Usually, the selection of a vice-presidential nominee is akin to the addition of a hood ornament to a car. It is supposed to bring a bit of chrome and polish and branding, but the nominee his- or herself may wind up no closer than the Lexus logo to the actual engine and driveshaft of the campaign.
Presidents have won or lost, and voters have feasted on them, but rarely because of whom they named as their back-up.
But these are not normal times. Rarely has a presidential election boiled down so completely to a judgment of the incumbent, and rarely, if ever, has the opposition candidate been so consistently projected to be – if he wins – just a one-term president.
Which makes Joe Biden’s selection as a running-mate an implied choice – either to name his preferred successor, or to add someone who aspires to no greater tenure than his own, and no bigger job than veep. The latter choice would be a recognition that a President Biden would likely be remembered as a historical hinge for a country and a party in desperate need of a new direction.
Perhaps the closest analog to the 77-year-old Joe Biden, at least in terms of actuarial likelihood of four full years in office was Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1944. Even as he ran for his fourth term, President Roosevelt knew he had little chance of surviving it. Health problems – heart disease, as well as polio – were wearing him out and his doctors had told him the hard truths. What Roosevelt knew, leading Democratic party bosses and followers and subordinates of the president strongly surmised, which meant, his choice as vice-president could set the path of America’s and the Democratic party’s future.
When FDR dumped his third-term vice-president, Henry Wallace and accepted the boss’ candidate, Missouri senator Harry Truman, he told himself, a vice-president doesn’t really matter. But he was lying to himself about this as he was lying to himself about his ability to accept the responsibility for a four-year term.
And, writes our guest today, John Nichols, national politics correspondent for The Nation, and author of the new book The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party: The Enduring Legacy of Henry Wallace’s Anti-Fascist, Anti-Racist Politics, the Wallace vs. Truman choice did define the Democrats and American politics for the next 75 years, and, he writes, not in a good way.
|John Nichols is The Nation’s national-affairs correspondent and the author of the new book The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party: The Enduring Legacy of Henry Wallace’s Anti-Fascist, Anti-Racist Politics (Verso). He’s also the author of Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to the Most Dangerous People in America, from Nation Books, and co-author, with Robert W. McChesney, of People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy.|