Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Five Living Former Vice Presidents

The news that Dick Cheney had into the hospital with chest pains inspired some rather unworthy commentary online yesterday, but it made me wonder: what, exactly, are the funeral procedures for a former Vice President? We've had a few Presidential funerals in recent memory, but I can't remember the last Vice Presidential funeral.

On that morbid note, I went back to look at a list of recent Vice Presidents to see how everybody was doing. In reverse chronological order, the five most recent living Vice Presidents:

1. Richard Bruce "Dick" Cheney, 2001-2009. Our 46th Vice President, born in January 1941, which makes him a contemporary of my parents. A Nebraska native, Cheney grew up in Wyoming and first worked in Washington as an aide to Rep. William A. Steiger (R-WI — yes, Wisconsin, not Wyoming). He worked in the Nixon White House and served as Chief of Staff to President Gerald Ford, and was known as as a moderate and a pragmatist and a generally likable guy. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1978 (midway through Jimmy Carter's term as President), and served five terms, eventually becoming Minority Whip. President George H.W. Bush appointed him Secretary of Defense (1989–1993), where he oversaw Operation Desert Storm. From 1995 to 2000, he was CEO of Halliburton, the defense contractor. His wife, Lynne, chaired the National Endowment for the Humanities from 1986 to 1996; they have two daughters and six grandchildren.

2. Albert Arnold "Al" Gore, Jr., 1993-2001. Vice President #45 was the second Baby Boomer to hold the office, born in 1948. His father, Albert Gore Sr., was a U.S. Representative from 1939–1953, and a U.S. Senator from 1953–1971; Al Jr. grew up in Washington, DC and attended St. Albans School. After graduating from Harvard, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1969, and spent approximately five months (January-May 1971) in Vietnam as an Army journalist. He married Tipper Aitcheson, who had been his date to the senior prom, in 1970, and they eventually had four children. Gore worked as a journalist, studied theology, and earned a law degree from Vanderbilt University. He was elected to his father's old Congressional seat in 1976, at the age of 28, and to the Senate in 1985. By 1988, he was already a legitimate contender for the Democratic nomination for President. He described himself as a "raging moderate," and was known for a passionate interest in high-tech issues. His wife, Tipper, drew criticism for her public calls for ratings labels on music (an idea that now seems obvious and practical, at least to me). When he joined Bill Clinton's Presidential ticket in 1992, they seemed like blood brothers, a closeness that may have been illusory and certainly didn't last. Gore ran for President in 2000 trying to distance himself from his predecessor, and lost the tightest Presidential election in history. Now 61, he's made a new career as an environmental activist, earning the Nobel Peace Prize, a primetime Emmy and a Grammy, and playing a central role in the Academy Award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth (2006).

3. James Danforth "Dan" Quayle, 1989–1993. Vice President #44 holds the distinction of being the first Baby Boomer in that position, born in 1947. Before he became a national punchline, he had a brilliant political career. He started as a lawyer and publisher of his family's paper, The Huntington (IN) Herald-Press, and first ran for Congress at the age of 29, when he defeated an eight-term incumbent. In 1978, he was reelected by a record-setting margin, and in 1980, he became the youngest person ever elected to the Senate from Indiana, defeating three-term incumbent Birch Bayh. He set another record for his reelection margin in 1986. On paper, it makes sense that George H.W. Bush considered him an impressive candidate in 1988. He was a Reagan loyalist, he was photogenic, his wife was a career woman with ambitions of her own — he seemed perfect as a running mate for a moderate Republican WWII veteran. But he wasn't ready for the national spotlight (few are), and few ever took him seriously as Vice President. After leaving office, health issues kept him out of the spotlight for several years, but he did run for the 2000 Republican nomination, campaigning from April to September 1999. He and his wife, Marilyn, live in Paradise Valley, AZ, where the former Vice President serves as Chairman of an international division of Cerberus Capital Management, a multibillion dollar private equity firm, and president of Quayle and Associates. His son, Benjamin, has announced plans to run for Congress in the Third District of Arizona this year.

4. George Herbert Walker Bush, 1981-1989. Before he was President of the United States (1989–1993), he was Ronald Reagan's Vice President. He had run for President in 1980, appealing to the center of the Republican party; his choice as running mate was intended to reassure those who found Reagan too conservative. Before launching his 1980, Bush had spent a few years as a banker, and taught at Rice University's new business school. Before that, he had served as Director of the CIA in the Ford Administration; as chief liaison to the People's Republic of China; as Chairman of the Republican National Committee; as Ambassador of the United Nations; and as a U.S. Representative from the 7th District of Texas (1967-71). He made his money in oil, becoming a millionaire in his own right by the age of 40; he came from New England aristocracy (his father was Senator Prescott Bush, R-CT), but moved to West Texas after finishing college. He didn't graduate from Yale until 1948, because he'd taken time off to fight the Second World War, becoming the youngest aviator in the U.S. Navy. Born in 1924, he married Barbara Pierce in 1945, and they had six children. One died of leukemia as a small child; one grew up to be Governor of Florida; one grew up to be President of the United States. Among living politicians, George H.W. Bush is the one I'd like most to know.

5. Walter Mondale, 1977–1981. Born in 1928, he was too young to serve in the Second World War, but served two years in Korea, and went to law school on the GI Bill. At the age of 32, just four years out of law school, he became Attorney General of Minnesota. He was appointed to the United States Senate in 1964, to fill the unexpired term of Hubert Humphrey, who became Lyndon Johnson's Vice President. George McGovern invited him to run as his Vice President in 1972, but Mondale declined; when Jimmy Carter made the offer in 1976, he accepted. Vice President Mondale was the first to have an office in the White House itself, and is credited as the first truly activist Vice President. He chose Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate in 1980, making her the first woman to run for the Vice Presidency on a major party ticket. After losing with a campaign that promised higher taxes and a nuclear weapons freeze (imagine!), he returned to the private practice of law. President Bill Clinton appointed him U.S. Ambassador to Japan in 1993, and special envoy to Indonesia in 1998. When Senator Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash right before the 2002 election, Vice President Mondale agreed to run in his place, but was narrowly defeated. He has been married to his wife, Joan, for 54 years, and they live quietly near Lake of the Isles, in Minnesota.

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