Somewhere up there, perhaps, Tim Russert is sending the word out to the George Clinton who did not sing “dogs of the world unite,” John C. Calhoun, Thomas A. Hendricks, Adlai E. Stevenson I, and Charles W. Fairbanks to appear on next Sunday’s Meet The Press (Celestial Edition) to discuss an idea that started bubbling on blogs during the spring and is starting to gain serious momentum, as described in an article in today’s Washington Post: that former Vice-President (and 2000 Democratic presidential nominee) Al Gore be selected as Sen. Barack Obama’s running-mate.
I mention the five men above because they all did what it is now suggested that Gore do: they ran for vice-president with different presidential candidates. In Clinton’s case, he ran with Thomas Jefferson in 1804 and succeeded Aaron Burr in the office. In 1808, he was elected again, this time with James Madison as the Democratic-Republican presidential nominee. (Some anti-Madisonians that year preferred that Clinton be president, and he received a few electoral votes for that office.) Calhoun, after briefly considering a presidential run in 1824, set his sights on the next-highest, and was elected Vice-President under John Quincy Adams, achieving re-election in 1828; he then served under Andrew Jackson until December 1832 when he resigned to enter the U.S. Senate.

Forty-four years later, Hendricks (who in 1872 had received the votes of several Presidential electors pledged to Democratic nominee Horace Greeley, who died before the Electoral College met) was the running-mate of Samuel Tilden in an election in which the latter won the popular vote but was defeated by Republican Rutherford B. Hayes by one (very disputed) electoral vote. In 1884, Hendricks was chosen by Grover Cleveland for the vice-presidential nod, and while that ticket won in the fall, the vice-president died a few months after inauguration.

In 1892, Cleveland, after being defeated (in the Electoral College but not the popular vote) by Benjamin Harrison in 1888, ran again, choosing Stevenson, the grandfather of the two-time 1950s Democratic presidential candidate, as his running-mate. This ticket won. In 1900, William Jennings Bryan, running against incumbent William McKinley a second time, selected Stevenson for his ticket, which lost by a wide margin. In 1904, Theodore Roosevelt, running for re-election, chose Fairbanks (later to give his name to Alaska’s second-largest city) for the vice-presidency. After serving his term, Fairbanks was chosen again by Charles Evans Hughes in 1916, for a GOP ticket that came quite close to defeating incumbent Woodrow Wilson.

It’s hard to tell how useful these precedents are. For one thing, none of these five men had ever been a Presidential nominee when they ran under a second candidate. A closer fit might be the case of 1980 when Ronald Reagan briefly considered making Gerald Ford his running-mate. The appeal of that ticket was the same as what is being talked about now – that Ford, with his enormous Washington (and especially Capitol Hill) experience, would help a presumably inexperienced Reagan navigate through the “corridors of power.” (At the time, then-President Carter’s near-inability to effectively deal with Congress was much on everyone’s mind.) However, Ford declined to be on the ticket unless a kind of co-presidency could be arranged; there was talk that he would only join the ticket if Reagan agreed to make Dr. Henry Kissinger Secretary of State and Alan Greenspan Secretary of the Treasury after the election. Reagan then dropped the idea and selected George Bush instead.

But, as events would have it, the Reagan administration saw a quiet but substantial increase in the powers of the vice-presidency, and under President Clinton, this continued – and of course there are the substantial duties undertaken by Vice-President Cheney over the last seven years. It’s true that Al Gore had more involvement in foreign policy than a lot of vice-presidents before him – he signed the Kyoto Protocol, after all. But his achievements in the field of international environmentalism were not accompanied by much work in the national-security and defense areas – and as the most recent ABC News-Washington Post poll shows, those two things continue to be big factors in what there is of Obama’s Achilles heel.

(And while it’s still anyone’s guess who Obama will choose, the Post article seems to offer a strong indication of who won’t get the nod; the candidate has chosen Patti Solis Doyle,  Sen. Hillary Clinton’s longtime campaign manager who was forced out of the Clinton camp in acrimonious fashion last February, to be the chief of staff of whoever he selects for the vice-presidency.)