Last year, fans of House of Cards were agog when Francis Underwood arranged for his wife Claire Underwood to become his running mate. This year–spoiler alert–not only did they manage to steal the election, but in a particularly malodorous bit of shark-jumping, Francis resigned and Claire replaced him. Well, whatever. It should be noted, however, that last February, in between seasons 4 and 5, life resoundingly imitated art, when the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, appointed his wife Mehriban Aliyeva to serve as his vice president. She now stands next in line for the presidency.
Not to claim credit for everything, but attentive readers will remember that this particular plot device was part of my 1992 novel Mr. Stupid Goes to Washington. Lucinda Bibby, the wife of the kidnapped vice president, is speaking to her lover, President Roger Ross. At one point, Ross considers whom to name as Bibby’s successor, should such a need arise.
“Well, she said, “I suppose you could appoint me.”. . .
“I suppose,” he said suspiciously. . .
“And then, darling,”she said, “you and I could get married.”
“We could?” he said in excitement and amazement.
“Of course we could,” said said, wrapping her arms around him. “And then you and I could run for reelection together.”
This was getting better and better, he thought. “Okay,” he said, “we’ll do that.”
“And then, about a year before your term expires, you could resign, and I would become president.”.. . .
“I don’t know if I’d want to give up the presidency, Lucinda. I mean, it would be nice that you could move up, but what would I do?”
“Silly,” she said. “Do you think I would forget about you? I’d appoint you to be my vice president. And then we’d run for reelection, and we’d win. And then just before my term was up, I’d resign, and you’d step up and become president again; and then you’d appoint me vice president again; and so on, and so on, and so on.
There was a long pause as Ross mulled the plan over. “I suppose we could go on for years.”
The other day on Slate, Yale law professor Akhil Reed Amar proposed this novel idea: Not only could Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton share the Democratic ticket, but they could have a kind of alternating co-presidency, where one would serve as president, then resign in favor of the other, who would appoint the just resigned president as vice president. At some suitable point, they would repeat the process, although with reversed roles.
“Here’s how it would work,” writes Amar. “In August at the Democratic National Convention, the party would nominate one candidate for president and the other for vice president in the time-honored way. In their acceptance speeches, the nominees would announce that they intend to alternate. For example, they could tell the voters that the person heading the Democratic ticket would, if elected, take office in January 2009 but would serve as president for only the first three years of the four-year term. In January 2012, the teammates would use the 25th Amendment to switch places, and the person elected vice president would assume the presidency for the final year of the term.” Amar points out that nothing would prevent the ticket from running for reelection in 2012–and possibly beyond. “Here’s the icing on the constitutional cake: Nothing in the 25th Amendment or elsewhere in the founding document would prevent this team from presenting themselves to the electorate in similar fashion in 2016. . . . but the other teammate would in fact remain fully eligible to run in 2020. With the result that, if voters so chose, the teammates could, between themselves, share power for a total of four full terms.”
Professor Amar can hardly be blamed for not remembering a minor satirical novel from 1992, but what he suggests was in fact one of the plot points of my novel Mr. Stupid Goes to Washington. I’m sure you all vividly remember the point in the story I’m talking about: Vice President Brent Bibby has been kidnapped; and President Ross and the vice president’s wife, Lucinda Bibby, who have been having an affair, contemplate what would happen if Brent dies.
“Well, she finally said, “I suppose you could appoint me.”
“Appoint you?” Ross said. “I could do that?”
“Sure,” she said. “Why couldn’t you do it? Wives of dead elected officals are forever getting picked to fill out their husbands’ terms. It’s the American way.”
“I suppose,” he said suspiciously, thinking it was all too good to be true.
“And then, darling, you and I could get married.”
“We could?” he said in excitement and amazement.
“Of course we could,” she said, putting her arm around his neck. “And then we could run for reelection together.”
This is getting better and better, he thought. “Okay, we’ll do that.”
“And then about a year before your term expires, you could resign, and I could become president.”
Suddenly the happy Ross faded, leaving room for the suspicious Ross to return. “Oh, I don’t know that I’d want to give up the presidency, Lucinda. What would I do?”
“Silly,” She said. “Do you think I’d forget about you? I’d appoint you to be my vice president. And then we’ll run for reelection and we’d win; and then just before my term was up, I’d resign, and you’d step up and become president again; and then you could appoint me vice president again, and so on, and so on, and so on.
Ross mulled the plan over. “I suppose we could go on for years,” he said at last.
“Yes! Like a king and queen.”
“All we need is for Brent to be dead.