Welcome back to the rat race. In this week’s shenanigans, we have the Vice Presidential debate: the first and only VP debate to occur this election season. Did you watch it? Because I didn’t. In addition to being a debate between the two most unpleasantly milquetoast Vice Presidential candidates, the position of Vice President has become an ineffectual title in the public eye. Once a stepping stone to the presidency throughout the 20th century, VPs since Bush Sr. have collectively failed to hold even a single elected office after their term as VP.
Indeed the point of the debate seemed less about establishing the vice president as an important political force of a presidency, which the president of the Senate should be, and rather about being an extension of the campaigns of the presidential candidates. It is to that end that an utterly useless debate was conducted, which ABC reports did not change the minds of undecided voters.
Political debate has become less meaningful as entertainment media has sprung up; the countless memes and sound bytes that encompass this electoral race have devalued an already compressed political discussion. Indeed, the lack of mass-circulated mocking content about the VP debate is something I find to be indicative of how little even people that simply lambast the political environment cared. Whilst the Presidential debates have been strife with mockery and ad hominem at the candidates, the Vice Presidential debate only dealt in the defense of the Presidential candidates. It speaks to the utter ineffectuality of the Vice Presidential candidates to influence policy that the most visible highlights to come out of the debate was that Senator Kaine interrupts a lot, and Senator Pence has difficulty defending Trump’s comments.
The political leanings of the Vice Presidential candidates would be useful were we to have less diametrically opposed Presidential candidates. In a many party system, the people that a candidate would surround themselves with would be more indicative of the more nuanced aspects of their future impact. However, at this juncture, even people who might agree with an opposed Vice-Presidential candidate cannot reconcile the Presidential misgivings they may have. The views of these VPs are subsumed into the political ennui of the system as it stands, because we as the audience hold the presidential ticket as a monolith under the Presidential candidate’s name.
There are few alternatives to this political navel-gazing for the time being, but hosting another debate would simply be wasting people’s time. Useful change will come from changing both the public perception of the Vice President, and the VP’s acting utility. The Vice President should not simply preside over Senate meetings, they should be an overseer, a bailiff, and take a more active role in the writing of legislation. This may not include a particular legal expansion of the Vice President’s actual power, but rather an exercise of their intended influence. The only way we can see VPs as being meaningful participants on the Presidential ticket, is if we can be sure that they will have an impact. As it stands, Senator Kaine dare not contradict his overlord Clinton, and no matter what Pence does, he “can’t stump the Trump.” So we must also change how our political system operates so that Presidential candidates are not so polarized; in this election we judge the president, not the administration, and that needs to change. Vice Presidential candidates will stop being figureheads when Presidential candidates stop being caricatures.