Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Order of Things

If W were somehow to become incapacitated -- perhaps in a tragic hunting accident -- and if Dick Cheney likewise were to be unable to perform as president -- say, if a microwave oven shorted-out his pacemaker -- well, we know, this nation would be ably served by the tender ministrations of President Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Likewise, since tragedy comes in threes, President pro tempore of the Senate Robert Byrd, fourth in line for the succession, would shower this country in honor.

Sure, the vice presidency matters. We want someone with a good heart. Fifth in line is Condoleezza Rice. Sixth is Henry Paulson, Secretary of the Treasury, and so much in the recent news. Then the order just follows down the Cabinet seats, this term however excluding the Secretaries of Commerce and of Labor -- Carlos Gutieirrez and Elaine Chao having been born natives of Cuba and Taiwan, respectively.

Under older rules, Senate President pro tempore was third in line. Thus, David Rice Atchison, who held that office in 1849, placed on his tombstone that he had been president for one day, Sun, March 4, 1849. Polk left office that day, and Zachary Taylor refused to be sworn in on a Sunday. Problem for Atchison is that his own term expired the day before, on the third. We had no president.

When Harrison died shortly after his inauguration, John Tyler assumed the full title and powers of the president, and returned mail that addressed him as "Acting President". He was correct, of course. After Garfield died in office in 1881, and when VP Hendricks died in 1885, there was no President pro tempore, and thus there was no one in line for succession. The House would have had to elect someone to serve out the full term. In 1886 the Cabinet offices were placed in line, as partial remedy.

In 1973, after Agnew resigned in disgrace and impeachment was in the air for Nixon, with no VP in office, Democrat House Speaker Carl Albert had a real chance at being made president. He promised to act only as a caretaker, supposing there had been a mandate from the people for a Republican president. A principled approach, although incorrect. The president must act as he judges best. It's what leaders are for.

So there's this VP debate tonight. Of the four candidates, only Obama is unqualified -- not Constitutionally -- or even constitutionally. It's just he's done nothing to recommend him to the office. He's a used car salesman -- all poise and baritone. When he's riffing on his speeches, he sound good. When he has to think on his feet, he sounds like a highschool student making up lies for the principle.

Hope she does well. I expect she will.


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