Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Happy Birthday William Wheeler!

Hey Vice-Precedence Blog Readers! First of all, big thanks to Paul Zaloom for his praise for "Vice-Precedence" we truly appreciate this incredible compliment from such a talented and accomplished man. Also, Thank You to all of you who have become Fans of "Vice-Precedence" on Facebook, we really appreciate it. If you haven't yet-what are you waiting for? Join the Race for Second Place! As we like to say.

Today, June 30th is the birthday of Vice-President William A. Wheeler, Vice-President under Rutherford B. Hayes from 1877-1881. Born June 30th, 1819 in Malone, NY.

Wheeler has been called "the most boring Republican Vice-President, of all the boring Republican Vice-Presidents in history." by "Bland Ambition" author and "Vice-Precedence" contributor Steve Tally. However, not to disagree with Steve-because Wheeler was not exactly a live-wire its true, I don't know how exciting or vibrant I would be if I were a widower who was given the Vice-Presidential nomination as a joke.

While Wheeler was undoubtedly boring, personally I prefer to think of Wheeler as one of the most honest and incorruptible men to ever serve in the Executive Branch. At this time in our nations history, political scandal ran wild with the spoils system, in the Reconstruction of the South after the Civil War, and most notoriously in the Credit Mobilier scandal which ruined many politicians on both sides of the aisle. New York Republicans were ruled by the all-powerful Senator Roscoe Conkling and his "Stalwarts"-if you wanted to be a Republican politician in New York-you had to work with Conkling and do what he said. Period. Yet Wheeler was never tarnished by any hint of scandal and refused to simply go along with Conkling. His stubborn independence and scrupulous honesty was legendary among his fellow Congressmen.

The only thing Wheeler may be known for...oh he's not known for this either-but it interesting at least, is for the story told about him in a book by a little known Massachusetts senator about acts of courage in politics that went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and make Senator John F. Kennedy a national political figure-"Profiles in Courage". In the foreword by historian Allan Nevins, Nevins gives the most famous example of Wheelers commitment to honesty and political courage in this exchange between Wheeler and Senator Conkling:

Senator Conkling-Wheeler, if you act with us, there is nothing in the gift of the state of New York to which you may not reasonably aspire.

Congressman Wheeler-Mr. Conkling, there is nothing in the gift of the state of New York which will compensate me for the forfeiture of my self-respect.

Pretty impressive if you ask me.

So join us as we say Happy Birthday Vice-President Wheeler!

Matt Saxe

Monday, June 29, 2009


I got one of the greatest compliments of my life a couple days ago. And so did Vice-Precedence… get one of the greatest compliments of… my life…

The trailer for "Vice-Precedence" knocked my socks off. The film deftly mixes the genuine history of the VPs, much of it astounding and weird as hell, with witty commentary, the best combination for a film on a serious and absurd and seriously absurd subject. I laughed out loud a bunch of times; that doesn't happen often enough in documentaries. I cannot wait to see the finished project."
The quote is from an icon of my childhood, a man who mixed humor and science in the most creative way since Mr. Wizard and who has inspired some of my best-received material. Paul Zaloom, a well-established political satirist, played the title character on the comedic children’s science program “Beakman’s World” in the nineties, and was kind enough, recently, to check out the existing materials for Vice-Precedence. Needless to say, I was floored.

After all, this is the guy who made science funny, after Mr. Wizard made it fun. This is a guy who The New York Times called "One of the most original and talented political satirists working in the theater." Part of Paul's kind quote about our film begs a particular question – why don’t documentaries make you laugh often enough? Surely, Michael Moore is a genius at making pointed, dark statements in such a way that you can’t help but laugh, even given his typical dark subject matter. But does a documentary, in general, need to be “dramatic?” Most historicals are, but there’s an understandable level of success as a result of the serious tone most docs take on. Ken Burns wouldn’t have a career if it weren’t for the existence of somberness. Yet, at the same time, he’s also been known to brilliantly work some irony out of history that makes you wince and laugh at the same time. (Irony, despite what some might have you think, is a tool exclusive to comedy. You’re being funny, if you’re being truly ironic, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.)

The question is why can’t you laugh fairly consistently through a documentary and have it punctuated by moments of somberness? Surely, you could make a documentary with a comedic bent about any subject, provided it was called for, provided those somber moments hit at the appropriate time. And that’s been our goal all along. We want to create the first “Slapstick Documentary,” without forgetting the basic skeleton of the entire project – facts. Not just facts, mind you, but some of the most hilarious, staggering historical facts you’re likely to hear bunched up in one place. This is why I think documentarians generally can’t but be somber. Rarely are the facts on any one subject, sweeping or pointed, as strange as they are about the Vice Presidency, most likely because these facts are new to the majority of Americans. We all know that more Americans were killed during the Civil War than in all other American Wars combined, but few of us are aware that the Vice Presidency has been vacant for 16 percent of its existence as an office.

It’s about time that documentaries were made to really fit their subjects. Instead of denying a bias, filmmakers should examine those biases as they make the film. In making our “sizzle reel” for Vice-Precedence on William Rufus De Vane King, we played with the fact that the first thing to stand out about the man was his likely homosexuality. We took the opportunity, then, to make the whole sequence SEEM as though it were one big gay joke. But if you pay attention to intentional over-acting and effeminate portrayal, you’ll notice that we’ve actually just assailed you with brand-new facts. Hopefully you’ll be laughing, but, equally as hopefully, not because King was probably gay. Ideally, you'll be laughing around it. You can see for yourself below.

