Vice Presidents Getting Promoted

10tylerA friend texted me yesterday. She’s visiting Washington, and wrote “How many Vice Presidents have become President? A friend was wondering in the National Portrait Gallery, and I figured you’d know off-hand.” Well, I did know, but it turns out the answer has changed fairly recently, so I figured it’s time to share with a wider audience.

The most common method for Vice Presidents to reach the Presidency is through succession. Four succeeded upon the deaths of the Presidents they’d been elected with:

  1. John Tyler, when William Henry Harrison died a month into his term, in April 1841.
  2. Millard Fillmore, upon Zachary Taylor’s death in 1850.
  3. Andrew Johnson, when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865.
  4. Chester Arthur, when James Garfield finally succumbed to his assassin’s bullet (and his doctors’ ministrations) in September 1881.

26rooseveltAdditionally, four other Vice Presidents succeeded to the Presidency, and then were later elected to their own terms as President:

  1. Theodore Roosevelt, who became the youngest President in history (aged 42) when William McKinley was assassinated in September 1901. TR then won the election of 1904.
  2. Calvin Coolidge, when Warren Harding died in 1923 (and Coolidge’s father administered the oath of office). Coolidge won his own term in 1924.
  3. Harry Truman, when Franklin Roosevelt died three months into his fourth term, in April 1945. Truman won the election of 1948, and was the last President eligible to run for a third term (though he chose not to).
  4. Lyndon Johnson, when John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Johnson was elected in 1964, and eligible to run in 1968 (he’d served less than half of Kennedy’s term), but opted not to.

Gerald Ford is the odd man out: the only Vice President to succeed to the Presidency when his predecessor—Richard Nixon—resigned in August 1974. Ford lost the election of 1976 to Jimmy Carter.

02adamsFinally, there are the Vice Presidents who were simply later elected President:

  1. John Adams, the first Vice President, who won the election of 1796 to become the second President.
  2. Thomas Jefferson, Adams’ Vice President, who then ran against Adams in 1800 and defeated him.
  3. Martin Van Buren, who was Andrew Jackson’s second Vice President, and then elected President himself in 1836.
  4. George H.W. Bush, the first sitting Vice President to be elected President in a century and a half, when he won the election of 1988 to succeed Ronald Reagan.

37nixonAnd, until recently, the only oddball on this list was Richard Nixon, who was Dwight Eisenhower’s Vice President from 1953 to 1961, lost the election of 1960 to John Kennedy, and then won the Presidential election of 1968.

Nixon had been the only former Vice President to be elected President, until just recently, when Joe Biden—Barack Obama’s Vice President from 2009 to 2017—won the election of 2020.

47biden
Joe Biden

So, that’s 15 Vice Presidents who also served as President. 15 of 49. The Vice Presidency is not nearly the Presidential stepping stone one might think. Actually, the most popular job for future Presidents is (no surprise) lawyer: 23 of the 45 Presidents have been lawyers. 21 were members of state legislatures, 19 were governors, 18 served in the House of Representatives, and 17 served in the Senate.

It’s neat when technology works

Sometimes, technology really is remarkable. Right now, I’m sitting on the porch in South Carolina, with my computer open, and I got a text message from a friend in New Jersey, with a question about Mensa admissions testing. I thought I knew the answer, but opened another window to text the Mensa Testing Officer, who I know is on a train between New York City and Maine. She responded almost instantly, and I replied with the information (my assumption had been correct). It’s cool when all the pieces work as they ought.

Monroe, Tyler, and Ravencon

You may have noticed I’ve been kind of quiet for the last week or so. I’m on the road, currently in South Carolina, and having a wonderful time. A full report and photos will probably appear here sometime after I return home. But for the nonce, on Thursday I’ll be driving up to Richmond, Virginia, for Ravencon. I’ll probably arrive in the early evening, if anyone is around and looking for a dinner companion.

Early Friday morning, I’ll leave the hotel for Hollywood Cemetery, to visit the graves of Presidents Monroe and Tyler, and possibly several of the other famous folk there. The cemetery opens at 8am, and my plan is to be there at or shortly after that time. If you’re interested in joining me, let me know before I leave the hotel (or meet me at the cemetery: 412 South Cherry Street in Richmond). I expect to be back at the hotel by 11am, so I can unload the car and get set up in the dealers’ room. After that, it’ll be a standard weekend science fiction convention for me: tethered to the table while the dealers’ room is open, and on several panels, if you’re looking for me.

