We have laughed as Tina Fey has mimicked Sarah Palin’s down home demeanor. We cringed as Katie Couric threw her traditional soft ball questions at the Republican nominee for the vice presidency, cringing more at her inability to answer the questions than at Ms. Couric’s lack of journalistic prowess. We’ve discussed Palin’s clothing; whether or not she needs corrective lenses; and, what exactly the phrase “lipstick on a pig” denotes. We found it comical when Matt Damon asked what Palin really does believe about dinosaurs. Unfortunately for the Palin family, we have speculated as to what family planning means in their household with their eldest daughter, still a teen, expecting a child. We sat awestruck as Governor Palin walked out on the debate stage and asked the senior senator from Delaware if she could call him Joe.
And then, in the answer to one highly important question, it ceased being funny.
When asked what she believes to be the role of the Vice President of the United States and whether she agrees with current Vice President Cheney’s interpretation of his office, everything we have said about Sarah Palin in the past months suddenly dissipated. It no longer mattered if her husband was a member of a group that wished to secede from the Union. It no longer mattered if she understood what the Bush Doctrine is. Her answer to one question would erase all that might come later. All of it would no longer matter: The $150,000 the RNC poured into her wardrobe; her cameo on that bastion of liberalism, Saturday Night Live; and, her reference to the friends of Senator Obama as known terrorists.
Her nationally televised interpretation of the United States Constitution as it pertains to the role of the Vice President of the United States was precisely when the candidacy of Sarah Palin stopped being funny.
The exact transcript of this exchange during the 2008 Vice Presidential Debate:
IFILL: Everybody gets extra credit tonight. We're going to move on to the next question. Governor, you said in July that someone would have to explain to you exactly what it is the vice president does every day. You, senator, said, you would not be vice president under any circumstances. Now maybe this was just what was going on at the time. But tell us now, looking forward, what it is you think the vice presidency is worth now.
PALIN: In my comment there, it was a lame attempt at a joke and yours was a lame attempt at a joke, too, I guess, because nobody got it. Of course we know what a vice president does.
BIDEN: They didn't get yours or mine? Which one didn't they get?
PALIN: No, no. Of course, we know what a vice president does. And that's not only to preside over the Senate and will take that position very seriously also. I'm thankful that the Constitution would allow a bit more authority given to the vice president if that vice president so chose to exert it in working with the Senate and making sure that we are supportive of the president's policies and making sure too that our president understands what our strengths are. John McCain and I have had good conversations about where I would lead with his agenda, and that is energy independence in America and reform of government over all, and then working with families of children with special needs. That's near and dear to my heart also. And in those arenas, John McCain has already tapped me and said, that's where I want you, I want you to lead. And I said, I can't wait to get and there go to work with you.
[Biden’s response omitted for the sake of length, also his response to this first question was irrelevant to what follows.]
IFILL: Governor, you mentioned a moment ago that the Constitution might give the vice president more power than it has in the past. Do you believe as Vice President Cheney does, that the Executive Branch does not hold complete sway over the office of the vice presidency, that it is also a member of the Legislative Branch?
PALIN: Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the Office of the Vice President. And we will do what is best for the American people in tapping into that position and ushering in an agenda that is supportive and cooperative with the president's agenda in that position. Yeah, so I do agree with him that we have a lot of flexibility in there, and we'll do what we have to do to administer very appropriately the plans that are needed for this nation.
And it is my executive experience that is partly to be attributed to my pick as V.P. with McCain, not only as a governor, but earlier on as a mayor, as an oil and gas regulator, as a business owner. It is those years of experience on an executive level that will be put to good use in the White House also.
[Emphasis is mine.]
IFILL: Vice President Cheney's interpretation of the vice presidency?
BIDEN: Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history. The idea he doesn't realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that's the Executive Branch. He works in the Executive Branch. He should understand that. Everyone should understand that.
And the primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and as vice president, to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote. The Constitution is explicit.
The only authority the vice president has from the legislative standpoint is the vote, only when there is a tie vote. He has no authority relative to the Congress. The idea he's part of the Legislative Branch is a bizarre notion invented by Cheney to aggrandize the power of a unitary executive and look where it has gotten us. It has been very dangerous.
Yes, Senator Biden, the Constitution is explicit. In fact, Article I of the Constitution states: “The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.” The existence of the title of “Vice President” in Article I does not suggest that the Vice President is a legislative being in the same manner that congressmen are, just as the title of “President” appearing within Article I does not suggest the President exists as an operative within both the legislative and executive branches of government. To state otherwise suggests both ignorance toward our oldest governing document and a level of contempt for the rules that have successfully upheld our nation in its young, but challenged existence.
Interestingly enough, the greatest power granted to the Vice President is not one envisioned by or carefully crafted in the first articles of the Constitution by the founding fathers, it is a power reassured and reasserted by an amendment added to the Constitution in 1967. Of equal interest is the fact that the first test of the Twenty-fifth Amendment came with the appointment of a man for the vice presidency who would not only go on to become President of the United States, but would also bring in as his Chief of Staff one Richard Bruce Cheney.
Whatever the consequences of Mr. Cheney’s many attempts for aggrandizement, it cannot be said that Cheney acted blindly with no knowledge of how the Vice President of the United States should behave on a moral, ethical, or constitutional level. His first White House job offered him a front row seat to the operations of a man who not only understood the finer details of the Constitution, but was in many ways a product of those very details. Just as his first oval office boss understood the distinction between the executive branch and the legislative branch, including that distinction as it applies to the vice president, Dick Cheney understood the distinctions.
Cheney’s actions that have harmed the constitutional foundation of this nation were not achieved with innocent abandon. He acknowledged the precedent and knowingly took the step to deceive. Whether Palin innocently suggested what she did with very little knowledge of what is actually outlined by the Constitution or not, she is just as dangerous and potentially detrimental to the Constitution of the United States as Vice President Cheney has been.