The sooner you embrace your bias and examine it, the sooner you will probably see your subject matter for what it is - as flawed as you are. People are people, even when they have larger-than-life or superhuman titles. The American Presidents have been America's Supermen, standing for truth, justice and the American Way for over 200 years. And its time for the story of the Vice Presidents because they've been the bumbling, silly, human face of potential power that no one ever sees. They've pretty much been Clark Kent the entire time. And not just because you never see the two of them in the same place at the same time.

Friday, June 26, 2009

You've got to read these

Joe Biden wrote me a letter today:

SUBJ: You've got to read these

Jason --

A few weeks ago, President Obama asked you to share your personal story about how the health care crisis has affected you and the ones you love. Hundreds of thousands of stories poured in from every corner of the country. The President and I have read through many of them ourselves -- and now I'm encouraging you to do so as well.

Read these powerful, personal stories from people in your area and around the country:


And after you do, please forward this note on to as many people as you can.

For folks who don't yet understand why health care reform is such an urgent priority, these stories make the case far better than any statistics ever could.

For those who support health care reform but haven't yet found the time to join our campaign, these stories provide more motivation than any speech any politician could ever give.

So please read these stories, pass this note on to everyone in your address book, and help us show everyone in America why fixing our broken health care system is a necessity that just can't wait:


Thank you,

Vice President Joe Biden

Here's what I wrote back:

SUBJ: You are required to read this

Joe --

A few years back, Matt Saxe and I asked ourselves why it was that the Vice-Presidency is so misunderstood by the very people who sort of vote for him. Thirty-three men who never became president have somehow slipped through the fickle fingers of history and into near oblivion simply because they were the ones who were stuck waiting. Matt and I have read all of their stories ourselves -- and now I'm encouraging you to join the team.

Read the stories of these interesting men, constantly on the brink of power in our nation's capital:


And after you do, please forward this note on to as many people as you can. And we know you know a lot of people. You're the damned VP.

For folks who don't yet get why understanding the Vice Presidency is necessary to understanding the very processes and people that govern them, this blog should make the case that a VP deserves just as strong a vote as his president.

For those who already support learning more about the VP but haven't yet followed a particular Vice President-based blog, our blog provides more motivation than things like "books" or "newspapers."

So please read this blog, pass this memo on to everyone in your MASSIVE, country-wide address book, and help us show the American people why understanding the most misunderstood office in the country's history is a necessity of understanding Democracy itself. And please, if you want the people to understand the truth, give us a call and grant us an interview. We'll be waiting:


Thank you,

Vice President Historians Jason Klamm & Matt Saxe

No word back yet, but fingers are crossed. In case you think he didn't get it, feel free to help the effort along by sending the letter to info@barackobama.com

- Jason C. Klamm

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dick Cheney VS. The CIA

First of all big thanks to Mr. Darren G. Davis of Bluewater Productions for his interview with Jason Klamm on the upcoming Joe Biden comic-make sure to pick it up at your local comic book store-if they aren't carrying Bluewater's books, ask them to. If you haven't read Jasons fascinating interview with him here on the blog-be sure to do so.

Recently former VP Cheney has been very critical of the Obama administrations handling of issues in the "War on Terror". Mr. Cheney has not been afraid to give these criticisms at every opportunity he gets. This led to a response from new CIA Director Leon Panetta that has drawn sharp criticism from both the right and left. Some have called Director Panetta a "partisan hack", and his comments "loathsome". Meanwhile, Cheney is also (as usual) receiving his fair share of barbs.

Read more about it here. Let us know what you think.


Thanks for reading!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Marvel at This D.C. Superhero

You can’t possibly imagine how excited Matt and I were the other day to discover that Bluewater Productions, the company behind the smash hit Sara Palin and Michelle Obama comic books, has decided to produce a comic about none other than Joe Biden as part of their “Political Power” series. After Colin Powell in July and a Barack Obama comic some time after, Joe Biden’s comic comes off the presses in September of this year. We’ll both be first in line.

I sat down with the Darren G. Davis, President of Bluewater Productions – that is, I assume he was sitting down as well, since I was interviewing him over the phone from LA while he was in his office in Washington State – and talked with him about making politics palatable to the youth, and making the Vice Presidency just generally palatable.

Jason Klamm: How long has the company been around?
Darren Davis: We’ve been self-publishing for three years now. I’ve been producing comics for ten. I worked for DC comics and I published for Image.

JK: When was the decision made to go political?
DD: We decided just right before the election, right after Hillary Clinton didn’t get nominated. People were really starting to slam Hillary, Sara Palin, Barack Obama and Joe Biden. They were making their decisions just based on headlines. We thought – we have a voice in comics. We have twenty-two pages, why not tell a story? I’ve learned a lot about politics from doing this.

JK: What were the first ideas thrown around for political comics?
DD: Those were the ones we wanted to start out with. From there, that’s when we decided to expand the line. The books turned out to be about female empowerment. Then we decided to spin off to everyone in politics, starting in July with Colin Powell.

JK: How well has the Palin comic done?
DD: We’re on our third printing, we’ve sold 20,000 copies. Michelle sold over 55,000, it’s now the top-selling independent comic.

