Is the Vice-Presidency Morally Destructive?

Hypothesis: Serving as Vice-President corrupt’s a person’s morals, destroys their integrity, and replaces any sense of moral duty with a drive to grab power. As a Vice-President, one is placed in a self-aware state of cyrogenics: you cannot move except as the President wills it, you cannot speak except to agree emphatically with the President, and you occupy a position with no real power but spend your days inches away from the most powerful position in the world. As a result, any real beliefs or opinions fade away (lest they contradict the President) and constant observation of the absolute power of the Presidency results in an overwhelming desire to get that job at any cost.

Al Gore: Steadfast, honorable, and squeaky-clean Senator before serving eight years as Vice-President under Clinton. Now mired in campaign-finance scandals and weighted down by a myriad of lies told while on the stump (“I have always been pro-choice”, “I invented the Internet”, “I and my wife were the model for the book ‘Love Story’”, “I exposed the tragedy of Love Canal”.)

George Bush: Considered a stable moderate Republican Congressman and bureaucrat before being picked by Reagan as VP; subsequently lost all opinions on any subjects other than what polls told him to believe, and lost all ability to use the English language (C’mon, do you remember any serious Bush Sr. gaffes being passed around before 1988? If he were that malapropist in the 1980 campaign, you’d think some examples would have survived…)

Richard Nixon: 'Nuff said.

Lyndon Johnson: While known as gruff and power-hungry as Senate Majority Leader in the '50’s, how much more over-bearing and control-freakish did Johnson become after spending three years belittled as ‘Uncle Cornpone’ by Kennedy’s Cabinet? After going from one of the most effective leigslators ever to serve to a term of being strapped down and forced to watch as the Kennedy administration muffed bill after bill in Congress?

I leave Gerald Ford and Harry Truman off of this list because their terms as Vice-President were so short as to not be considered conclusive evidence for or against my hypothesis.
What do the Straight Dopers think? Is being the Vice-President hazardous to one’s moral health?


Give to Radiskull!

In a word, no.

J. Danforth Quayle was an idiot who smartened up as time passed. I don’t care for his politics, but I think he comprehends issues and can justify his positions. Walter Mondale emerged after four years showing off how honest he was. Both would have been bland but capable presidents. I’ve never heard of any malfeasance on their parts.

BTW, how did you miss Spiro T. Agnew? He’s the poster boy for corrupt veeps.

don Jaime de los Resorbitos
Free the Water Tower 3!

This is an interesting hypothesis. Of the examples mentioned, I know most about Lyndon Johnson, and I have to say that his career lends credence to this idea. As Senate Majority Leader, he essentially controlled the Senate, largely through force of personality, and by personally intervening in matters he was interested in. As vice president, he was usually left out of most important meetings and was only occasionally thrown a bone, such as his trip to West Berlin in 1961. The management style which he used to great effect in the Senate was almost useless as vice president. (See Robert Dallek’s Flawed Giant.) Although his past performance suggests that he would have been a hands-on and controlling president under any circumstances, his frustration as vice president almost certainly seems to have contributed to his attempts to control almost every aspect of his presidency.

Is it possible that the relative inactivity of the vice presidency also throws into greater relief the later actions (and transgressions) of vice presidents who become president? Dan Quayle, for example, may have been morally corrupted by the vice presidency, but then again, he may not have. How would we know? He has not been in the national public spotlight for any length of time since then.

Jimmy Carter is a president who wasn’t vice president, and many people seem to agree that he retained most of his moral fiber (although he was a rather ineffective president). Clinton, on the other hand, was also a Southern governor who wasn’t vice president, and a lot of people say that he has lost every shred of morality that he ever might have had.

Is it also possible that the longer the period of political frustration, the greater the corrupting effects? Richard Nixon was vice president, then defeated for president, and then couldn’t even get elected as California’s governor. We all know what happened when he finally got into office eight years later.

don Jaime said:

Well, Agnew was corrupt before he even got into office (in fact, if I remember correctly, the crimes he resigned his office because of and pleaded nolo contendere to were committed during his tenure as Governor of Maryland).

D Marie- if we go with ‘waiting for the office for a long period of time corrupts’, what does that say of Ronald Reagan, who first ran for the office in '68, was a serious contender in '76, but didn’t actually win until '80? At twelve years, that’s a good four years longer than Nixon waited…


Give to Radiskull!

First, I hope this doesn’t double post; I don’t know where my first reply went.

John – True enough in the case of Reagan, but he wasn’t vice president first, and he was governor of California from '67 to '74, so he had an outlet for his political energies. He also was offered position(s) with the Ford administration, which he declined, so he may not have been as frustrated as Nixon.

I’m just playing devil’s advocate here. I don’t really have a strong opinion one way or the other, but I think it is a very interesting topic.

With the possible exception of Quayle, all the recent Veep’s personalities were pretty much defined by the time they hit office. Nixon was a sleaze, Johnson was a manipulator, Agnew was already on the take, Bush was already tongue-tied (see the 1980 debates), etc. While Gore may have diminished in the office, I can argue that Mondale grew in it, and Bush and Quayle certainly didn’t shrink much, if at all.

Presidential candidates choose their running mates for a variety of reasons, and stature is seldom one of them.

I understand all the words, they just don’t make sense together like that.

The OP has misquoted Al Gore in a number of places. Do you have any cites for these quotes, or are you misquoting him on purpose? Do you have any evidence that he is not the model for the book Love Story? Do you have any evidence that he has not always been pro-choice? Please, don’t even dredge up that tired claim that saying that abortion is “arguably the taking of a human life” constitutes being anti-abortion. Anyone who doesn’t think it is possible to argue that abortion is the taking of a human life hasn’t been paying attention.

For Boris B.:

(Time, 12/15/97) :

The Des Moines Register 12/15/97:


As for flip-flopping on the abortion issue, I’m still searching for a transcript of the last Bradley-Gore debate (where Bradley leveled that charge).

Gore’s statement that his Senate Subcommittee uncovered the Love Canal disaster was made to a group of school-children during the 2000 New Hampshire primary; I’m searching for a news story for the exact quote.

So calm down, okay? Sheesh.


Give to Radiskull!

I still consider the move from “I took the initiative in creating the Internet” to “I invented the Internet” to be a misquotation. Given the number of times this has been gone over on this website, I am guessing it was a purposeful misquotation. I won’t calm down unless and until this misquotation stops being passed around. If other urban legends are any indication, this means I won’t being calming down until the human race is extinct.

Perhaps Gore was wrong with his speculation that he was the model for a character in a novel. The political significance of this is unknown.

Did Gore’s subcommittee not expose the Love Canal problems?

hmm the love canal shows just how dumb school board directors can be. The prosecution of love canal was simply because the goverment wanted someone else to pay for its mistakes.

do i have anything to add to the discussion at hand? no. :slight_smile:

To: John Corrado, Boris B.
CC: All who feel that Gore is a pathological liar
Subject: RE: Al Gore’s “Love Story”

This is from an article in the Online Journal
called “Al Gore v. the media” by Robert Parry

February 1, 2000

What we seem to have in so many more cases now is a news media that is becoming less dispassionate and impartial.

On the topic of Vice-Presidents, might I recommend one of the funniest books I’ve ever read - Bland Ambition: From Adams to Quayle - The Cranks, Criminals, Tax Cheats, and Golfers Who Made It to Vice President by Steve Tally. He skewers every VP, from van de King’s proported homosexuality to Hamilton’s duel to Quayle’s lingual gaffes. VERY funny book, highly recommended.


Ask the Gay Guy!