I’m scheduled for:

Friday, 6pm, Brunswick: “The Business of Independent Publishing,” with John G. Hartness and Gareth B. Johnson

Saturday, 11am, Brunswick: “Business Planning for Writers,” with James P. Nettles and Bud Sparhawk

Saturday, 7pm, Dinwiddie: “Space Opera: Does It Still Have a Place in Present-Day Literature?,” with Michael D’Ambrosio and Kathryn Sullivan

Sunday, 11am, Henry: “How to Work with an Editor/The Writer-Editor Relationship,” with R.S. Belcher, Samantha Heuwagen, and Chris A. Jackson

I hope to see many of you there!

Journalism endures

I’m sure it’s a completely different vibe now, but still, this article brings back some nice memories of my time working at the Freep way back when. (And it’s nice to see two of my co-workers mentioned as some of the paper’s alumni who earned Pulitzer Prizes.)
When I was there, we were that third largest daily, and we were in print every week day, and our office was above ground (but still windowless). And now look at me….
Well, anyway, the point is that — regardless of how you consume it — professional journalism still matters.

Fantastic Books Cover Reveal: Three Time Travelers Walk Into…

Fantastic Books is thrilled to reveal the cover of our forthcoming anthology, Three Time Travelers Walk Into… edited by Michael A. Ventrella. Cover art/design is by Lynne Hansen.

The book is the result of our latest successful Kickstarter campaign, in which we asked the authors to take three people from history, put them together, and tell us of the adventure that ensues. The authors came through brilliantly.

The back cover text, in case you can’t make it out in the image:

* How many people could you kill to guarantee your happiness?
* Would you follow a stranger into a broom closet at a Grateful Dead concert?
* How many times could you watch your own suicide?
* What would cause you to give away a wish-granting genie?

Those are just a few of the questions eighteen incredible authors answered in response to the call to take three historical figures, throw them together in some situation, and tell us the story that ensues. You’ll be fascinated by those stories featuring Julia Child, Jesus Christ, Michael Jackson, and Vlad the Impaler (well… not all in one story), plus dozens of others.

These marvelous tales of time-traveling adventure flow from the imaginations of Eric Avedissian, Adam-Troy Castro, Peter David, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Gregory Frost, David Gerrold, Henry Herz, Jonathan Maberry, Gail Z. Martin, Heather McKinney, James A. Moore, Jody Lynn Nye, L. Penelope, Louise Piper, Hildy Silverman, S.W. Sondheimer, Allen Steele, and Lawrence Watt-Evans.

Adobe Photoshop PDF

Going to Virginia, hoping to not sleep in my car

Looking at my upcoming trip to Virginia, and yeah, I know, I waited way too long to do this.
I’ll be attending Ravencon in Glen Allen, Virginia, the weekend of the 29th. I’ve got the dealer table, I’m on programming, I’m all set… except that I don’t have a place to sleep. The convention hotel has been sold out for several weeks (I keep checking) and the overflow hotel, likewise, has been sold out for at least a month. So now I’m doing the serious find-a-place-to-stay stuff. Priceline is offering me a 2.5-star hotel somewhere in the Glen Allen area for $79 a night, though of course I’d be much happier in the convention hotel, if anyone is looking for a roommate. On the other hand, if anyone else is in the same situation as me, I’m willing to split that room once I reserve it.
Also, I’m planning to get into town Thursday, the 28th, kind of late, so that early Friday morning, before setting up at the convention, I can go to the Hollywood Cemetery to visit Presidents Monroe and Tyler (and possibly Jefferson Davis), if anyone wants to join me.

Why has physical violence become more acceptable than name-calling?

Last night at the Academy Awards, Chris Rock made a joke involving Jada Pinkett Smith’s alopecia. Her husband, Will Smith, responded by walking up on stage and hitting Rock. Then he sat back down, yelled at Rock, and the awards program continued.

