People have been nominated to be America’s vice-president for a lot of reasons, but never yet has a veep been put on a presidential ticket because anyone thought he or she was likely to be the second-best choice to run the country.
This helps explain why of eight presidents who succeeded victims of assassination or illness only two, Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman, are rated successes by Jared Cohen in his new book Accidental Presidents. Several of the others, Cohen reveals, were dim of wit, or absent of ambition or just overwhelmed by their inherited responsibilities.
Voters, by the way, seem to have agreed with Cohen’s judgments. They re-elected four of the eight “accidentals” to their own terms as president, Roosevelt and Truman and Lyndon Johnson who gets half a star from Cohen, praised for his success in advancing civil rights, lamented for his escalation of the Vietnam War, where he was egged on and fed false information by his predecessor John Kennedy’s national security team. The one dud voters approved was Calvin Coolidge who benefited from not being his predecessor Warren Harding, whose administration was the most scandal and corruption-ridden one until the arrival of Donald J. Trump.
Primarily responsible for the vice president problem, Cohen says, were the Founding Fathers, who in the Constitution, created the position, but beyond making it subsidiary to the president, did little to define the powers and responsibilities of the office. Neither were they clear on who might come next if the vice-president died in office.
This governmental obscurity rattled Vice President Dick Cheney, a man of many heart attacks and other health crises. “What if?” he asked his executive power consigliere David Addington whose researches were – probably beneficially – undermined by President George W. Bush’s relentless good health.
Jared Cohen is the founder and CEO of Jigsaw at Alphabet Inc. He also serves as an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Previously, he ran Google Ideas at Google Inc. and served as chief advisor to Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. From 2006 to 2010 he served as a member of the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff and as a close advisor to Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. He is the New York Times bestselling author of Accidental Presidents, The New Digital Age, Children of Jihad, and One Hundred Days of Silence: America and the Rwanda Genocide. He lives in New York with his wife and two daughters.