The VP's Of The Last 100 Years – Rebuttal Against The Experience Snobs.

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Even before Sarah Palin became John McCain’s Vice Presidential pick, the issue of experience has been swirling around Barack Obama due to his lack of executive experience and his short stint in the U.S. Senate. Meanwhile, my friend Zach at “Sire Says” compiled a list of recent Vice Presidential nominees and how long it took for them to undergo their first interview. While looking at the list of V.P candidates, I realizes that an awful lot of them had been in the House of Representatives and / or in the Senate before they became candidates for the Vice Presidency. I got curious about the history of the modern Vice Presidents and the experience they brought to the office, and how they compare to candidate Sarah Palin.

Here are the professions and political careers of the V.P.’s of the twentieth century. Note,  I’m only including those that served as V.P. and not the ones who were not elected. Since they lost, they apparently didn’t qualify as V.P.. I have included some Government appointed positions in the description if they seem to add to the governing credentials of the candidate:

Theodore Roosevelt (R) – VP under William McKinley:

Pre-VP Career – Lawyer. Busy Guy – New York Legislature for two years, five years as member of President Harrison’s Civil Service Commission (kinda sounds like a community organizer), Two years as head of New York City Police board, one year as McKinley’s Sec. of Navy (where he gained fame as a the leader of the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War), a year as Governor of New York, before finally becoming VP for McKinley.

Charles Fairbanks (R) – VP for Teddy Roosevelt:

Railroad Lawyer. Served in the U.S. Senate from 1897 – 1905, when he was chose to be the V.P. Interestingly, due to Roosevelt’s progressive, labor reform bent, which upset many within the pro business GOP. Like Palin, Mr. Fairbanks seems to have been chosen to shore up the Republican base.

James Schoolcarft Sherman (R) – VP for William Taft:

Lawyer, but should have been a teacher. Probably has the most unique, coolest middle name of all VP’s. Mayor of Utica N.Y for a year, then served eleven years in the House of Reps. for N.Y.

Thomas Marshall (D) – VP for Woodrow Wilson:

Lawyer. Served as Indiana Governor for four years. Famous of saying  “What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar.”

Calvin “Quiet Cal” Coolidge (R) – VP for Harding:

Lawyer (I’m detecting a trend). Served one year as Mayor of Northampton Mass., three years as Mass. State Senator, three years as Lt Gov.  and two as Gov.. Take away the Mass. Senate tenure, and he comes close to having a record similar to Palin. Note – as President, his laissez-faire, pro-business policies set the stage for the Great Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed.

Charles Dawes (R) – VP for Coolidge:

Guess what he did (hint – begins with an “L”). He goes back a ways. Served four years as Comptroller of the Treasury during the McKinley Presidency. Served as Director of U.S. Budget Bureau in 1921, then served on Dawns Committee (German reparations) for a couple of years before getting picked to be VP. No legislative experience, but lots of time handling large sums of $$$$$.

Charles Curtis (R) – Hoover’s VP:

Lawyer (again). Fourteen years in House of Reps. then twelve as Senator for Kansas. No executive, but tons of legislative experience. His tenure marks the last in an almost non-interrupted string of Republican VP’s.

John Garner (D) – First VP for FDR:

Lawyer. Four years in the Texas legislature, then a bazillion (30) years as a congressman. He served two terms as FDR’s VP, but was opposed to the idea of a third term President and resigned from office, leaving the door open for…

Henry Agard Wallace (D) – FDR’s Second VP:

OMG, a NON LAWYER!!!!  Agricultural writer and innovator. Was a Republican until 1928. No gov. legislative experience coming in to office, but serve as head of the Dept of Ag during the first two FDR terms, so had plenty of executive experience coming into the VP position.

Note – while VP he served as the head of the Board of Economic Warfare during WW2, and may be the model for the Gore / Cheney interpretation of the powerful VP (unconstitutional IMHO).

He was not chosen to be VP in the unprecedented fourth FDR term, and was passed up for…

Harry S. Truman (D) – FDR Guy # 3:

Lawyer… Oh Well, knew it couldn’t last, though he was a judge for most of his law career. Served as Missouri Senator for one term and 1/3rd terms. Well like due to efforts to root out govt. waste during WW2, which let to VP nomination.

Alben Barkley (D) – Truman VP:

Lawyer and judge. Another guy who served as a legislator for a zillion years – Kentucky Congressional Rep from 1913 – 27, then Senator from 1927 – 49.