In other words, the AMPAS, the people running the show, everyone in that audience, decided there was nothing wrong with assaulting someone on national television for the offense of making a joke at someone else’s expense.

I wish I could say I’m outraged, but I’ve stopped being surprised by such things. We’ve been plummeting to this level for a long time.

When I was a child, my parents taught me the mantra “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” I was a big child, and a target of taunting and teasing from smaller children with smaller intellects. Smaller children trying to goad me into acting on their subpar level. My parents were trying to teach me that—though most in the world are good, caring, and thoughtful—there are always people who are mean and nasty, who can only raise themselves up by tearing down others. But that a physical response to verbal taunts is not acceptable in a civilized society.

I learned that lesson well. I do not hit people who call me names, who insult me. I don’t even respond in kind. I do, however, remember them. I keep them on my list of those who are undeserving of help or even consideration. But I do not hit them, because I am not an animal.

We’ve spent a generation or two teaching our children how evil it is to say certain words, express certain ideas. We’ve been trying to make the world a better place. But we seem to have glossed over the “be strong, grow a thick skin” aspect of it. Recently, a friend wrote of her trans-child’s pain over a store clerk misgendering the child. It was a clerk in a store, a stranger, who said sir instead of ma’am. No outside observer would ever mistake that situation for an attack, but apparently my friend had not taught her child the mantra my parents taught me, and the child suffered great emotional pain because of the incident.

Last night, Will Smith showed that he, too, had never learned that lesson. In his field, he’s a powerful man. He could have exacted revenge on the writer of that jape, could have damaged his career. He could even have simply stood up, turned his back on Rock, and walked out. But he didn’t. He did not try to rise above the situation. Instead, he dove even lower, offered a completely uncivilized response. He showed us that—at least in Hollywood—public violence is acceptable, and an awards program is no place to stand up for civility.

An hour later, while accepting one of the night’s awards, Smith apologized, saying “love will make you do crazy things.” But the whole point of being civilized and rational is that we ought to be able to think through our actions, even in such a situation, and not do such crazy things.

If it was acceptable to walk up on stage and hit Rock, would it have been acceptable to pull out a knife and stab him? Or shoot him with a gun? And if, instead, Smith had waited until after the show, would that have been better or worse?

How can we express confusion over the rise in violence in our cities, when our idols do what Will Smith did last night?

After-effects: the Los Angeles Police Department said Rock declined to file a police complaint. The Academy said it does not condone violence of any sort.

Pre-news

Today on Facebook, I saw a post from a friend saying “tomorrow I’m going to say something about my upcoming novel.” I also saw several iterations of a post from Mensa’s Annual Gathering Chair saying “tomorrow I’m going to tell you who the gala speaker is.”

I know we’re all trying to grab as much publicity as we can, get people to notice whatever it is we’re doing, by doling out tidbits of information. In publishing, we send out pre-publication galleys in hopes of garnering reviews timed to the book’s release. Announcements in the trade journals of book sales are a staple. And now, “cover reveals” have also become a thing. (As an aside, I’m still not sure why “gender reveals” are a thing, so I’m just going to ignore them.)

But I’ve always been annoyed at politicians and business leaders announcing that they’ll be holding a press conference to announce thus-and-such. It seems to me that making the statement is making the statement. “I’m going to announce my support of this bill at a press conference tomorrow,” or “we’re going to announce this new product line next week.” So why do I have to go to the press conference? Aren’t you telling me now?

On the other side of that coin, of course, are the reporters asking those politicians or business leaders what they’re going to do or say or announce in the coming days when they don’t. “You’ve scheduled a press conference for tomorrow. What are you going to say at it?” Grr.

Do those things really work? Are you more engaged in the upcoming new book or movie or sponsorship when it’s hinted at and teased and pre-announced before it’s announced before it’s finished before it’s available for sale? Am I just failing in my job as publicist by not doing all of that, by not making up pre-news news to share with you constantly?

Apparently, there are still book buyers

Guess what? There are fiction readers out there with money they’re willing to spend on books.

Yeah, okay, that’s not terribly surprising. What’s surprising (to me) is how many of them can wind up wanting the same books.