JK: What is it about Palin’s comic that is selling so well? Kitsch factor?
DD: I think it’s a bunch of different things. One, they became, in a sense, about female empowerment. We didn’t know the demo at first. A lot of women who want to learn about these women, might not like them, but respect where they come from and what they do. We’re also getting people collecting political memorabilia. People who just want to know. Like kids.

Bios can technically be really boring. We didn’t want them to be stale. Added extra little characters in it. The writer is the narrator. In the Clinton book, the writer hates her. After doing the research on her, the writer begins to respect her. That’s the point of the series – the journey of knowledge. She is dressed up as the devil, but we also have the narrator talking to this Jiminy Cricket character.

JK: When did you decide on making a Biden comic?
DD: We were trying to think along the lines of who to do, and you there’s been a Barack Obama comic book, but no one’s ever done Joe Biden. We should honor that. As I said, people may not like them, but you have to respect them.

JK: How much do you know about the Vice Presidency?
DD: I’m gonna’ learn a lot from my Bo Obama (the First Family's dog) book – he talks about the VP, too. Once again, I’m the demo – I don’t know a whole lot, I got frustrated. I got passionate about this election, as many people did for the first time. So with the VP – I am a part of American society that doesn’t know. The VP does have a role, he’s just on another plane.

JK: What is it about Biden that makes him a good character in a comic?
DD: I think his personality kind of lends to it. As Sara Palin has a strong personality, Joe Biden – some of the things he does and says goes along those lines. Palin’s a bit more out there than Joe Biden, shooting wolves and having a turkey killed in the background… Joe Biden has said some pretty harsh things, like in the election when he was saying if Obama was elected there would be a crisis in six to eight months.

We really want kids to pick these things up. We want kids to think “I could be the Vice President,” or Secretary of State, etc.

JK: Do you know much about other VPs?
DD: No. Basically I know what there is in headlines, the Dan Quayleisms… I think Al Gore has become more vocal after being Vice President. One reason people are so tough on him is because of what he’s done in the world.

JK: Let me give you three VPs. You tell me which would make the best comic book. First, Charles Curtis. His sister said the Depression was over simply because she didn’t see the effects of it. He called the Marines on protesting ex-soldiers. Or William King, who was likely our only gay Vice President. He lived with James Buchanan for 16 years. He was sworn in in Cuba, and died just days after arriving in the US. John Breckinridge was VP before the Civil War, then when the war broke out, he joined the Confederacy. When the war was over, he was a traitor, so he had to run, hijacked a boat, got out onto the ocean and was hijacked by actual pirates.
DD: I’d say that one, because in this day and age I don’t think people think being gay is relevant – it has to be something that teaches us about them. But then look at who we’re probably doing. I don’t see myself doing a Dan Quayle comic. Maybe Cheney.

JK: Are there any plans to do historical figures?
DD: We are thinking about that. It really depends how “Political Power” takes off. We’re starting with Abe Lincoln in February.

Needless to say, September couldn’t be further away. It’s likely to be worth the wait, however. I haven’t read any of the comics yet (Matt has, and speaks highly of them), but I have hope when I hear that a comic book company is going out of its way to use its medium to educate. Not only that, they’re geared towards keeping it interesting, without patronizing its audience, regardless of age – they’re a company after our own hearts.

We’d like to sincerely thank Darren G. Davis of Bluewater Productions for giving us the interview and the opportunity to meet a like mind in a business equally as tough as ours. In case you're as excited as we are, though, don't line up for the Biden comic right after the Obama book comes out. Biden's doesn't come out until after Bo's.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Birthday Daniel Tompkins!

Today, June 21st, is not only Fathers Day, its also the birthday of our 6th Vice-President, under James Monroe, Daniel Tompkins of New York, Vice-President from 1817 to 1825!

He was the last Vice-President to be elected to 2 terms with the same President until Thomas R. Marshall would be elected with Woodrow Wilson in 1912 and 1916.

Born this day in 1774 in Fox Meadow, NY. Tompkins Square in New York is named after him in honor of his services to his country. Happy Fathers Day and thanks for reading!

Matt Saxe

Friday, June 19, 2009

Dick Cheney-Advocate for Gay Rights?

By now everyone knows that Dick Cheney has a lesbian daughter. Now he's come out even stronger than he has previously for gay marriage rights.

"I think that freedom means freedom for everyone,"
Dick Cheney-National Press Club-Gerald R. Ford Foundation Journalism Awards


Many people just don't know how to take this. Many gay marriage activists find it hard to accept Cheney as a supporter, since the majority of them disagree with him so strongly on many other hot-button issues. On the other side, conservative Republicans who agree with Cheney on the majority of issues can't believe that he supports an idea that goes so strongly against their "traditional" values, even IF his daughter is a lesbian. What do you think of Cheney's stance on this controversial issue? Let us at Vice-Precedence know.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Joe-phie’s Choice

I’ll be honest. I haven’t had much time, what with all of the production and planning and working long hours, to read most of the articles on Joe Biden I’ve amassed since January 20. But, in an effort to grasp his Vice Presidency firmly, I’ve decided to, one-by-one, go back through the updates that pour into my already cluttered inbox daily, to find the most interesting (or, in this case, excessively reported) parts of the Biden Vice Presidency.

