Jonathan Zimmerman: Why Romney's Choice for Vice President Could Determine America's Future

Roundup: Historians' Take

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory” (Yale University Press).

In 1885, a young political scientist named Woodrow Wilson wrote a path-breaking book about the intricacies of American government. Its 344 pages included just one paragraph on the vice presidency, and Wilson wondered if that was too much.

“The chief embarrassment in discussing the office is, that in explaining how little there is to be said about it one has evidently said all there is to say,” Wilson confessed. By the time Wilson became president in 1912, nothing had changed. Can you even name his vice president? I didn’t think so. (Answer: Thomas Marshall.)

But you probably can name the vice presidents after World War II, when the position became much more important. And not for the reasons you might think. Now that Mitt Romney is assured of the GOP nomination, news media have turned their focus to his selection of a running mate. There’s the inevitable talk of “balancing the ticket,” on the assumption that Mr. Romney’s choice will affect his own electoral fortunes....

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