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Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Sarah PalinWhen mothers talk about the depression of the empty nest, they’re not mourning the passing of all those wet towels on the floor, or the music that numbs your teeth, or even the bottle of capless shampoo dribbling down the shower drain. They’re upset because they’ve gone from supervisor of a child’s life to a spectator. It’s like being the vice-president of the United States. – Erma Bombeck

Hey, I can identify with the wet towels, but I play the music that numbs your teeth. As far as the empty nest, we decided to have 2 more when the baby was 19, so after 34 years of motherhood, I’m still waiting for the experience. What really got me in Erma’s excerpt was comparison of the job of vice-president to a spectator.

“Who’s the vice-president of the United States?” asks the late-night talk show host to the man on the street.

Huh? Brows furrow, eyes glaze and nervous giggles erupt as they search their brains for the answer. We’ve all heard some of the outrageous answers to questions that are supposed to be common knowledge. As current events provoke a lot of talk about the responsibilities of vice-president, let’s take a brief look at what their duties entail.*

To begin with, to be eligible for the job an individual must:
  • Be a natural born U.S. citizen
  • Not be younger than 35
  • Have lived in the U.S. for at least 14 years
  • Not have already served 2 terms as President of the United States

Nothing there that says a person must be an attorney, long-term politician, or even have a college degree.

Next, under the original terms of the Constitution, two people ran for president. The loser became the vice president. This sometimes made for unease as the two individuals may have had starkly different views.

So, what is the formal role of the vice president? Under the Constitution, it is the role of the vice president to act as presiding officer over the Senate and in the event of the president’s death, resignation, etc. to assume the duties of president. As officer of the Senate, the vice president casts tie breaking votes in the event of deadlock. VP’s also certify the official vote count of the Electoral College.

Depending on the relationship between the president and his VP, the president may ask the vice-president’s advice. Other informal functions include meeting with heads of state and attending funerals when the president is unable to do so. Oftentimes VP’s act as henchman to secure party support while taking partisan criticism away from the president.

Not all vice-presidents are happy with their jobs. Vice President John Garner, serving with Teddy Roosevelt, stated that the job wasn’t “worth a pitcher of warm p@#%”. That being a little coarse, reporters printed the quote as “spit”.

With the nomination of the charismatic governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin for VP, there’s been a lot of talk about her qualifications or lack thereof. This has reminded me of the 1939 Frank Capra film, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”. Jimmy Stewart plays a naïve man who is appointed to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate. Mr. Smith is an idealist that believes he can go to Washington and make a difference. He is earnest and takes his job seriously. Not surprisingly, Washington is filled with greed and corruption. The old cronies try to manipulate him, but he remains steadfast. We watch his energy and determination, and expect him to succeed in spite of the odds. I for one, hold on to the dream that in America any “Mr. Smith” can go to Washington and prevail.

So whether or not the office of vice-president is a spectator job or one that requires well-rounded knowledge of foreign policy and economics, the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is five star entertainment in an election year or anytime.

I was once phoned by a parent’s group for my son’s high school baseball team to help out at a fundraiser. I replied, “Okay, what will my duties entail?” The other mom said she’d call me back but I never heard from her again. Try that one out the next time you don’t feel like baking cupcakes.




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