As early as inauguration day, Jill Biden, Joe’s wife, made what was often cynically put in quotes as a “slip,” when she revealed to some member of the media that Obama gave Biden the choice of either Secretary of State or Vice President. This got me thinking, first towards what this means about Obama’s view of the Vice Presidency. He offered up the Number Two job in the country as one of two OPTIONS, not a yes or no. It still seems to reek of disrespect for the office, but on speaking about it with Matt, something became a bit clearer.

Matt’s first instinct was to open his mental encyclopedia and bring up a conversation Teddy Roosevelt had with William Howard Taft, as is Matt’s way. As he explained, Roosevelt sat Taft down as a man for whom he had great respect, and gave him two choices for the coming race – Supreme Court Justice or the next President of the United States. Roosevelt’s unparalleled popularity gave him the option to essentially pick his successor (even if he would attempt to dethrone Taft after what Teddy deemed an unworthy presidency), and Taft was his man. Perhaps it was the mustache. Taft, a man of law, preferred highly a position on the most important bench in the country. His wife was another matter. Despite her superhuman ability to make love to William Howard Taft, Nellie Taft aspired to even higher things, and probably a healthy pension. When she insisted upon the Presidency, as history often goes, Taft relented, and in short course was our next president.

An interesting story, no doubt, and Matt’s point is interesting – the idea that perhaps being given such a choice is the ultimate compliment, in case your choice of successor or back-up has different plans. In the case of Biden, perhaps it was a compliment for having fought the good fight, offering him one of the most important jobs in the executive branch, as well as the Vice Presidency. This makes my previous blog, about Obama’s choice as Biden for VP, all the more interesting. Biden’s experience aside, Obama must have had a great deal of confidence in Biden’s ability to represent the Administration. Equally, and oddly enough, he has to have felt the same about Hillary Clinton, though not enough to offer her the Vice Presidency, which she was quoted quite often as saying she would gladly take, if offered. He really wanted to keep Biden on board, for one reason or another. One only hopes it wasn’t a test, after which Obama might’ve thought to himself “I can’t believe he took the dummy prize,” and then woefully handed the keys to the State Department over to Hillary Clinton, running off to his campaign HQ to pout.

Truth be told, the test, in this case, won’t be in the choosing. For Obama, Biden’s test is in representing not just the administration, but Obama himself. The Veep is a fair surrogate at any number of functions – diplomatic function, sports events, ice cream socials. For the country – though most of it might not be aware of this fact – the real test is in Biden steeling himself, teaching himself the ins and outs of the presidency, all while playing figurehead and breaking that rare Senate tie. The studies of a man who wants to be not just president, not just next in line, not just the back-up, have to be grueling, constant and, in many cases, at the likely fickle will of an already (and hopefully) too-busy Commander-in-Chief. There is no primer for Biden. He can’t just walk over to the library of congress and pick up a copy of “So you want to be the Vice President.”

But if that book did exist – and it was written by a former VP, someone whom Biden could look up to, the book would very likely open up to a page with three words on it: No you don’t. Reading further would be a contract, of sorts. No matter what horrifying truths found within this book, Biden would be bound by oath to continue. Nothing, however, in this hallowed tome could prepare Biden for the type of damage control that his Vice Presidency not only would require, but also represented.

When Joe Biden was brought on, his friendly face an invitation to like Vice Presidency again, he very likely knew that he was there to take the secretiveness out of the Vice Presidency. Obama’s pledge for transparency couldn’t possibly be kept without taking care of the second-in-command. Biden and his team made their first move toward this a mere days into the Obama/Biden administration by allowing satellite photos to be taken of the Vice President’s residence at the Naval Observatory and uploaded to Google Maps, something Dick Cheney had disallowed during the entire eight years of his term that overlapped the existence of Google Maps, during which the Veep’s house was an incomprehensible blur - the perfect metaphor, really.

Say what you will about former VP Cheney, but at least he was loud about being secretive. He said he had a reason for being so. It's like saying "Look, I know I'm a murderer, but, believe me, you'll thank me when these people turn out to have been douchebags." That same transparent lying led to a need for transparent operation. And who better to represent transparency in the new administration than the man who is used to being seen through?

Biden has inherited a huge trust deficit, but also a rare chance to re-vamp the office. If he has any secret government information, he's sure to blurt it out at some state function, then blow it off as just good 'ol Biden being Biden. Whether he made his choice to take such a weak office because he thought it an honor or because he actually has some plans for the office is unknown. What is apparent though, is that this time - as usual - is the chance the office has to become useful. Biden just has to make it accountable. If you kill a hooker, Joe... Just let us know, Joe, huh?

Author's Sidenote:
I feel it important to note that, when spell-checking this blog before publishing it, and being not too surprised that Blogger knew the name "Obama," there was one glaring omission from Blogger's dictionary that I thought I should share with you:

This is what you have ahead for you Joe. Even the internet doesn't acknowledge you exist. And the internet believes in talking cats.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cheney in the Center Ring.

Hey Vice-Precedence blog readers. Here's a great story NPR-National Public Radio, did on former VP Cheney, interviewing several prominent authors who have written books about arguably the most powerful Vice-President in United States history. They even interviewed "Vice-Precedence" interview subject, author of "Bland Ambition", Veep expert, and friend to the production; Professor Steven Tally of Purdue University! Congratulations Steve!