I’ve been pointed to Brandon Sanderson’s current Kickstarter campaign, and I’m stunned, amazed, at the speed with which it was funded (an initial goal of $1 million was apparently met within minutes of launching the campaign), and the speed with which it continues to attract new backers. He doesn’t need my support, doesn’t need me to further share the link. I’m doing it because it’s awesome to just open the screen and watch the numbers scrolling (up, Up, UP!) for a few minutes. As I’m writing this, he’s got 69,882 backers pledging $17,767,653 for his four new novels and assorted other goodies. Just take a look, and then remember that his “overnight success” has been building for a couple of decades.

Meanwhile, down here among the mortals, I mentioned that I’ve got a story in the upcoming anthology The Fans Are Buried Tales, edited by Peter David. That campaign ended yesterday, garnering 283 backers pledging $8,564 of the initial $7,000 goal. So I’m thrilled that the book will be along sometime soon. Anyway, just being amazed that writers can find incredible success if they can build sufficient audiences.

Can We Survive the Bite of the Gerrymander?

800px-The_Gerry-Mander_EditThe current state of political strife in the United States is something we should all fear. It is dangerous to our continued mutual welfare and well-being, as well as dangerous to our hoped-for future.

But it is not something that simply arose, not a natural outgrowth of our thinking and feeling. It is a result, carefully built, that points to an incredibly successful, decades-long campaign. It is something from which we can recover, but that will take a lot of effort.

When I was in college, in the 1980s, one of my political science professors described the political spectra here and in the European parliamentary systems. Here, he said, the difference between the liberals and the conservatives is that the liberals want to set Social Security at $3.00, while the conservatives want to set it at $2.00. In Europe, the difference is that the liberals want to set Social Security at $5.00, while the conservatives want to set it at zero. He was teaching us that, though (at the time) we saw vast gulfs of difference between our liberals and conservatives, in comparison to the rest of the world, our extreme wings were so close to the middle of the road as made no real difference.

The reason for that very narrow, very central political spectrum was our electoral system. In the parliaments—and he was thinking more of countries such as Israel and the Netherlands, where members are elected at large from the whole country—a political party only needs to win two or three percent of the vote to earn a seat in the governing body. People can vote for a party that aligns precisely with their views, knowing that they can be represented, even if only by a small party. And in the no-party-with-a-majority outcomes of those elections, even the smallest parties have a chance to be important in the formation of a coalition government.

In the US system, however, our governmental representatives are elected by small geographic districts, each one a winner-take-all election. In such a system, if you don’t get the plurality of the votes, you don’t get a seat in the government. Such a system will naturally and instantaneously devolve into a two-party system. Each election, one wins and one loses. And the way to win elections in such a system is to get as close to the middle as possible. A candidate knows he has the support of the extreme wing of his party, because there’s no chance they’d ever vote for the other party, so he doesn’t have to convince them to vote for him. The votes that are up for grabs are the independents, the undecideds, the middle-of-the-road voters who see some good in each party. In that system, being extreme is a losing strategy. And so, for many years, we had a mostly middle-of-the-road government: perhaps not awe-inspiring, but comfortable.

But there was a snake in that grass: gerrymandering. In the early days of gerrymandering—the first decades of the 1800s—it was a blunt instrument, used to separate towns and communities, or group them together. But in the last two decades, with the growth of ever more powerful computing capabilities and incredibly precise polling data, the people redrawing voting district lines can map them to include and exclude specific houses. And the political parties have taken that ability so far beyond the bounds of reason. A phrase that’s been thrown around the news of late is “the politicians picking their voters, rather than the other way around,” and that really is what’s happening. In a district that is drawn to be “safe” for one party, the general election is a formality, a waste of time. In my own district, for instance, the closest election the incumbent Democrat has fought was in 2020, when she took only 83.1% of the vote. In the past 30 years in my district, there were only two other elections in which the incumbent got less than 90% of the vote. There is no point in a Republican even running in my district, though they usually put up a token sacrificial lamb for appearances’ sake. But that means my Representative doesn’t have to do anything to win except be a loyal Democrat.

