Gerard Baker in the Times of London makes a point that I have made myself on occasion: The way we pick vice presidents is crazy. We spend lots of time and money and psychic energy on picking our presidents, with millions of people in one way or the other involved. But we let one man (or, quite possibly this time, one woman) select the vice presidential nominee. And this is considered by just about everyone as the way it should be. Yet, as Baker points out, vice presidents have a tremendous advantage when it comes to running for president. So the decision of Ronald Reagan at something like 3 in the morning in a Detroit hotel room to pick George H.W. Bush as his running mate leads directly to Bush's election as president in 1988 and his son's election as president in 2000 and 2004. Had Reagan picked someone else, it is extremely unlikely that either Bush would have been president.
But Baker is wrong about one thing. He makes reference to the past week's Washington Post series on Dick Cheney and says that no previous vice president has had much in the way of responsibilities. Not as much as Cheney, perhaps. But they have had some. Jimmy Carter gave important responsibilities to Walter Mondale, and Carter's successors have given important responsibilities to Mondale's successors: Bush 41, Dan Quayle, and Al Gore. This is one precedent, I suspect, that future presidents will follow. And the existence of that precedent has made presidential nominees have more responsibly in selecting running mates. No longer do we have to wait until 3 in the morning one convention night to learn who the nominee will be, as we did with Thomas Eagleton in 1972, Bob Dole in 1976, or Bush in 1980. Or hear of the nomination during the day in convention week, as was the case with Mondale in 1976 and Quayle in 1988. Geraldine Ferraro was picked the week before the convention in 1984, and I believe that Michael Dukakis picked Lloyd Bentsen before the convention in 1988. Bill Clinton made a characteristic spectacle of selecting Al Gore in 1992; as I recall, they met on the bridge connecting West Memphis, Ark., and Memphis, Tenn. In 2000, Bush picked Cheney and Gore picked Joe Lieberman well before the convention and after an elaborate vetting process. John Edwards was chosen similarly in 2004, although Bob Shrum tells us that John Kerry now regrets his choice.
So at least we have gotten to a more deliberative process. But it's still one person's choice—an anomaly in the system, and I'm glad to see that Gerard Baker agrees.