To me this story embodies everything about Vice-President Cheney that people around the country feel. The man is truly a lightning rod for controversy. Instead of skulking in the shadows he is out there trying to convince the American public that he and the people he worked with in the last administration were right, and that the U.S. is in deep trouble. Whether you agree with him or not-Cheney seems to be unafraid to voice his opinions. The question many are asking is-Should he? Check it out.
Cheney Chooses Spotlight Over Keeping Quiet : NPR

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Joe Biden Problem

Some of my earliest research into the Vice Presidency was an attempt to get a glimpse of the office from the eyes of the VP himself. Since it's been popular and profitable to do so, just about every VP since Henry Wallace has written or had written a memoir or official biography, to say nothing of the pre-campaign biographies meant to boost the exposure of said Vice President to aid the party’s standing in the national elections (see "From Kaw Teepee to Capital: The Story of Charles Curtis, Kaw, Who Has Risen to High Estate."). I urge anyone who picks up one of these books to finish it. It’s not an easy task, I can assure you, as they can be so self-serving as to miss the point of a biography – to put us, the reader, in the shoes of the person in a position with which we are unfamiliar – but it's well worth the effort, usually, at least in terms of laughs per page.

Believe it or not, Dan Quayle’s book, “Standing Firm,” self-serving though it may be, gives the reader an unexpectedly detailed (Quayle in the War Room during an emergency? Yep.) slice of the life of a man who has been painted – lets face it – as an ass. His smartest move in the book is to acknowledge that image, and his least smart move is to try too hard to convince us it isn’t true, especially when he tries to defend his side of the "You're no Jack Kennedy" debacle. A straighter narrative of his time in office would have better served his image, but for when it was written and its actual purpose, it serves us fairly well as a glimpse into the office when it was slowly gaining momentum and slight usefulness.

In his book, Dan Quayle says that he was once told that he had “The Joe Biden problem,” to which he explains that then-Senator Biden was often chided for spending his after-work hours taking the train home and staying there with his family. To his credit, Quayle was very similar, despite each man’s propensity for opposing types of outbursts. It was an exceptional tidbit to have in front of me, especially considering that I first picked the book up not long after Obama and Biden were made the clear winners in the 2008 election. The “Joe Biden problem,” though Quayle seems to have considered it a clear obstacle, worked strongly in favor of Joe Biden. It may not have gotten him elected, but in an election clearly leaning towards a need for a “man of the people,” having Joe Biden’s clear-cut history as an aging family man didn’t hurt.

How is it that being a family man could ever hurt Dan Quayle? During a time when Newt Gingrich’s new party line, of "family values" and the like was becoming the one to tow, as conservative – and was he ever – as Dan Quayle was, he came off - according to his own accounts, at least - as a kind of “Washington Outsider.” On the other, hand, Quayle pointed out that he, himself, was almost more of a party-line Republican than George H.W. Bush – a pattern one tends to find in the post-1804 days of ticket-balancing. Finding a VP candidate who fits your worldview, but who yells it to the mountaintops for you, is a long-standing tradition, at least in successful campaigns. It’s a great way for a presidential candidate to appear to be moderate while never actually having to act as such.

Biden has, in recent months, with only five months to his tenure, already been painted as close to another Dan Quayle as any Vice President since. Every mistake, slip, or misstep he makes is quickly a "gaffe," especially if being covered by the likes of Fox News. The media, whether nitpicking and trigger-happy with the editing machine, or simply telling the truth, have fairly uniformly, over the years, created convenient caricatures out of our Vice Presidents, at least as often, if not more so, than our presidents. The reason for this is fairly self-explanatory – despite the tendency on the part of comedians or commentators to mock power – it is much easier, and fun, to pick on the guy seemingly closest to the power, but who, himself, was chosen for the exact purpose of being the public’s, the media’s and the government’s whipping-boy. It’s also a way to pick on the current administration without hitting too close to home, just in case.

The characters have been obvious and fast-developing. Whether first nailed down by the likes of Conan O’Brien or of Brian Williams, we have had clear, distinct characters since Dan Quayle (Bush’s “wimp” image notwithstanding, he still had the secretiveness of a CIA “background” under his belt). Quayle himself was the Dunce, Al Gore followed as the Robot, and Dick Cheney was any number of pop culture figures, ranging anywhere from Darth Vader to Satan himself. Such caricaturing, though, is one of the many sacrifices that comes with a job with no real constitutional power. Thus far, though, Biden's "Loud Mouth," has, luckily, given the Obama administration little to fuss over.

Your accomplishments can only boost you once in the presidency. Once in the Vice President’s seat, however, all is quickly forfeited as you, alone, are singularly no more than your title. The Vice President starts at a deficit, for sure, as the “runner-up” stigma, once a fact of the presidential game, remains, perhaps erroneously, as a reminder that one of these things is not like the other. One of these things, usually, lost the primary – his reward of this position becomes equally a punishment.

For a moment, though, for the victorious voters on the side of the (usually apparent) majority, even the Vice President is a celebrity. No Vice President in recent history has likely ridden such a wave as Joe Biden. From Senator with presidential designs and a political affliction named after him to second-highest in the land, Joe Biden rose through the ranks pretty well on his own, but were it not for his most charismatic competitor-cum-counterpart, there is little likelihood he would have inspired the fanaticism on his own that his association with Barack Obama has afforded him.

