Before getting on, it may be worth a sentence or two to explain the vice presidency of the United States in the past, present and future since some people appear to be confused about it.
If a president should die, the vice president ought to stay alive, at least for a responsible period. And that's about it. Now you know the commotion raised at the Republican convention in Detroit by the "fiasco" -- whether or not Ford would run with Reagan. There was no fiasco at all. Reagan was simply persuaded that Ford would strengthen the party ticket and when Ford seemed to be making noises about willingness to run, of course he was courted.
The obvious fact -- obvious to any normal citizen -- that a former president is not going to be tempted by the vice presidency unless he has a substantial say in things is not at all obvious to everybody, including persons who race about with great import at conventions.
The other obvious fact -- that a president is not going to yield any power to some fellow blowing in from somewhere with no mandate, no power center and a proneness to fall down airplane steps -- is never obvious to those close advisers who race in and out of the bedrooms of potential vice presidential candidates.
So in brief, the obvious unworkability of a Ford nomination was at last clear both to Reagan and Ford.
If I may go with common sense a step further, I shall explain how something obviously unworkable will occupy conventions to a great degree.
Reagan, the presidential nominee of the Republican Party, you recall -- has nothing to lose by pleasing all the people who once voted for Ford, by seeming to be courting him strongly to run as the vice presidential candidate. But a presidential nominee, historically, could not care less who is or is not the vice president, apart from attracting votes to the presidential nominee.
In public, presidents need to appear concerned who succeeds them if they die in office. As a practical matter, I believe few presidents care what happens at that point. This makes it possible for presidents to have vice presidents they neither know nor care to know.
But what is there in it -- what was there in it -- for Ford? Since he, too, from the beginning must have known a Reagan-Ford ticket was nonsense? Two things:
First, every politician enjoys the limelight -- they never outgrow a taste for that -- and playing around with Reagan offered a perfect opportunity to put in a word or two to remind Reagan that no real right-winger is ever going to win. This would not merely annoy the main candidate (always worth the time of any vice presidential candidate) but might even do some good for the party.
Second, it is hard for normal people to comprehend the lure of the vice presidency. It is very much there.
Theodore Roosevelt, to give one recent example, used to say he could hardly imagine anything less tempting than the vice presidency. As you know, he came down to this very capital (in the late spring of 1900) with defiance all over his face to inform the powers that by gory he would NOT be a vice presidential candidate. As those very powers noted, however, this was somewhat like Gargantua showing up to say he would not under any circumstances be Queen of the May.
As Secretary of State John Hay wrote privately at the time, Roosevelt had come roaring down saying he wouldn't be vice president when "nobody in Washington . . . had ever dreamed of such a thing."
Roosevelt was some put out to be told by Elihu Root that "of course" he should not accept such a nomination since "you're not fit for it."
It's one thing not to want a job; it's another thing to be told you're unfit for it. Mark Hanna kept having fits and saying, "Don't any of you realize there's only one life between this madman [Roosevelt] and the presidency?"
There was another thing, too. Roosevelt was governor of New York at the time and had gravely upset the state's political boss by his handling of the insurance commissioner, and unspeakable lobbying pressures had been felt as a result. The boss all but threatened to kick Roosevelt out, as governor of New York, and make him run for the vice presidency, which would, needless to say, get him out of everybody's hair for the foreseeable future.
Roosevelt, on the other hand, had no intention of being kicked out of an important job, to be shelved presiding over some Senate.
And yet -- here is what really must be understood -- when all was said and done. Roosevelt (who could, after all, have done many things to avoid the nomination) actually sought it.
"I did not say on Feb. 12 that I would not under any circumstances accept the vice presidency," he wrote to an intimate.
His actual words had been:
"Under no circumstances could I or would accept the nomination for the vice presidency."
(Politicians are always being misquoted as you know).
What happened to Roosevelt in the relatively few days between absolutely refusing and actively seeking?
Nothing much. It's just the way men are.
"The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt," the much-praised biography by Edmund Morris, is rather a comfort to me during the political conventions.It does much to explain, as I have shown, there is a tangential or unpredictable or irrational (crazy, to be plain) force at work in all politics, not because politicians are any crazier than the rest of us, but merely because they are indeed drawn from the ranks of the rest of us. Politics -- as in the Ford commotion and the Roosevelt commotion over the vice presidential nomination -- seems crazy only because it is examined.
I have also been dipping into another biography, "Edith Kermit Roosevelt" by Sylvia Jukes Morris.
It's the coming thing, him-her biographies by him-her authors.
I should have thought that Edith Roosevelt might rank somewhere below Fala as the subject of a gripping biography, but I overlooked the Oatmeal Factor; namely:
If there's nothing but an oatmeal box, you'll read it.
Of course "Edith Kermit Roosevelt" is more than an oatmeal box, but what I mean to say here is that once you start it you find yourself somewhat swept along and all in a bind about the Kwantung Peninsula and what Edith thought of the Noh drama and other matters that had not formerly concerned you greatly. I had never realized, for example, that this president's wife had excellent taste in poetry. Usually president's wives tend to give out after "Twinkle, twinkle, little star." But Edith adored Henry King and so on. She doted on great music as well.President Roosevelt, on the other hand, did not. To let it go at that. (De mortuis nisi nil bonum).
In a time of shock (we do not utter and the Persians tremble, for example) that we do not rule the world except up to a point, the reign of Theodore Roosevelt is sweet to dream on. Furthermore, he charmed birds right down out of trees. One of the poorer decisions of a woman in my family was to throw in the trash can a set of buffalo horns that Theodore Roosevelt shot early in this century. I rather prized them. This may be the place to point out that women almost never care for moose antlers -- my grandmother made my grandfather get rid of a magnificent spread -- or elephant feet turned into unbrella stands, etc. Women may not be, by nature, fit for high culture or the curatorship of treasures.
The Morrises were in town and I learned that Edmund, who tended to Theodore, is a quest studious type, very different from Roosevelt. He goes bananas at the mention of his own heroes -- Shcubert, Mozart, Wagner, Berlioz -- and you wonder how he wrote such a sympathetic biography of Old Gung-ho.
Sylvia, on the other hand, who wrote about the elegant, sensitive Edith, does not really swoon for music. Though blessed with a husband who once proposed to be a concert pianist, and who still plays mightily on the old Bechstein in their small New York apartment, Sylvia is nevertheless able to tear herself away. "Often I go out on the balcony and write."
How distant the past sometimes seems, though it was only yesterday. I find myself thinking of little old Quentin (Theodore's son). That kid was something else. The cops kept quite an eye on him at New Year's receptions, not knowing what outrage the little fellow would commit next, from his second-floor room. Once as the president was getting into a carriage little Quentin dropped the largest snowball ever seen in this capital out his window. qMust have taken him hours to put it together. It flattened a security guard. mDon't think it actually killed him -- nobody remembers now -- but they sure kept an eye on little Quentin after that. Eh, well, it's good to remember the great.