Tuesday, January 29, 2008

An Alternate History

When the President does not complete his four-year term, because of death, resignation, impeachment, etc., his successor completes his four-year term and then another election is held. But this may not be the result dictated by the Constitution. Article 2 reads:

The Executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice-President chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:

. . . .

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President.
The last part is ambiguous, and was controversial the first time a President died in office. As wiki explains:

When William Henry Harrison died in office, a debate arose as to whether or not the Vice President actually becomes President, or if he would just inherit the powers, thus becoming an Acting President. Harrison's Vice President, John Tyler, believed that he had the right to become President. However, many Senators argued that he only had the right to assume the powers of the presidency long enough to call for a new election. Because the wording of the clause is so vague, it was impossible for either side to prove their point. Tyler ended up taking the Oath of Office and became President, setting a precedent that would be followed until the ratification of the Twenty-fifth Amendment.

. . . .

The Twenty-fifth Amendment explicitly states that when the Presidency is vacant, then the Vice President becomes President. This provision applied at the time Gerald Ford succeeded to the Presidency.

Technically, both Tyler and his opponents could be correct. Tyler could have been "Acting President" for the remainder of Harrison's term. Hence, Tyler was not entitled to hold the office past the end of Harrison's term.

Further, here's what the 25th Amendment says:

In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.
So if Ford clearly became "President" and not "Acting President," wasn't he then entitled to "hold his Office during the Term of four Years," as provided in the un-amended portion of Article 2? That is, he should he have had four years in office, and not just three and change?

The answer may be that Article 2 uses the phrase "the Term of four Years" instead of "a Term of four Years". The use of the definite article indicates that a Presidential term is four years long, no matter what happens to the sitting President, and thus an election is held every four years no matter what.

But I think the other interpretation might make for a good alternative history story:

In the midst of the 2000 Florida re-count controversy and while Bush v. Gore is pending at the Supreme Court, Bill Clinton resigns, making Al Gore President. Gore then argues before the Supreme Court that Bush's case is moot, as Gore is entitled to serve for four years from the date Clinton resigned.

Gore wins in the Supreme Court, because Scalia grudgingly accepts his constructionist arguments, siding with the result-driven liberals. (Oddly, Thomas doesn't go along, but Gore still wins, rather than losing, 5-4.)

Then, the Republican-controlled House immediately passes articles of impeachment. But Gore cuts a deal with Senate. He realizes that the Senate has to ratify his appointment to the now-vacant VP slot. So, in return for a not-guilty verdict, he appoints Bush, not Lieberman, as Veep. The Senate goes along, as does Bush, and for the first time since the early days of the Republic, the Pres and the Veep are from different parties.

Meanwhile, right and good people across the nation are outraged. There are protests and counter-protests, some of which turn violent, in many battleground states. VP Bush calls for calm from his supporters, which helps. There is still then a push to amend the constitution to clarify that there should be an election every four years no matter what happens to the elected President. The proposal doesn't gain much traction, however, because most people concede that Gore won the popular vote, anyway, and a "bi-partisan" executive makes people think a fair outcome was achieved. (Not to mention the novelty of it.) Then, the events of 9/11 further distract the nation from electoral politics.

Gore still decides to invade Iraq (why wouldn't he?), but it's far less controversial, because it's o.k. when Democrats wage war. Coming into the '04 elections (which is now to occur in October, because Gore's term started in December '00, not Jan. '01), Gore and Bush run as a unified ticket, and win handily versus a field of "new party" candidates and challengers from both established parties.

Approaching the '08 elections, Gore returns the favor. He announces in late '07 that there will be no need for elections, as he intends to resign on the last day of his second four-year term and make Bush President.

In response, there is a revised push by a new party, lead primarily by Sen. Obama and Gov. Huckabee (and maybe Sen. McCain) to pass a constitutional amendment to require elections every four years. This takes too long, though, and when December '08 comes, Gore resigns and Bush becomes president.

Bush is then in a position to appoint his VP and apparant successor, subject to Senate confirmation. Suddenly, the VP confirmation fight becomes the most important political drama in the country. Facing a Democratic Congress, Bush appoints (guess who) Sen. Hillary Clinton from New York.

So later this year, we have Pres. Bush starting his first term with HRC as his Veep. The majority of the American people are more-or-less content with the transfer of power. They view the new Obama-Huck party as bunch of demagogic upstarts rocking the boat for a principled, but amorphous and impractical reason. The Obama-Hucksters make arguments about how hypocritical it is to demand elections overseas (in Iraq, etc.), while having our President be appointed. Rationally apathetic voters counter that there are still elections here--it's just that the Senate elections are now what really matter, because that's who gets to appoint the next President. Besides, with the existence of the electoral college, the President was never directly elected anyway. Why not let the Senate serve in that role? At least it's more transparent that way.

The Bush-Clinton team continues to prosecute the war in Iraq and elsewhere. Perhaps they even go to war in Iran. Further, they propose and succeed in passing a constitutional amendment that more or less enshrines the new paradigm of the Veep becoming the President at the end of a eight-year term, absent a defeat in a midterm (i.e. fourth year) "ratification" election, in which the incumbents get to run unopposed. The American people hardly notice the erosion of the democratic principles.


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