This says nothing, of course, of the man’s qualifications to be president (the true measure of a VP candidate – at least, how he ought to be gauged). Though he did poorly in the primary elections (who but Obama and Hillary didn't?), not even the top of the zero-superdelegate-vote-getters, Biden had clear advantages over the other candidates. For one, he wasn’t Hillary Clinton, gunning for the office. Nor was he pretty-boy and former VP-failure (who refused the office before it was an option this time) John Edwards. He was the safest choice because he wasn’t a boat-rocker like cult-icon Dennis Kucinich, or exceptionally old for a VP.

Obama and his team obviously saw this and, likely, couldn’t help but see Biden’s clear resemblance, both physically and in demeanor, to the Centrist John McCain many had grown to love before the unexpected rightward pander that piqued at his choice of Sarah Palin as second-in-command, and decided to bring in a man that represented not only experience, but seemingly less financial means than Barack Obama.

Like most choices for VP, there is an obvious superficial side to choosing Joe Biden. At the same time, Joe Biden, as VP, seemed to be yet another of Obama’s early decisions that rode on reason. One of the longest-serving Senators when he was chosen, Biden’s pure experience didn’t just balance Obama’s apparent lack thereof, but it spoke of a decision that took into account that the Vice President should be President-in-Training, rather than just a mouthpiece. Whatever their true reasons for choosing Biden, one thing became clear when the announcement was made – men with the Joe Biden problem consistently become Vice President. I would suggest you start taking the Amtrak now to get a head start, if the VP chair is for you.

Just to make it clear, I hope it isn’t. For your sake.

Also, as for Biden, the verdict is still out, and will be until he leaves office. No free rides, Mr. Vice President.

- Jason C. Klamm, B.A.

Support our Film, or An Insignificant Truth

First of all, you may be wondering about the double title I use here. Well, I'm in a double title mood because I just saw "Caroline, or Change" at the Guthrie Theatre here in Minneapolis as part of their Tony Kushner Festival, and he gives everything a double, or triple or hella long title-like his new play "The Intelligent Homosexuals Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures". Whew. So just be grateful this title isn't as long.

Now to the real subject. In his first post for this blog, my amazing production partner and co-author, (and now co-blogger) Jason Klamm asks the question-"Why?"

Why would any one want to make a movie or write a book or put up a blog about the Vice-Presidency of the United States? Who cares about this, the most neglected of U.S. government offices-a position about which our first VP, our second President, Founding Father and star of HBO mini-series John Adams said:

"The Vice President is the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived."

Well, the main answer to me for this question is: "Because NO ONE has done it yet!"

Its the absolute truth, in the history of documentary film-making, there has yet to be one single film ever devoted to the office of the Vice-President of the United States and the men who have held this office-which, technically, is the second highest elected office in the most powerful, influential, and (some would say) greatest nation on the face of the earth.

Doesn't that blow your mind a little bit? That no one else has done this? Think about all the other documentaries that are out there-ranging from everything to Broadway shows, to genocide, Christian summer camps, to animals, the planet, and climate change (made by a former VP you know), to weird artists, both famous and infamous individuals, 9/11, high school football teams, the car industry, financial scandals, guns, Gay Orthodox Jews, health care, religion, and more. Tons of different documentary films have been made-but not this one. Not by anyone, not yet. Not on TV series like "American Experience" on PBS which has tackled the history of the Supreme Court, or individual filmmakers like Ken Burns who has made documentary films about the Civil War, baseball, jazz, WW 2, the national parks (coming up) and individuals-but not the second highest office in our country. Its never be done-or even attempted as far as we know.

Until now.

FACT: "Vice-Precedence: Being Number Two in the White House" is a completely new and original idea for a documentary film.

Oh, and just a fair warning here folks, but if you try and steal this idea from us, from Me, I personally will make sure to sue your ass back to the dawn of time-whether you believe in Creation in Genesis in the Garden of Eden, or the Big Bang, trust me, I will make sure to send you there with your guts for garters if you try and steal this from me and my friends and partners. I will make you burn. Just putting that out there. Now we can be friends again. 'Kay?

There aren't many new ideas out there-that's why Hollywood and Broadway steal everything from previous sources-but this movie is one! And not to brag, but I, Matt Saxe came up with it! Me. Just a regular guy from St. Louis, MO. with a simple Bachelors Degree in Theatre, (not History) from a public university-(Roll Tide!) who for almost six years made a living wearing a huge werewolf puppet suit to scare tourists in a show at Universal Studios and being a fundraiser over the phone while hustling for acting jobs in La-La Land.

That's one of the reasons "Why" I am so behind this subject and getting this film done. Another reason "Why" I want to do this is something Jason addresses, and that its part of the history of this country. No matter what your perspective of this country is-there is no denying in that the way we have picked our leaders-and WHO, we have picked shows us for what kind of a country we were and are becoming. The fact is that this nations voters (and yes for a long time that meant only white men-a lot of whom owned slaves) have chosen some strange and bizarre people to be a heart-beat away from leading our country. Also, don't get all high and mighty about the fact that we no longer own slaves, we members of the last couple generations are just as guilty of choosing some weird folks for our second highest office as our slave-owning predecessors. Look at some of our recent VP's and VP candidates (I won't name names because its a matter of political perspective) but be honest with yourself-when you were voting for the President, did you ever worry even once about the guy on the ticket with him and what would happen if a tragedy happened and he or she (in 1984 and in 2008) became President? Did you really?

