Monday, September 15, 2008

How likely is it that Sarah Palin will become President?

About one million years ago (actually less than 30, but I like to say "About a million years ago") I had a short article published in The New York Times, which, with some embarrassment, I will probably republish here some day. I got paid something for it, but I can't remember what -- certainly less than a hundred dollars. Let's say $50.

I've submitted at least one op-ed piece to The Times in the last couple of years, but, despite their saying that they will publish anyone, they almost exclusively publish famous people or those who are associated with some think tank or formal association. I give up with them. However, reading the most sizeable local paper (about 100,000 circulation) I saw that they occasionally publish regular folks like myself. So, I sent them an article. I figured that, if I got $50 from The Times 30 years ago, then even a much smaller paper would probably pay a couple of hundred nowadays. At least, I could eat well for a week.

To my surprise, they published it about a week or so after I sent it to them in their Sunday edition, even top of the op-ed page. I suppose it never feels bad to see your name in print. Besides, I made a few dollars, right? Right? Right? Right? Yeah, right. Apparently, I have to be satisfied with seeing my name in print. They pay zippo, nada, zero for an op-ed piece. Fortunately, I emailed it in, so at least I didn't lose the price of the stamp. Story of my life. No matter how small my accomplishment, and this one is pretty small, the payment is even smaller.

Anyway, I did get something out of it. I didn't have to really focus on writing a blog post this week because I'm just republishing my article here. So, below is my piece, published on The Roanoke Times op-ed page on September 14, 2008 and preserved for the benefit of the world on for at least a few weeks. Frankly, I wish they kept their editing pen to themselves. I wasn't fond of the couple of changes they made, but, then again, from their professional point of view, what do I know? I'm not even worth paying.

. . .

What do the following people have in common? No Googling allowed.

Richard Johnson, George Dallas, William King, William Wheeler, Thomas Hendricks, Levi Morton, Garret Hobart, Charles Fairbanks, Thomas Marshall and Charles Dawes.

They are all former vice presidents of the United States who never made it to president. Of course, they are remote in time; however, there are many others much closer in time also not readily recognized. I'd say 50 years is about the limit. But even recent veeps like Al Gore and Dick Cheney will likely be forgotten sooner rather than later. Pew Research Center polls taken throughout this decade showed that between 31 and 39 percent of those asked already could not identify Cheney as the present vice president.

This is what we do with vice presidents. We forget them. Those who became president because the serving president died in office or, in one case, resigned are still remembered, such as Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Teddy Roosevelt and even Gerald Ford, but since the founding era, veeps rarely got elected without that advantage. In fact, since Martin Van Buren left office in 1841 only two other veeps, Nixon and G.W.H. Bush, made it without first taking over during the former president's term.

So, why are we making such a fuss about the current vice presidential candidates, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, regardless of how much anyone might like or dislike them? While it is true that one of them will technically become "one heart beat away from the presidency" and that a president John McCain's age would make a Vice President Palin more likely than Biden to be promoted under the 25th amendment, the historical odds seem against Palin ever taking over during a McCain presidency.

Just four presidents have been assassinated, and it has only happened once in the last century. When we factor assassinations out, only four of the remaining 38 presidents, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Warren Harding and FDR, died in office. In the last 150 years, it is just Harding and FDR.

No doubt, the better odds to survive the office these days are due to better health care and security, but McCain or Obama will have those benefits. The fact is that all of the presidents born in the last century who have since passed away made it to at least 80, except for Kennedy, who was assassinated while still young, and LBJ, who smoked heavily during much of his life and died of a heart attack. McCain reportedly quit smoking almost 30 years ago.

If we start counting after FDR, only Eisenhower fell a little short of 80, and he too was known to have smoked excessively for much of his life. Again leaving aside the one relatively recent assassination, all of our presidents have physically survived their one or two terms since Harding. Even the unhealthy FDR survived more than three terms of nearly nonstop crisis and stress before dying during his unprecedented fourth term.

Strangely perhaps, although no vice president has been assassinated, they seem more susceptible to health problems. A surprising number of them, seven to be exact, died of natural causes during their service. One of them, William King, never really served, although he was sworn-in in Cuba, where he was trying to recuperate, and died soon after.

Whoever wins, it is quite possible that Vice President Palin or Biden might find little interesting to do once in office, despite the perhaps exceptional example of the current holder of that office. John Adams wrote, "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." One of FDR's veeps, John Garner, put it more succinctly, stating that the office "isn't worth a bucket of warm spit."

And then, as hard as it may be to believe right now with all the hoopla going on, unless one of them becomes president some day, which certainly could happen, Biden or Palin will almost definitely be forgotten in the fullness of time. That's just the way it goes.


  1. Anonymous3:56 PM

    You are probably right about Biden if he gets elected but if Palin wins she will always be a generally known trivia question answere as to who the 1st female veep was.
    BTW how many copies of the paper did you buy???

  2. I don't care that the odds are slim. They are less slim due to McCain's age, and I don't think I could survive a Palin presidency.

  3. To Don: No additional copies. One thing I don't need in my house is more newspapers, and, it was fun, but its not that big of a deal.

    To Bear: Chill dude. We've survived 42 presidents, a civil war, racial bigotry, two world wars and a host of others less appetizing and we will survive whoever gets elected in the future. May the force be with us.

  4. Ok, David, let's see if it allows me through this time.
    Nice op-ed, although I have to admit I love the original from the NY Times. So - despite that hardly any VPs become the President, occasionally they do. Imagine, we could go from a president who makes stupid and dangerous statements to a president who is the biggest expert in the country on energy (guess that might be her VP job) and who is also (according to McCain), an expert on Russia since she can see the island from Alaska. Thankfully the economic crisis has given an unexpected boost for Obama. Let's see we have bright bright bright vs 5th from the bottom who went on to crash 5 planes. Even George Will was down on McCain this week - amazing.


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About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .