What the Veep Do We Know?

Surely one of the pleasures of having a magazine with a 150-year archive is the ability to pull stories from the past and make them a part of the news cycle. On the day of vice presidential debate between Senator Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin, The Atlantic has done just that, presenting “Is the Vice Presidency Necessary?” by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. from May 1974.

Writing a generation before Dick Cheney added unprecedented power to the traditional role of vice president, the late Mr. Schlesinger, a Pulitzer prize winning historian and J.F.K. special assistant, wrote:

[T]he vice presidency is makework. Presidents spend time that might be put to far better use trying to figure out ways of keeping their Vice Presidents busy and especially of getting them out of town. The vice presidency remains, as John N. Garner said, ‘a spare tire on the automobile of government.’ As Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, California, there is no there there.

Later in the essay, Mr. Schlesinger writes, “A Vice President will learn only as much as a President is willing to have him learn—which, given presidential dislike of Vice Presidents, is not ordinarily very much.”

We assume that had Mr. Schlesinger written this article today, he’d be obliged to change it to “him or her.”

What the Veep Do We Know?