Vice presidents are more important than before

Last Friday, Republican candidate John McCain chose Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate in the presidential election. The announcement followed Democrat Barack Obama’s choice of Delaware Senator Joe Biden.

Picking running mates is more crucial than ever before. Beginning with Richard Nixon in the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s, VPs have been given an increasing amount of power. Current Vice President Dick Cheney is no exception — in fact, the limits of his authority have been questioned throughout his term, and many — including us — feel that he has exceeded his authority and influenced unwise policies on energy, the environment, foreign policy, budgets, and taxes. For these reasons, the American public should keep a close eye on the VP candidates this election.

The reasoning behind both candidates’ picks was strikingly similar. Palin is young, inexperienced, extremely politically conservative, and, in case you haven’t been watching CNN, a woman — all things McCain is not, and probably a last-ditch effort to sway those Hillary supporters who were really bent on having a woman in the White House. Biden is older and a seasoned veteran of Washington — clearly a pick meant to assuage voters’ fears of Obama’s inexperience. In their own ways, both presidential candidates chose running mates who shared their essential political views but would appeal to demographics with which the candidates were struggling.

However, the manner in which Palin and Biden were chosen signals a shift in the traditional values that govern a presidential candidate’s choice of a running mate. Often, candidates go for mates based purely on how many more votes the choice will get them — they tend to choose VPs who have a good shot at being able to carry the states with the most electoral votes, or states that they would not have been able to win on their own.

This election is changing the face of politics in multiple ways, and Americans can’t be left behind. This time, becoming educated on the policies of the vice presidential candidates is as important as looking at the presidential candidates themselves. To stick with the favorite analogy: If it’s 3 a.m., and the president is sleeping, who would you want to pick up the phone?