Richard Milhous Nixon (R) – VP for Ike.

Lawyer, Crook… OK, he said he wasn’t a crook. But he got impeached, so I guess he was wrong. But that’s a different subject. Anyway, now we’re getting to some names we all know, and some of us can remember. Elected to House of Reps. in 1946, then upgraded to the Senate in 1950 to 52. As a member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Nixon became a household name for going after alleged commie traitor Alger Hiss (with a name like that, he MUST be guilty). Would have been President in 1960, if not for some upstart kid by John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Lyndon Baines Johnson (D) – VP for JFK:

Another non-lawyer, and unlike James Schoolcraft Sherman, he actually was a school teacher. His middle name isn’t much, but his wife’s name was Lady Bird, I kid you not!!!  His dad had political connections in his home state of Texas, and LBJ took full advantage. He used those connections to run unopposed as a Texas Representative  in 1936 and served through 1946. In 1948, he was elected to the Senate by only 87 votes.  He was JFK’s VP in 1960, and assumed the Presidency after the assassination in 1963.

Note – My dad grew up in Texas, and considered both JFK and LBJ to be crooks. In that Senate victory, he said more than 200 politically motivated dead people somehow rose from the grave and voted for LBJ, giving him the margin of victory.

Hubert Horatio Humphreys (D) – VP for LBJ:

Two non-lawyers in a row – Pharmacist. Big farm labor and civil rights guy.  Mayor of Minneapolis from 1945 through 1948. Served as Minnesota Senator for fourteen years before being tapped as VP by LBJ.

Spiro Theodore Agnew (R) – Nixon’s forgettable VP:

Lawyer. Served as a political aid during the 50’s. Elected as Baltimore County Executive in 1962, then became Governor of Maryland in 66. He became VP for Nixon in 1968. He has the closest parallel to Sarah Palin’s political path of all the VP’s, which does Palin no favors. Agnew was forced to resign on corruption and bribery charges in 1973.

Have you driven a Ford lately?

Gerald Ford (R) – Nixon’s fill-in VP… and P:

Lawyer. House of Reps. for Nebraska for twenty-four years. Served as VP for less than a year,  then became President after Nixon resigned in August of 1974. Note – I was almost ten. My family was vacationing on South Padre Island on the Texas gulf coast, and I remember watching on TV as Nixon redesigned and stepped on Airforce One for the last time.

Nelson Rockefeller ((R) – Ford’s VP:

Philanthropist Rich Guy – No real career to speak of, though a lot of his pre-VP work could be considered kind of like being a Community Organizer…. for Rich People! He served in various Govt. posts through the 40’s and 50’s. New York Governor from 1958 through 1973. He resigned to become Ford’s VP.

Walter Fritz Mondale (D) – VP for Carter:

Another Lawyer – yawn. Minnesota AG from 1960 -64. Minn. Senator from 67 to 77, then served as a one term VP. Being Carter’s number two probably didn’t help Fritz’s career – he ran against Ronald Reagan in 84 and got creamed. Also didn’t help that he promised to raise taxes.

George H. W. Bush (R) – Reagan VP:

Businessman, Banker, and Oil (which makes him evil in some corners of the world). Texas House of Reps. for four years. Did lots of stuff for Nixon and Ford, U.N ambassador and CIA chief.

Dan Quayle (R) – VP for George H W Bush:

Law school grad, but ended up as associate publisher and GM for a newspaper. Elected as Indiana Rep in 1976, then served as Senator from 1980 -88.

Note – Quayle got a bad rap, ended up being labeled as a dunce due to his misspelling of the word “Potato”(e).

Al Gore (D) – Clinton VP:

Author, business man, environmental activist, crusader against man-bear-pig (OK, I just had to include it). Tennessee Rep from 1976 to 85, then served as Ten. Senator until becoming VP in 1992.

Note – Gore is considered one of the most active VP’s of the modern era, which I think borders on an unconstitutional power grab by the executive branch, but that’s just me.

Dick Cheney (R) – Bush #2’s number 2:

Another non-lawyer. Of course, some would argue he should have studied law, since he breaks so many of them in their opinion. Served under Donald Rumsfeld in the Office of Economic Opportunity during the Nixon Years. Became Chief of Staff for Ford in 1975. Became Wyoming Rep. in 1978 through 95. Became Bush’s VP in 200.

