Monday, August 27, 2007

Relief President

In the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century, it was customary for baseball pitchers to finish all the games they started. Relief pitching was very rare, signalling at the time a mark of failure. In the modern game, teams have moved all the way to a model where a good starting pitcher is expected to put in a good set of innings, perhaps six or seven, but when the pitch count climbs upward of 100 or so to hand the ball over to a lineup of relief pitchers to close out most games.

I propose something similar for the office of the Presidency of the United States.

Now that we have seen that the resignation of the chief executive does not automatically bring with it the downfall of the Republic as a whole, the long-standing reluctance to leave office may be lessened, and calm, rational political thinkers may well want to consider the benefits of ceding power in an orderly way. Maybe the concept of the Vice-President as primarily the one "a heartbeat away" from the highest job in the land could be tweaked to one of a person with the skills to pick up that job in the waning months and weeks of the term and inject a new energy at the time it is most needed. The change at the top would make a generalized turnover of the other key Executive Branch positions at this time a natural thing to do. In situations when the Administration is embroiled with tense negotiations (whether foreign or domestic in nature) could be spiced up with the prospect of having a Presidential switch in order to achieve some kind of strategic advantage, much as when baseball managers switch pitchers to get the kind of matchup they want with the upcoming batters in the lineup. Also, the impact of the handover in power could be parlayed into a partisan advantage if it could be timed for the optimum time in the campaign season for the next term.

The new President would be expected to name a replacement Vice-President who would make sense as the next President in line, in the event that circumstances call for a second change at the top - or a third or fourth, as the case may be. Although the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution makes it impossible for a person to be elected to the Presidency more than twice, it does not appear to forbid a person from ascending to the Presidency more than this through vacancy. Thus, one could imagine a deal whereby the person who was originally President is confirmed as the new Vice-President, ready to step back into power when the time is right for the relief President to stop down, and so on, ad infinitum. (Note that here the baseball analogy breaks down; the rules do not allow a starting pitcher to re-enter a game after having left.)

This kind of scheme would raise the profile of the Vice-Presidency from it traditional low assessment. Perhaps if the expectation that an elected President will ordinarily cede power over to their running mate becomes sufficiently ingrained, one who delays doing so will someday be regarded as distrusting or snubbing their Vice-President, and may well take some damage in the public opinion polls as a result.

As I think of this idea, it seems to me that the trickiest aspect of this scheme would have to do with the lack of anyone fulfilling the role of a baseball team manager when it comes to politics. There really isn't any one person who by Constitutional law has the authority to tell the President that enough is enough and that it is time to withdraw. On the other hand, the nation as a whole might be inspired to take on that function, maybe by expressing their opinion through the press, maybe more formally (by voting?), somehow.

I am not proposing this kind of process at the current moment, since the electorate did not really have this setup in mind as of the time of the last Presidential contest and could not have considered the Vice-President very seriously as likely Presidential material. But I think it is not already too late for this to become part of the deal for the next four years in office.

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