"A poor woman had two sons. One went away to sea. The other became Vice-President of the United States. And neither poor boy was ever heard of again." -- commonly attributed to Vice President Thomas Marshall
A repeating trope in Government Procedurals
dealing with American politics is the pointlessness of the office of Vice-President. For much of American history Vice Presidents were chosen "to balance the ticket" or some other trivial reason, with little thought to their actual qualifications, because the Vice Presidency has no duties other than to preside over the Senate (a ceremonial task) and cast tie-breaking Senate votes. Consequently Vice Presidents are commonly portrayed as useless, ineffectual, or stupid, or a combination of the above, and they become the butt of jokes. Can lead to Reassignment Backfire
when the VP succeeds to the Presidency upon the President's death.
This trope is not necessarily limited to the Vice Presidency, but can apply to other countries that have offices that are nominally second-in-command but are in fact unimportant, such as the post of Deputy Prime Minister in parliamentary systems.
See also Kicked Upstairs
, a broader trope for when characters are "promoted" into higher-ranking but powerless offices. Contrast Puppet King
, when the nominal leader
(as opposed to the #2) is actually powerless, or Evil Chancellor
, when the #2 is manipulating or plotting to unseat his boss.
- Zig-Zagged in The Boys: Vic the Veep is incompetent, borderline mentally retarded and doesn't even hide that he's a Vought Corporation puppet through and through, but that doesn't make him harmless. For example, as the President is about to give the order to shoot down the 9/11 airliners before they hit, Vic knocks him out with a fire extinguisher (everyone else had been staring at the screens), as Vought Corporation wanted their supers to save the day as a PR move.
- The Vice President attends the historic launch of the first manned mission to Mars, Capricorn One. Doctor Kelloway notes this, and regards it as a sleight by the White House, a symbolic vote of no confidence in Kelloway's leadership at NASA.
- In the movie My Fellow Americans, Matthews is really dumb (a No Celebrities Were Harmed mock version of Dan Quayle). This turns out to be partly Obfuscating Stupidity, as he is essentially the Big Bad.
- AirForceOne: National Security Advisor Jack Doherty discusses this trope while being held hostage, "The Vice President in this case is like the Queen of England. You can't even buy airline tickets without talking to someone like me."
Live Action TV
- Perley Beecroft in Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here, a novel about a fascist takeover of the United States.
- Harley Hudson in Advise And Consent is ineffectual and not terribly bright, and generally ignored by the administration.
- In the Timeline-191 series of Alternate History novels, Donald Partridge, the second vice president of evil Confederate Nazi President Jake Featherston, is chosen for that office specifically because he is an ineffectual cipher. Featherston's first Vice President had tried to assassinate him. Partridge doesn't do much more than hang out with society ladies and tell jokes.
- In the 1964 novel A Feast of Freedom, Vice President Boysie Taylor visits the island of Omo Levi on a goodwill tour, and is eaten by cannibals.
- In Jeff Greenfield's satirical novel The People's Choice, the President-elect dies just two days after winning the November election. His dopey vice presidential running mate Ted Block, chosen for the ticket for his pretty face and described as "a step or two slow out of the cognitive gate," seems poised to become President. But after Block picks one of his even dopier buddies to be his Vice President, the Electoral College members realize they are not obligated to vote for him and in fact can vote for whoever they want (the Electors are the ones chosen in November, and they officially elect the President in December). Chaos ensues.
- In Community Joe Biden makes an appearance (sort of) while on a Vice Presidential Tour that was going to stop at Greendale. This trope is referenced when he wakes up from a nap and says he had a dream about being a REAL President.
- The HBO series Veep is about an ineffectual, bumbling Vice President, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who is ignored by the President and mocked by the media.
- In the American version of House of Cards, Vice President Jim Matthews is a spineless stooge, easily manipulated by protagonist Francis Underwood.
"I didn't get my pen!"
- Both of President Bartlet's veeps in The West Wing. Bartlet and Hoynes personally dislike each other and Bartlet barely involves Hoynes in anything important, which Hoynes resents. Bob Russell is widely known as a bland political hack and was the only VP nominee that could get through a hostile Congress, but he tries to make himself more notable for his inevitable presidential campaign.
- In John Adams, Vice President Adams is chagrined when George Washington excludes him from Cabinet meetings (see Real Life below).
- In the first episode of Capitol Critters the mice and rats who live in the White House are surprised when two cats are brought in to try to catch them. (They're suprised because "they got dogs, they can't get cats, cats and dogs hate each other.") The one with the collar tag "P" is heroicly built (for a non-anthopomorphic cat) and aggressive; the one with the collar tag "VP" is a pathetic loser who couldn't catch a cold and within seconds of his first appearance trips on his own tie.
- Mostly true for the first 190 years or so of American history. The precedent was set right off the bat, when George Washington excluded John Adams from Cabinet meetings, much to Adams's displeasure. John Nance Garner, the first of FDR's three vice presidents, famously described the office as "not worth a bucket of warm piss" (the quote was Bowdlerized to "warm spit"). Starting with Walter Mondale, this has been less true, as Vice Presidents have been more influential, with Dick Cheney being the most notable example of a VP who wielded real power.
- The office was insignificant enough that until the passage of the Twenty Fifth Amendment, there was no provision to replace a VP who left office prematurely or who moved up if the President left office prematurely. The position was simply left vacant until the next election.
- Also true of the only Confederate Vice President, Alexander Stephens, whose relationship with President Jefferson Davis turned so bad that Stephens left Richmond in 1862 and spent most of the rest of the war at home in Georgia.
- When Daniel Webster was offered the office of vice president, he famously replied "I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead and in my coffin."
- Deputy prime ministers too. Tony Blair's deputy PM John Prescott was given the non-job as a sop to the traditionalist wing of the Labor Party and as a token working-class hero. In practice, he was a powerless figure of fun used to deflect criticism away from the real power base. Current PM David Cameron's deputy Nick Clegg is used very much in the Prescott tradition and only got the job to keep the Liberal Party in coalition.