The good news from this CNN poll is that 77% of respondents didn’t choose Dick Cheney as the worst VP in American history. Unfortunately, that leaves 23% as the rate of historical illiteracy in the US:
A new national poll suggests that almost a quarter of Americans think that Dick Cheney is the worst vice president in American history.
Twenty-three percent of those questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Monday say that Cheney is the country’s worst vice president, when compared with his predecessors.
An additional 41 percent feel that Cheney is a poor vice president, with 34 percent rating him a good number two.
No, what this poll suggests is that almost a quarter of Americans have no grasp of our own history. The question itself is rather silly; it’s almost as trenchant as asking who makes the worst fast-food taco. Vice Presidents have little real impact on policy, unless they become President through succession or election. They do nothing without the endorsement and forebearance of their presidents, which makes the idea of best and worst in class almost entirely meaningless.
However, let’s offer three examples that should have rendered the question entirely moot:
- Aaron Burr – The only VP to kill a man in office. He shot the Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, in a duel after Hamilton (reportedly) deliberately shot wide. (Cheney shot a man by accident, who survived, but there’s a thin parallel for Cheney haters.) Burr had to flee to South Carolina while VP to avoid prosecution for murder in New Jersey Later, he formed his own army and by several accounts intended to rebel against the US and form his own nation in the Ohio valley.
- John Calhoun – One of the men who inspired the Civil War and an outspoken proponent of slavery. He served as VP to both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, resigning under the latter to take a seat in the Senate. He championed “nullification”, the supposed right of states to supercede federal law when they disagreed with it, and the right of secession. More than most, he amplified the bitter divisions between the South and abolitionists and set the stage for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans as well as the extension of slavery for decades.
- Spiro Agnew – The only VP to resign because of criminal charges, this really shows how illiterate the CNN respondents had to be. After all, Agnew resigned just 35 years ago, and he worked for Richard Nixon, one of the most reviled presidents in history. Agnew pled guilty to a failure to report income in order to avoid charges of bribery during his tenure as VP and as governor of Maryland.
No matter what one thinks of Dick Cheney, he hasn’t done anything to eclipse these embarrassments in the American historical record. I myself think Cheney’s done a good job, but I would allow that history may prove differently. The burden of history will really fall, as it should, on George Bush.