The Miller Center Commission at the University of Virginia has just issued a timely reminder to Americans about the importance of what Gov. Bill Clinton and Ross Perot are about to do: select running mates.
The commission, chaired by former vice presidential nominee Edmund Muskie and former Maryland Sen. Charles McC. Mathias, devoted a couple of years to studying how vice presidents have been chosen and made recommendations about how they should be chosen.
The commission pointed out that since 1945 three vice presidents have become presidents due to death or resignation and five of the last nine vice presidents have become presidents either by accession or election. In six of the last seven presidential elections, at least one of the major party presidential nominees was or had been vice president. The commission made it clear it did not believe all these individuals should have risen so high:
"The vice presidential nominee should be of presidential calibre. . . [but] the commission found little evidence of [that] criterion being seriously considered or applied."
The commission's first recommendation was that presidential nominees give "early and full attention" to the presidential qualifications of a running mate. We agree with that. But then the commission got obsessed with process. It recommended the presidential nominee meet with prospective choices on a specific timetable (four weeks before the convention or as soon as the presidential nomination is clinched). It also recommended that the convention have 48 hours to ponder the vice presidential nomination. In our view, there should be no formal, specific process. Why? Because the way a presidential nominee goes about selecting a running mate is an important indicator of what kind of president he would be.
The choice itself will always be the best single indicator of a presidential candidate's respect for both offices -- the vice presidency and the presidency -- and for his country. Given the strong likelihood that he is selecting a future president, a presidential nominee ought to choose a running mate as strong as or stronger than himself in terms of national leadership abilities. Especially in times of sudden succession, the country needs a capable, respected individual in the vice presidency.
Ross Perot says he plans to choose a running mate who is so qualified to be president that "the American people will want to reverse the ticket." We'll see. There have been some so-called "kangaroo tickets" (stronger in the hind legs) in the past, and they make sense. Let us hope Mr. Perot means what he says, and that Bill Clinton will likewise choose in such a fashion. President Bush, whose present vice president scores 26 percent favorable, 54 percent unfavorable in the latest polls, might profit from their examples.