Spare tire or fifth wheel?

October 27, 2008

In an NYT op-ed today, Glenn Reynolds performs dizzying feats of illogic, twisting and stretching a strict-constructionist definition of the vice-presidency like a balloon animal at a children’s birthday party:

The most important function of a vice president is to serve as a spare president. Using the spare president in the ordinary course of business is as unwise as driving on one’s spare tire. Spares should be kept pristine, for when they are really needed.

If the president resigns or is removed from office, a vice president who has been involved in the activities of the executive branch is also likely to be at risk for impeachment. Just as important, a vice president who is enmeshed in the affairs of the president cannot offer a fresh start for the executive branch.

This odd line of defense of Sarah Palin’s ignorant statements on the subject has very little basis in either precedent or case-law (and last time I checked, that was still the way our legal system was supposed to operate).

Reynolds has been making the same case for years, but has still not found a way around earlier critiques of his underlying assumption that it is illegal for the president to delegate executive powers to elected officials.

In calling for congress to legislate the responsibilities of the VP’s office, Reynolds thus endorses a strangely activist interpretation of the constitution that does not reflect the evolution of the executive branch during the last half century. Forgive me if I’m missing something here, but I just don’t see the point (beyond reading this as a chivalrous effort to save Palin from herself).

If the congress wants to take action to prevent Cheney-esque abuses of power in the future, there are more restrained and direct ways of doing so that do not involve such precious legal reasoning.

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