Who our Vice-Presidents were is just as representative of our country as who our Presidents were. Call it an "insignificant truth" if you will, but its a truth none the less, and as John Adams also said: "Facts are stubborn things."

So those answers go into "Why" I'm doing it, and why YOU should be interested in helping us. We need your support, both moral and financial. I will tell you right now-everyone who I have told about this film, has told me they think its one of the most original ideas they have ever heard of and those that watch the trailer and taster on VP William Rufus DeVane King have all told me that its wonderfully funny and fascinating. That includes people who know nothing about history and don't even care about it. Honest. Its been amazing to me.
So please, go to YouTube and watch the trailer there-rate it, post a comment, send it to friends with your endorsement, get the word out on this, your support and encouragement means everything to us. I am always grateful when someone tells me that they have watched the trailer and enjoyed it. Your grass-roots support can make a difference. Any kind of help you can provide we will be grateful for.

In working on this film and the book I have had many incredible meetings and conversations, but none more amazing than with Gore Vidal. Whatever you think of his politics, there is no denying that Gore Vidal is now, the most accomplished writer living in America. Perhaps the world. His body of work, and the quality of his work is simply stunning. Whether in novels, non-fiction, essays, plays or screenwriting, Vidal towers above the American literary landscape. Meeting him and interviewing him for two hours in his home in L.A. was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. When he said "You're better than Ken Burns." when we were finished with our interview, it simply left me speechless. Jason and I had worked hard to make sure we would make our interview with him as smooth and professional as possible. He and I prepared our amazing crew (big thanks to Ben Eshgapoor and Zander Lee) and prepared ourselves thoroughly. I got to conduct the interview and write and ask the questions. I prepared as much as I could-reading and researching, figuring out how one question could lead naturally into another-making sure I knew what I was talking about-Jason went over my questions with me and made brilliant suggestions that aided me immensely. It wasn't an easy time for me-I was experiencing problems in my marriage that would soon lead to my divorce, I was working at the theme park part-time but was for the most part out of work and looking, I was feeling frustrated in all aspects of my life-but hearing Mr. Vidal say what he said when we were finished was one of the highest honors I could have imagined and for that day-I felt on top of the world.

Actually, I guess the most wonderful experience of this project wasn't my meeting with Vidal, but working with Jason and everything we have learned. Together, he and I have become closer friends, and (lets face it Jason) Veep Nerds. Whenever we discovered a new anecdote, a new story or quote, or when we discovered John Denvers' "The Ballad of Spiro Agnew" and sang it to Jasons' roommates, we would practically be-as Phish put it-bouncing 'round the room. Every new discovery led us to being more and more excited and firmer in our belief that this film is meant to happen. I believed in it in late 2004 when I came up with the idea for it, and now, 4 and half years later, I still do.
So please, read this blog, post comments, send us your ideas, pass the info about us on to your family and friends. You won't regret it. Help us make film making history and historical film making that's not only informative but entertaining. As Jason put it so well in his post-we are not ashamed about the comic aspect of this film-its what sells it, and to be honest-the office of the VP is so littered with the ridiculous and the absurd that to not make the film comedic in tone would just be plain stupid.

In this blog as Jason said-I will be concentrating on former VP Richard Cheney of Wyoming (aka Darth Cheney according to Jon Stewart) who has become a major voice for the Republican party at this time. Instead of retreating to a ranch in Wyoming or some corporate figurehead role, and fading into the past, Cheney has become a bullhorn for conservative beliefs and values in the wake of his party's defeats. While at the same time-expressing his personal beliefs as well-regardless of what others may think. While most Democrats wish he would disappear (and probably many Republicans too) Dick Cheney bravely puts himself out there and opening himself to more ridicule and vitriol-defending the decisions he and those in the President George W. Bush White House made-about what to do after 9/11, the Iraq War, torture, social issues, and more. He's not a stupid man, he can read a newspaper-he know he isn't popular, but still, he states what he believes in a "Damn the torpedoes-full steam ahead" manner. Including invoking the wrath of his own party by voicing his support for gay marriage! Whether you hate him or not-Cheney refuses to back down. Call it courage or stubbornness or what you will-I know I am looking forward to his book. It is my hope that you will follow Jason as he writes about our current VP Joseph Biden from the First State-Delaware, and myself as I write about Cheney and other Veeps on this blog. Please support "Vice-Precedence:Being Number Two in the White House" in all its forms, blog, book, and with your help-finished documentary film. Thank you for your support and best to you.

Matt Saxe.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Join the Race for Second Place

To the inquisitive masses dying to learn more about the Vice Presidency:


Why, in the name of all that is moderately interesting would you pick the Vice Presidency, of all the available offices in the United States government to find an interest in? Matt, my co-author, and I, have wondered that about ourselves from the very beginning.

Vice-Precedence began in 2005 as a documentary on the second-highest office in the land. Still in production, we’ve interviewed a number of high profile historians, including Steve Tally, author of the brilliant “Bland Ambition,” and Gore Vidal, who called us “Better interviewers than Ken Burns” in our two-hour-long interview at his home in the Hollywood Hills.

