Created By: Gillimer on March 29, 2013 Last Edited By: jamespolk on September 12, 2013
Troped

Vice-President Who?

The Vice-President is chronicly disregarded or humiliated.

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"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.


Examples

Comics
  • 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.

Film
  • 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."

Literature

  • 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 & 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.

Live Action TV

  • 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).

Music
  • Played for laughs in Tom Lehrer's song "Whatever Became of Hubert?" regarding Lyndon Johnson's VP Hubert Humphrey. The first line:
    Whatever became of Hubert? Has anyone heard a thing?

Theatre

Western Animation

  • 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.

Real Life

  • 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.

Community Feedback Replies: 49
  • March 29, 2013
    Larkmarn
    • 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.

    ... and Hannibal Hamlin. I only know this because I am from Maine.
  • March 29, 2013
    jamespolk
    I think this trope, should it be designated a trope, should probably mention how the VP's only official duties are to preside over the Senate (which is ceremonial) and cast tie-breaking votes. We might also note how this is sometimes related to Kicked Upstairs.

    Also, somebody, maybe Gillimer, should organize those examples given in the first post into a proper example list. I would do it but unfortunately I haven't seen any of the examples cited by Gillimer.

    Live-Action TV

    • 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.

    Real Life

    • 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.
    • 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 his home in Georgia.
  • March 29, 2013
    StarSword
    Music:
    • Played for laughs in Tom Lehrer's song "Whatever Became of Hubert?" regarding Lyndon Johnson's VP Hubert Humphrey. The first line:
      Whatever became of Hubert? Has anyone heard a thing?
  • March 29, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    Film
    • 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.
  • March 29, 2013
    Prfnoff
  • April 16, 2013
    randomsurfer
    ^^^Also in the spoken word introduction of the Tom Lehrer song:
    This became quite an issue last winter at the time of Winston Churchill's funeral when President Johnson was too ill to go and somebody suggested that he send Hubert and he said "Hubert who?"
  • April 16, 2013
    Koveras
    For the record, not all presidential democracies even have vice-presidents...
  • April 16, 2013
    AgProv
    Deputy prime ministers too. Tony Blair's deputy PM John Prescott was given the non-job as a sop to the traditonalist wing of the Labour 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 powerbase. 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.
  • April 16, 2013
    MaxWest
    One old joke describes a woman with two sons. One went out to sea and the other became Vice President of the United States - and she never heard from them again.

    One anecdote taken from the Straight Dope - The Willard Hotel was then the residence of vice president Calvin Coolidge. The hotel was evacuated in the middle of the night, but Coolidge got tired of waiting outside and attempted to go back in. A fireman tried to stop him, but then decided to let Coolidge proceed when he identified himself as the Vice President. But before he could actually enter the hotel, the fireman stopped him again and asked, "What are you the Vice President of?" When the fireman found out he was the Vice President of the United States, he sent Coolidge outside again to wait with the rest of the huddled masses. "I thought you were the vice president of the hotel," the fireman explained.
  • April 16, 2013
    Unknown Troper
    This has to be the page quote:
    • "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." -- John Adams, America's first vice-president
  • April 16, 2013
    DunDun
    So this trope is when a politician's title makes them sound important, but their political powers are essentially nothing in almost every situation?

    If the name has "vice president" in it, I'm worried people will think it's anyone with the title "vice president" (which wouldn't be a trope, but still). Forgotten In Command? Meaningless Title? Pointless Political Title?
  • April 16, 2013
    jamespolk
    "So this trope is when a politician's title makes them sound important, but their political powers are essentially nothing in almost every situation?"

    @Dun Dun--No, I think this trope, or at least how it is written, is specifically about the Vice President of the United States, and how the VP has often been treated in political humor as useless and the butt of jokes.
  • April 17, 2013
    jokerisland
    Averted in Homeland. While the President is almost never even mentioned, Vice President William Walden is a crucial character and a powerful political player. (Until his untimely death.)
  • April 17, 2013
    Chabal2
    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.
  • April 17, 2013
    jamespolk
    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.
  • April 18, 2013
    AgProv
    Other countries have their political equivalent of a vice-president too - my example of deputy prime minister in Great Britain is the exact parellel, a non-job that most post-holders accept out of vanity only to realise later how little actual power they get. Margaret Thatcher's v-pm william Whitelaw got to exercise power as acting PM for precisely half an hour - the length of time Thatcher was under general anesthetic for a hospital operation. This trope should have scope to cover the exact political equivalent in other countries, perhaps as a footnote to American examples. It's valid.
  • April 18, 2013
    DunDun
    ^I agree that this trope doesn't need to be specific to American politics.
  • April 18, 2013
    jamespolk
    Well, as it was written, it was specific to American politics and the office of Vice President. If we expand it to other political settings I hope we keep the essential idea: a political office that is nominally second-in-command but has no actual power. This would allow examples such as Deputy PM that are not specifically American but are examples of the essential trope.

    Apropos of nothing, House Of Cards Remake is a terrible name for that work page.
  • April 18, 2013
    jamespolk
    Comics
    • 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.

    Film

    Literature

    • Perley Beecroft in Sinclair Lewis's It Cant 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.

    Live Action TV

    • 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).

    Music
    • Played for laughs in Tom Lehrer's song "Whatever Became of Hubert?" regarding Lyndon Johnson's VP Hubert Humphrey. The first line:
      Whatever became of Hubert? Has anyone heard a thing?