U.S. congressional districts covering Travis County, Texas (outlined in red) in 2002, left, and 2004, right. In 2003, the majority of Republicans in the Texas legislature redistricted the state, diluting the voting power of the heavily Democratic county by parceling its residents out to more Republican districts. In 2004 the orange district 25 was intended to elect a Democrat while the yellow and pink district 21 and district 10 were intended to elect Republicans. District 25 was redrawn as the result of a 2006 Supreme Court decision. In the 2011 redistricting, Republicans divided Travis County between five districts, only one of which, extending to San Antonio, elects a Democrat.

TravisCountyDistricts
U.S. congressional districts covering Travis County, Texas (outlined in red) in 2002, left, and 2004, right. In 2003, the majority of Republicans in the Texas legislature redistricted the state, diluting the voting power of the heavily Democratic county by parceling its residents out to more Republican districts. In 2004 the orange district 25 was intended to elect a Democrat while the yellow and pink district 21 and district 10 were intended to elect Republicans. District 25 was redrawn as the result of a 2006 Supreme Court decision. In the 2011 redistricting, Republicans divided Travis County between five districts, only one of which, extending to San Antonio, elects a Democrat.

It also means that the real election—if there ever is one (which doesn’t happen in my district)—is the primary election, when the Democratic party decides who is going to be their candidate. That’s what we had last year when New York City elected a new mayor. There was no discussion of the general election; everyone knew the Democratic primary was choosing the next mayor; Republicans need not apply.

But this shift means that the electorate a candidate has to convince is no longer the middle-of-the-road, could-vote-Democratic-or-Republican independent voters; they don’t matter, because the stalwart party members are the majority of the district. That means the middle-of-the-road, I-welcome-everyone type of candidate is an automatic loser. Because when the primary is the election, the way to win the primary is to appeal to the most ardent, strident, non-centrist members of the party. The candidate has to convince them that he will represent only their views, and screw the other party. When it’s the primary that matters, running to the extreme is a winning strategy. Because whatever level the election is (primary or general), money talks. And those most willing to donate to a campaign are always the farthest-out fringe members, because they see not just bad ideas, but actual evil in the other party.

In the days when it was the general election that mattered, party leaders were smart enough to know that the way to win was to run to the middle. But now that the general election doesn’t matter, because the party leaders have already rigged the districts to be “safe” for the party, the way to win is to run to the outermost edges to get the funding to win the primary.

And that results in a Congress full of politicians who aren’t working for the common good, but for the party’s good. That’s what gives us a Mitch McConnell, who won’t allow a Supreme Court nominee to be considered because it’s an election year (2016), but will rush through a Supreme Court nominee because it’s an election year (2020), based solely on who put forth the nomination. And that’s what gives us an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who won’t vote for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill because it does everything she wants, but she also wants Build Back Better right now at the same time, because she wants what she wants and she wants it all right now. It’s what gives us a country in which the continued health of our democratic republic truly is in jeopardy. It turns a deliberative, thoughtful body of legislators into a raucous madhouse of children trying to score points with “the folks back home” by being as nasty and uncooperative with their fellow members as possible.

I lay these problems squarely at the foot of gerrymandering. But we’ve gerrymandered ourselves into such a deep hole, and the two parties that won have so entrenched themselves in the system, that I fear we’ll never be able to get out of it. Ballotpedia, for instance, shows that in the election of 2020, only 41 of the 435 House districts were “battlegrounds.” That is, 394 of the Representatives knew they were winners as soon as the primary was over, and only 41 had to bother with the general election. (See https://ballotpedia.org/U.S._House_battlegrounds,_2020)

So how do we get out of our gerrymandered quagmire? It’ll take a true statesman. Actually, we’ll need two. Because to get out of it, each of the parties will have to say (of their own polities) “we currently have the majority, and we can redraw the districts to ensure that we always have the majority, but that would be bad. So we’re going to redraw the districts to ensure competition, for the good of the country.” If only one party does it, the other will swoop in and kill them as quickly as possible. Both parties have to do it, and they have to do it together.

And we’re all stuck in it like insects in a pitcher plant, because it feels good to be winning, to be on top, to be a supporter of the candidate and the party that wins. But we have to put aside that good feeling, and adopt a longer-term view that, though we feel good about winning today, if we break the system, we sure won’t feel good in the future.