other vice presidents, especially regarding national security issues. Cheney was side by side with cabinet members on Sept. 11, 2001, and played an unquestionable role in the Iraq and Afghanistan war campaigns. Years ago, vice presidents could not claim such influence, and whoever is elected Nov. 4, will inherit this powerful role on day one. The role of the No. 2 candidate on the ticket has dramatically changed. The vice presidency changed in 1977 when Walter Mondale took on the role under President Jimmy Carter. Mondale was granted an office and staff close to the West Wing, access to the president and meetings more frequently, and responsibilities on issues and relationships. This continued through George H.W. Bush, and into the Clinton administration. Al Gore had a working relationship with Bill Clinton because both leadersâÄô styles complemented one another. CheneyâÄôs powerful role came from his background as a congressman, White House chief of staff, and secretary of defense. Traditionally, this position on the ticket was reserved for a candidate that could bring in a large number of new electoral votes or balance the pair geographically. For Clinton and Gore, the election seemed winnable without considering this, as both candidates were southern politicians. More recently, Al GoreâÄôs vice presidential pick of Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Cheney of Wyoming faced off in 2000 with little consideration for state size or population. Today, Palin and Biden reside from Alaska and Delaware, also unimportant in the grand scheme of the Electoral College. Vice presidential picks used to be chosen by political party leaders immediately before or during a national convention. As the United StatesâÄô international influence became more important, and the position soon required more national security credentials, presidential candidates began choosing their own candidates instead of the party. This really took off as a method after the New Deal. Other factors, however, did lead both parties to choose their 2008 vice presidential candidates in very strategic ways. Biden was chosen to balance the weaknesses Obama has been labeled with, including foreign policy experience. He has been one of ObamaâÄôs closest mentors in the Senate, and was probably also chosen as a matter of personal chemistry. Palin, however, was partially chosen to capitalize on women and their historic role during this election cycle, and also to expand on the âÄúmaverickâÄù style of McCain as a Washington outsider. She definitely touched on her maverick intentions during ThursdayâÄôs debate, citing the word several times. After all of the analysis and strategizing, both candidates were chosen because they are presidential. The outcome of a general election has not consistently been determined by the results of a vice presidential debate over time, and ThursdayâÄôs performance probably will not change too many poll numbers. What we do know is that Biden probably won the issues, and Palin won the âÄúlikabilityâÄù factor with viewers at home. But the polls donâÄôt tell us what is more important when citizens get to the voting booth. Obama has enjoyed some momentum this week, but it has also been a terrible media week for Palin, who needed ThursdayâÄôs debate much more than Biden. She needed to prove she was qualified to go toe-to-toe with someone like Biden, and that she could hold her own in front of an audience. She did what she needed to do in that debate, because very few candidates would have been able to overcome BidenâÄôs experience on the issues. Biden needed to accomplish much less, simply refrain from taking a condescending tone with Palin, and he would survive the debate. Biden stayed polite, even smiling during some of PalinâÄôs accusations. Whichever candidate becomes the next vice president will need to fit into the plans of the president, first and foremost. Every administration is different, so the role of every vice president is unique. The political assistance of the vice president has grown more important, so it may be a benefit that the candidates have months to choose them instead of only hours at the convention. With such a large job on his hands, the next president will require the assistance of outside help with his agenda, including the vice president. Since the executive branch plays such a key role in many of the circumstances our nation now faces, having a vice president that can easily step in to take the wheel (as the 25th Amendment requires) is absolutely essential. At the same time, in the likely event they are never called on to assume the presidency, the vice president must serve the presidentâÄôs agenda at his discretion. Franklin Delano RooseveltâÄôs first vice president, John Nance Garner, called the job âÄúa warm bucket of (spit),âÄù edited by the media at that time to replace another word. This has certainly changed over time, and the office is no longer a symbolic one but rather a strategic one, allowing the presidentâÄôs agenda to continue without his direct attention on every issue at all times. On the issues of energy, local and state government, national security, and even big labor issues, Sarah Palin will lend an extra set of hands to the McCain presidency. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich explained that as head of the Alaskan National Guard, Palin was exposed to classified military information, counterterrorism plans, and even ballistic defense issues because her national guard was tasked with missile defense duties for the entire country. She has a compelling story that connects with Main Street Americans more than many before her. As IâÄôve said before, McCain likes surprises, and he doesnâÄôt give up easily. DonâÄôt count McCain-Palin out yet, weâÄôve got 29 days left. Andy Post welcomes comments at [email protected]