Gore's `burden' to serve

November 24, 1999|By Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover

WASHINGTON -- Apparently Hillary Clinton's campaign-mode posture toward being first lady -- been there, done that -- is now being adopted by Al Gore regarding the vice presidency. Just Mrs. Clinton is popping in and out of her role as first lady, the vice president is being quoted these days as saying that "running for president of this country is far more important than being the best vice president I can possibly be."

This observation comes in the context of Mr. Gore's determination, as all vice presidents running for the Oval Office in the shadow of their presidents seek, to be "his own man." His strategists seem to have concluded that after years of presenting himself as the near-equal partner of President Clinton in administration undertakings, political reality demands that Mr. Gore now separate himself and chart his own course.

This is the same approach that Mrs. Clinton has been taking ever since deciding to "explore" a Senate candidacy in New York, while still carrying out a lighter load of first lady duties. The dual task has been regarded by New York Democratic operatives, however, as excessively debilitating to her political campaign, to the point that her ally, state party chairman Judith Hope, suggested recently that maybe Mrs. Clinton should "give up her day job."

It was advice -- offered facetiously, it was later said -- that could have been accepted by the first lady had she chosen. After all, nobody elected her to be the wife of the president, and she has no constitutional office or power other than what has been bestowed upon her by the man who used to brag that in electing him the country would be getting two brainy leaders "for the price of one."

For Mr. Gore, it's an entirely different matter. Although most voters regard their choice for vice president a relatively unimportant factor in deciding which party ticket will get their ballots,

If Mr. Clinton doesn't like Mr. Gore's late-blooming independence, even to the point of breaking with his president on policy, the president doesn't have the power to fire him. It's true he can make life so uncomfortable that he might persuade his veep to resign, but the only vice president to do that, Spiro Agnew, stepped aside to avoid jail time, not his president's displeasure.

Since Mr. Gore was elected to the vice presidency, however, it is reasonable for voters to expect him to serve energetically in the job, especially because Mr. Clinton has given him responsibilities beyond what any other veep has had. Also, the word from the Gore campaign is that the vice president has held talks with Clinton Cabinet members to discuss how he can most effectively -- for the sake of his presidential candidacy -- fall back heavily into his vice-presidential mode in the event his campaign runs out of money.

Dole's example

It can be argued that if Mr. Gore doesn't want to be saddled with the responsibilities of the vice presidency right now, he could resign, just as another presidential candidate burdened with the heavy duties of his elected office, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, did in 1996. But Mr. Dole was not a heartbeat away from the presidency as Mr. Gore is, so he is not about to give up the possibility that fate might land him in the Oval Office.

Although Mr. Clinton is in good health and showed his grit in surviving impeachment, the odds for vice presidents suddenly finding themselves becoming president overnight are not that long. Since World War II, it has happened to three of them -- Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford.

So Mr. Gore is just going to have to live with the "burden" of having been elected presidential stand-in as he reaches for the Oval Office as his "own man."

Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover write from the Washington Bureau.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.