    Theatre

  • April 18, 2013
    jamespolk
    Is there a limit to how much text can go in to one of these entries? Because I tried to collect the examples together, and it is getting cut off. There should be four more words concluding the Alexander Stephens example, "his home in Georgia", followed by Ag Prov's example of Deputy Prime Ministers. If there isn't a limit and it's just my computer being weird, anyone else who can paste that in the post above is welcome to do so.
  • April 19, 2013
    Arivne
    ^ Yes, there is an upper limit to the amount of text in one post. In the past I exceeded it several times and had part of my post cut off.

    The solution I found was breaking up the post into multiple parts.
  • April 19, 2013
    StarSword
    Whatever became of the OP? Has anyone heard a thing?
  • April 21, 2013
    jamespolk
    Due to the text limit, Real Life section taken out of my post above and included separately. We seem to have eleven legit trope examples from fiction in addition to the Real Life section.

    Western Animation

    • 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-antrhopomorphic 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.

    Real Life

    • 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 insignifcant 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.
    • Deputy prime ministers too. Tony Blair's deputy PM John Prescott was given the non-job as a sop to the traditonalist wing of the Labour 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 powerbase. 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.
  • August 28, 2013
    jamespolk
    So, this one is up for grabs? Are there enough examples?
  • August 29, 2013
    Arivne
    The OP Gillimer has not posted since they originally created this on March 29, 2013. Since more than two months have passed since then, this is officially Up For Grabs according to that page.
  • August 29, 2013
    eowynjedi
    • 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.
  • August 29, 2013
    Duncan
  • August 29, 2013
    jamespolk
    Well since it's Up For Grabs I volunteer to take it, although I've never actually had custody of a YKTTW before. I revised the description. Am I allowed to give it a hat?
  • August 29, 2013
    OmarKarindu
    I may be worth noting that in the United States, part of the reason Vice-Presidents were historically diminished in importance within Presidential administrations was that they were originally the runner-up in the Electoral college. This meant that they were sometimes the runner-up in the overall Presidential election, and thus from the opposing political party to the President and his Cabinet.
  • August 29, 2013
    jamespolk
    Actually that only happened once, with Adams and Jefferson in 1796. Washington was elected unanimously and there were no parties in the early years. In 1800 the two newly developed parties ran two-man slates to avoid that scenario and not long after the 12th Amendment was passed so that electors would vote for P and VP separately.
  • August 29, 2013
    randomsurfer
    ^^^I think George Dallas would be a better choice to take it.

    • 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-antrhopomorphic 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.
  • September 1, 2013
    jamespolk
    Well, I feel like this trope is ready to be launched, but the hat I just added is the only one it has.
  • September 2, 2013
    DAN004
    ^ With no examples? Naaah.
  • September 2, 2013
    69BookWorM69
    @ jamespolk Copy the examples into the trope description (with media headings), and you might get more hats. I'm not sure everyone considers suggested examples as accepted until they appear in the trope description.
  • September 2, 2013
    jamespolk
    ^^There are 15 examples listed.

    ^I was not aware of this convention, which in all honesty strikes me as kind of weird, not sure why a trope example collected downthread counts less than a trope example pasted into the top post. But I will collect as many as I can into that post. Not all will fit.
  • September 2, 2013
    jamespolk
    Well I'll be darned, they did all fit. Guess the text limit doesn't apply to the first post. Anyway, all 15 examples and the Real Life section are all up there.
  • September 3, 2013
    jamespolk
    So now we've got examples listed in the first post. The trope description has been revised. What's missing?
  • September 3, 2013
    SharleeD
    Hats, mostly. Give it time.

    • Gets subverted in Real Life when the U.S. Senate has an even 50/50 split between the two parties, making the VP's tie-breaker vote suddenly very important for legislation.
  • September 3, 2013
    robbulldog
    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."
  • September 3, 2013
    arbiter099
    Joe Steele: While Joe Steele is busy being President Evil, John Nance Garner [[labelnote:*]]The same "bucket of warm piss" John Nance Garner[[/labelnote]] sits quietly in the background until Joe Steele dies just after winning a sixth term. In the resulting Evil Power Vacuum, the US is poised to be torn apart by Garner, J. Edgar Hoover, and The Hammer vying for power.
  • September 4, 2013
    jamespolk
    ^ That doesn't sound like this trope, which is about Vice Presidents as figures of derision and mockery, comic relief, Butt Monkeys, etc.
  • September 4, 2013
    arbiter099
    ^yeah, the fact that he does become relevant at the end does sort of disqualify him. I still take it as a joke that he's only mentioned like 3 times in the whole thing, done in such a way as to emphasize the unimportance of his post (especially because of his most famous quote) where he gets none of the limelight until the ending.

    So, yeah you're right. Not an example.
  • September 4, 2013
    jamespolk
    ^ Well, I don't know, a useless VP could always take a level in badass by the end of the story, and he would still count under this trope, I think. I'm not familiar with Joe Steele, you obviously know better than me.
  • September 7, 2013
    jamespolk
    So, do we need to wait for another hat or is this puppy ready to launch? I've never launched a YKTTW before.
  • September 7, 2013
    arbiter099
  • September 9, 2013
    jamespolk
    Bump for hats (and examples)
  • September 9, 2013
    dalek955
    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."
  • September 9, 2013
    jamespolk
    Oh, indexes...I guess this would go under Indexed States Of America and Politics Tropes.

    Speaking of Indexed States of America, does anyone know of any fictional examples of a Deputy Prime Minister that would fit this trope?
  • September 12, 2013
    jamespolk
    Last bump for hats, suggestions, corrections, prior to launch.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=r4pr68skovjlstdfctuflqxi&trope=VicePresidentWho