Gore May Be More Disappointed Than Most Vice Presidents

January 17, 1993|By MICHAEL NELSON

Vice President Albert Gore will be invited to assume roles in the Clinton administration that are at least as substantial as those performed by his most recent vice presidential predecessors: Walter F. Mondale, George Bush and Dan Quayle. Yet Mr. Gore may also turn out to be the most frustrated vice president in the modern history of the office.

The reason: an expectations gap. Mr. Mondale, Mr. Bush and Mr. Quayle feared that they might be lost in the legendary anonymity of the vice presidency and were grateful when included in many important administration activities. Mr. Gore, however, expects to be a partner in the presidency with Bill Clinton and is likely to be disappointed when this expectation is not realized, as it almost certainly will not be.

Mr. Gore can be forgiven his high expectations. It was Mr. Clinton, after all, who publicly proclaimed before the election that there would be a "full partnership" in the Clinton administration between him and Mr. Gore. It was Mr. Clinton, too, who decided to campaign with his vice presidential running-mate more frequently than any other presidential candidate in history.

Indeed, nothing embodied candidate Clinton's winning theme of change more tangibly than his defiance of the canons of old-style ticket-balancing in selecting Mr. Gore: a fellow Southerner, a fellow Southern Baptist, a fellow political moderate, a fellow baby-boomer and a fellow "policy wonk." (To be sure, the Gore nomination manifested ticket-balancing of a more subtle kind: Mr. Clinton's potential vulnerabilities as a foreign policy novice, pro-development governor, skirt-chaser and draft-evader were buttressed during the campaign by Mr. Gore's Senate experience, environmentalist credentials, stable family life and service in the Vietnam War).

The election campaign also generated some specific discussions between Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore about the tasks that the vice president would perform in office. According to Mr. Gore, Mr. Clinton asked him to pay special attention "to rebuilding a good working relationship between the executive branch and the legislative branch." A late September position paper of the Clinton campaign promised to give Mr. Gore "responsibility and authority" to coordinate national technology policy in the new administration.

Another important result of the campaign was the forging of a strong personal relationship between Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore. Remarkably, in view of their many similarities and their back-fence geographical proximity in Arkansas and Tennessee, the two men barely knew each other until last summer. (To the extent that they did, they regarded each other as political rivals.) Once they met, however, Mr. Clinton, Mr. Gore and their wives seem to have become instant friends and mutual admirers.

During the transition period, Mr. Clinton continued to break precedent by closely involving the vice president-elect in both the selection of cabinet nominees and the development of the incoming administration's legislative agenda for the first hundred days.

"Senator Gore and I have continued the partnership we began in the campaign," the president-elect told reporters. Mr. Clinton was not exaggerating. Although Mr. Gore's woodenly silent appearances on the podium at most of Mr. Clinton's Little Rock news conferences may have made him seem like little more than a prop, he was an important member of the transition team's inner circle. Environmental Protection Agency director-designate Carol M. Browner, a former Senate aide to Mr. Gore, is among those who owe their position in the Clinton administration to him.

Warm feelings, mutual respect, and good intentions aside, however, Mr. Gore will discover to his dismay during the coming year that he is not Mr. Clinton's partner in the presidency.

Personal intentions in such matters are nothing compared to the constitutional nature of the office, which is laid out in Article II. The first sentence of that article states clearly: "The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America." The article goes on to enumerate the specific powers of the executive. All are assigned to the president, with no reference to the vice president. The message of the Constitution is clear: Presidents don't have partners in the executive branch, only subordinates.

No vice president can take the president's place in dealing with Congress. (Mr. Clinton's legislative style as governor of Arkansas, which was personal to the point of omnipresence, and Mr. Gore's Senate style, which was aloof and specialized, serve only to underscore this constitutional tenet.) Nor can vice presidents successfully assume administrative responsibility in any important area, as Mr. Gore hopes to do for technology policy.

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