In 2007, the decision was made to turn Vice-Precedence into the world’s foremost compendium on the nation’s also-rans and sort-of-served…s. Profiling the 33 men who never ascended to the presidency by accident or seniority, and covering those periods of history when the remaining men were tested with true power, we believe we’ve easily found a new turn on a fascinating and poorly covered segment of American history. Since then, we’ve been compiling notes and media from a variety of sources, using the internet in many cases as a great starting point for our history, but checking and re-checking our facts using existing books (of which there are decidedly few), newspapers and original resources (what some would call “real” or “actual” research).

Despite our passion for an office which, according to Steve Tally, has been empty for a total 35-plus years throughout its 220 years, it has been a rough - if easily very satisfying - road. It’s also been rather astounding. In our search for other Vice President experts, we have made inquiries to a number of major American universities, most notably UCLA. When told that any political office (regardless of the way in which it is covered – our notable diversion from the flock being our chronological study of the events and people surrounding a topic) is more the realm of the political scientist, Matt and I were slightly confused, given the historical bent of our studies. Nonetheless, a similar survey of political scientists failed to yield a substantial response to our inquiries.

Were we really alone? Hardly. There have been a handful of books written on the office. Few of them have been more than a simple compilation of facts, and the remainder of them have ranged from observationally witty, to mildly sarcastic, to downright bitter. Our bent has always been comedic, for which we make no apologies. Humor has been scientifically proven to aide the average person’s information intake, and the office – nay, history – requires this sort of angle every once in awhile.

This isn’t to say that we’re writing fiction. We’ve had to, on too many occasions, explain that humor doesn’t necessarily equate with false, just as drama doesn’t (and shouldn’t) equate with truth, as much as we’d all like to believe The Godfather to be a Master's thesis on Italian-Americans in the 1940s. Humor, in this case, is like a lubricant for knowledge. It is our goal, then, to penetrate your grey matter with fascinating tidbits about the office.

That said, we should also let you know that both Matt and I respect the office, its history, and history in general in many ways. We just aren’t reverent to it. This, we believe, is the mistake that most historians, good or bad, regardless of their particular bias, make, which disallows the general public or their niche audience any perspective on the events that are being relayed to them. What we don’t respect, in this case, is the way history is written. History needn’t be stuffy or pretentious, or feel “important” or make your heart swell. Sure, it’s great when you read that stuff, but what is so often left out, especially in American history, is that this country – even if you believe it was founded by “brave patriots” or “white slave-owners” – was founded by people. Men and women. Yes, many of them owned slaves, and yes, many of them – occasionally, never consistently – exuded bravery, even patriotism. But to believe the image of history that gets painted with too much reverence is a mistake. It might seem less exciting – even boring – to eliminate that bias towards exaggerating the importance of historical events or people, but we plan to make those very events and people exciting and interesting again, with our own bias – against the good majority of historians and what they want you to think is important.

History is, unfortunately, what other people tell you it is. The closest you can get to an event for which you can’t, yourself, get an eye-witness interview, is a newspaper or a photograph. And the closest you can get to many of those most important volumes is, nowadays, electronically. What shouldn’t be lost, despite the redundant Xeroxing of historical events (even as they unfold), is the importance of understanding what one is reading and the source from which one’s information comes. A good example of how this can go wrong happened to my sister a few years ago. A very brilliant young woman, she was easily one of the brightest in her class in high school. As a brief introduction to university life, her class was given a tour of SUNY Oneonta, where a sweet young student showed them around the library. At one point she stopped at a glass case, perhaps proud of the historical collection they had at SUCO, as the college was truncated. The young tour guide then turned to the group and pointed out a newspaper from the birth of our country. My sister looked closer at the paper, noticing a picture of a woman, who looked like she was marching in a parade. Pointing out that this was not a period newspaper, she was kindly corrected by the tour guide. My sister, not wanting to be picky and point out that photos weren’t invented until 60 years into our country’s history, took the easy route, saying “That’s my mother.” My mother had, indeed, marched in a bicentennial parade just four years before I was born, and had had her photo taken for a local paper. I don’t recall how the girl recovered from this, but I do know something – thank God my sister was observant, or who knows how quickly or surreptitiously that tiny bit of misinformation and misperception would have been spread.

So, just as it takes a reliable source to make a good book, it equally takes a discerning reader who takes the author to task – not on opinions (of which there should be a well-chosen few) – but on cold, hard facts and how the author dissects and investigates. Though my sister's story is small in scale, it is a good example of the way in which a seed of disinformation is formed. In an age of instantly available information, equal parts trustworthy and specious, such a seed can germinate into an Elm of Lies quicker than ever before. We invite you to take us to task as you sit back, relax, and prepare to be blown away by facts that will make your brain hurt and, hopefully, make you realize just how much of your vote and tax money is going towards an office with only one constitutionally-defined duty.

This blog will cover both the progress of the film and book and our daily ruminations on its office-holders. For the time being, the loose format of the blog will have Matt concentrating on the Vice Presidency of Dick Cheney, while I will be referring to a growing list (already 3,000 strong) of articles on Joe Biden. Our lack of historical perspective on either of these men notwithstanding, you’ll be able to get a play-by-play of an office that is still taken for granted too often.

Good night, and good historying.

Jason C. Klamm, B.A.

About the Author:
Jason C. Klamm holds a B.A. from Chicago’s prestigious Columbia COLLEGE, not to be confused with the upstart Columbia University, who relies on a name, rather than results, for its reputation. He spends his spare time writing about the Vice Presidency and producing documentaries.