Note – Cheney was the guy who was vetting the other VP’s, and I thought it was weird to have the guy vetting chosen as the VP instead. It just didn’t feel right. Also, Cheney has taken the “Active VP” role to whole new level. Some would say that Cheney was the main force behind the invasion of Iraq, and has been acting more like the President than the President has.

Here is Palin’s record for government service. Since some are questioning Obama’s experience, I list his history here too:


Sarah Palin (R) – VP pick for McCain:

Non-Lawyer. Mayor of Wasilla Alaska for six years. Appointed by Governor to Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for a year, then served as Governor for two years until nominated.

Barack Obama (D) – Presidential Candidate:

Lawyer / Law Instructor. Served in the Illinois State Senate from 1997 -2004, and served in the congressional Senate for the last four years.

Note – He includes it on his resume, so I’ll include it here – Community Organizer for three years.

I created a spreadsheet tallying the years of government experience of those on the list.

Vice President Mayor Gov /Lt Gov State Rep /Senate House of Reps Senate Other Total
Theodore Roosevelt 2 7 9
Charles Fairbanks 8 8
James Schoolcraft Sherman 1 11 12
Thomas Marshall 4 4
Calvin Coolidge 1 5 3 9
Charles Dawes 8 8
Charles Curtis 14 12 26
John Garner 4 30 34
Henry Wallace 8 8
Harry S Truman 8 8
Alben Barkley 15 22 37
Richard Nixon 4 2 6
Lyndon Johnson 10 12 22
Hubert Humphreys 3 14 17
Spiro Agnew 2 4 6
Gerald Ford 24 24
Nelson Rockefeller 5 12 17
Walter Mondale 10 4 14
George H W Bush 4 7 11
Dan Quayle 4 8 12
Al Gore 9 7 16
Dick Cheney 6 7 13
Sarah Palin 6 2 4 12
Barrack Obama 7 4 3 14


Before I continue I want to clarify my inclusion of non elected positions and mayoral stints in this survey. One may argue that either Obama’s Community Organizer position or Palin’s Mayoral stint shouldn’t count, the former is a poorly defined position, and the latter is a small town, and both pail in comparison to the Presidency. If you look at the money managed during this period by the two candidates, Palin’s is much more substantial, with an operating budget of $9 mil. when she stepped down, versus Obama’s $400,000 when he left for law school. But, in my view, the money differential doesn’t discount the work Obama did during this period, and does give him invaluable hands-on experience dealing with the people of his community.

A quick glance through the list of VP’s gives me the opportunity to make a few observations:

By the numbers, both Palin and Obama have a slightly below average years of experience serving in government or something equivalent.

Some earlier VP’s with less quantitative experience, such as Teddy Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman and Nixon did go on to serve as Presidents.

Teddy and  few others had “Community Organizer” type jobs leading up to more traditional government serve.

I contend that Palin was chosen by McCain in order to shore up the support from the base of the Republican party, which had shown luke-warm support for his campaign. Though unusual, it is not unprecedented. Charles Fairbanks was chosen by the first Republican maverick Teddy Roosevelt to serve the same purpose during the election of 1904. In both cases, it seems to have worked.

Henry Wallace, FDR’s first VP, had NO experience as an elected official.

The VP who has a record closely comparible to Palin was Calvin Collidge. He went on to become President.

PS. Though the information in this post was gathered from all over, I found the InfoPlease Website to be an invaluable jumping off point and must give them a HUGE HAT TIP!!!!.

5 Comments to “The VP's Of The Last 100 Years – Rebuttal Against The Experience Snobs.”

  1. By Zach, September 10, 2008 @ 5:28 am

    Very well done and thought provoking. The thought that Palin could be president in January is truly chilling. But, only in America. It is all a big reality show.

  2. By Citizen Deux, September 15, 2008 @ 2:37 pm

    Nice work. Someone should pick this up…Instapundit

  3. By Pat Byrnes, June 9, 2015 @ 5:49 pm

    Eerie… I was 16, and driving on the beach at South Padre, when Gerald Ford took office and gave his
    “Our long national nightmare is over speech”.

  • » The Red Guitar — September 14, 2008 @ 11:29 pm

  • » Why I Will Not Vote For Sarah Palin For President (or VP) — October 15, 2008 @ 11:30 pm

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