The number one thing I won't miss about President Obama after his term ends a week from today is his stunning lack of historical awareness. The President decided to show that off one more time yesterday during his presentation of Joe Biden with the Medal of Freedom. In his speech, the President called Biden "The best Vice President America has ever had". When I heard that, I had to do a double take and ask a Joe Biden kind of question, "Are you effin' kidding me?"
Yes, we have had some real clunkers for Veeps in the past: Dan Quayle, Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew and Walter Mondale spring to mind in recent times--but some of the greatest statesmen in our country's history have also held the position: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and John Calhoun. We named schools and cities after these guys. I'm not sure many kids will be attending Joe Biden Elementary School any time soon.
Of course, arguing who is the "best Vice President ever" is a little like Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe spending an hour yelling about who is the best left-handed middle reliever in baseball history. It's an important position--but not one that really has any major impact. Adams himself told his wife, "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." FDR's Vice President John Nance Garner took his feeling of insignificance to another level by saying the position "isn't worth a pitcher of warm piss" (and not the Russian hooker kind either).
Some VP's did exert some semblance of power during their terms. Nixon was dispatched by Dwight Eisenhower to improve relations with the Soviet Union. Lyndon Johnson called in a lot of political favors--and made a lot of threats--to get John Kennedy's civil rights legislation going in Congress and no one would doubt that Dick Cheney represented the real "power behind the throne" in George W Bush's administration.
Given the "adventure" upon which we will embark next week, Mike Pence might become the most important VP of all time--since he is not just one heartbeat away from the Oval Office but one scandalous on-line report, one tax return or even one tweet away from ascending to the most powerful position in the world. Hopefully he won't make us long for the "glorious days of Joe Biden".