Hrumph. I am not always a “first Officer”. I can step up to Captain just dine, thank you (sic)*.
The excellent OffTheCuff responded with a very interesting point:
My wife, the huge Star Trek fan… and I know this better than you?? Riker doesn’t become Captain when he has the bridge, though he’s in full command of the ship.
In the military, the first officer (or XO) doesn’t become the captain unless the captain is killed or captured. The presumptive succession of command duties is actually thought to have been a major advantage of the American military in World War II vis a vis the Japanese and Germans, who are alleged to have wandered aimlessly in the event the CO was taken out in battle.
Anyway, this got me thinking about the American vice presidency. The VP is a weird position; it was apparently invented on the spot at the Constitutional Convention. Until the 12th Amendment, he wasn’t even on the president’s ballot, he was simply the second-highest vote getter in the electoral college – a way of further moderating the majority rule whose power the founders were anxious to limit. (To get a feel for it, note that some states still elect their lieutenant governor separately.)
Where things get really interesting is how the Veep is defined if the president is incapacitated. The original constitution didn’t really nail down the issue. The duties of the President “devolved” to the VP, but it was unclear if the VP would actually become the President or simply a custodian of the presidential duties (“Acting President,” a much different frame of authority) until the subsequent election.
This was all academic until 1841, when William Henry Harrison died a month into office. Daniel Webster sought guidance from the Supreme Court. Despite political peessure to the contrary, John Tyler arrived from Williamsburg and took the oath of office, asserting himself to be the President, full stop. The series of political fortunes that had sent him to the height of power earned him the nickname “His Accidency.”
Minutiae: to prevent overwhelming regionalism in favor of powerhouses like New York and Virginia, the Constitution required that each elector cast two votes, which were required to be from separate states. Thus the reason the VP must hail from a different state than the president (which is why Dick Cheney changed his voter registration from Texas to Wyoming shortly before joining George W Bush’s campaign).
Though he is privy to all information the POTUS gets on national security, the budget and whatnot, he’s not really the second in command. He’s more like a special advisor, a political helpmeet. He is president of the Senate (the world’s greatest collection of blowhards), but his only real power there is as the tiebreaking vote. Another factor is the personalities of the particular POTUS and VP themselves; Dick Cheney and Joe Biden have filled very different roles under GW Bush and Barack Obama respectively.
*(As an aside, women who are endlessly insistent about “I’m the boss of me and no one should be able to tell me to do something I don’t want to especially not some man just because he’s my husband” – which appears to be a lot of women on the Internet and something that modern feminism trains them into – should think hard about whether they are really cut out for marriage in the first place. Getting married means signing up for a lot of tacit responsibilities you may not want to do at the time, but you agreed to do them for the good of the team. In the same way that men who are not ready to lead the marriage need to think hard about getting involved in marriage at all.)