The vice presidency of the United States was once infamously compared to "a bucket of warm spit" by the 32nd man to assume that office, John Nance Garner, who served under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a president who did much to fill that bucket. Perhaps more to the point and certainly more elegant were these words from our first VP, John Adams: "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived."
So prescient was Mr. Adams, that in modern-day America, the motive and methodology for choosing a VP as a running mate are more important than any qualifications the candidate himself may actually possess. More often than not, a veep is chosen for his appeal as a "Favorite Son" from an important swing state, or one that would be unlikely to go for the top of the ticket without his presence on it.
And curiously, sometimes a veep is considered for some mysterious quality he may possess which is lacking in the character of the presidential nominee; as if this may be transferred from one to the other by osmosis. Who can forget the endless declarations that Dick Cheney was selected by George W. Bush's "handlers" for his "gravitas"?
Still, for all the insignificance of the office and the attendant foolishness that sometimes surrounds the choice, picking the right veep candidate can make a world of difference. Witness the buzz and excitement generated when the candidacy of John McCain was invigorated by Sarah Palin; strange bedfellows indeed, but such is the way of vice-presidential politics.
And although we haven't even narrowed down the presidential field yet, it's never too early to start eying up the veep parade. So, what potential partnerships can we expect to materialize in the coming months? Just for fun, let's limit ourselves to the so-called second-tier presidential candidates and see how that shapes up.
Going by the Favorite Son Theory, none of the current presidential hopefuls hails from what could truly be called a swing state, unless you wanted to include Pennsylvania and Minnesota in that description. Should a Rick Santorum or a Michele Bachmann serve to carry these states as the veep candidate, it would be more for their conservative ideology than any home cooking.
And that's the fascinating thing about the 2012 race. Sometimes a presidential candidate will select a running mate who can soften some of his sharper stances and make him more palatable to those oh-so-important independent voters. But if we exclude the two Libertarians in the race -- if only because they harbor views abhorrent to both the right and the left -- nearly all of the GOP aspirants claim to be solid conservatives.
Now many of might question the veracity of some of these claims, but this field contains not one pro-choicer or anyone else who purports to be anything but a fiscal and social conservative. No Rudy Giuliani to muddle the family values issues, or a John McCain to represent whatever the heck it is that earns him his "maverick" designation. So none of the front-runners need pick another in order to strengthen his conservative credentials, or to appeal to the moderates. What does stand out is that there are a few of them who do bring unique characteristics to the VP table; particularly Santorum, Bachmann and Herman Cain.
While it's true that Santorum is despised by the media in Cheneyesque proportions and is therefore probably unelectable for the top spot, he could attract a large chunk of American Catholics who make up nearly 25 percent of the population. He also brings a sincere belief in the goodness of this country; a sentiment that continues to elude Barack Obama.
Michele Bachmann, at this stage of her career, is more valuable as a veep than a presidential contender. Although her debating skills leave a lot to be desired, she has an innate optimism that has made her a Tea Party favorite and could put her over as a viable running mate. Of course, it doesn't hurt that she is a woman, and an attractive one at that.
But probably the most intriguing of all is Herman Cain. A self-proclaimed political outsider and all around firebrand, he is the kind of man who could draw independents by the sheer power of his personality. And despite the fact that he is a black conservative destined to be written off as an Uncle Tom, perhaps the most important reason to consider him is to dream of what a Biden/Cain vice-presidential debate might look like; the heart beats faster just in the imagining.
Many have opined that the 2010 midterms and last month's special elections are harbingers of a dramatic change in American politics. If this is so, what could be more demonstrative of this than one of these three on the GOP 2012 ticket: a Catholic who demonstrates that the Democratic Party no longer represents the values of the Faith; a woman who happily eschews the feminist label; and an African American who is the antithesis of what the reverse racists in this country define as "blackness."
How's that for diversity?