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This year, two great gift-giving holidays fall right next to each other, and we’ve got the perfect Valentine’s/President’s Day gift suggestion for your Washington wonk: Veeps: Profiles in Insignificance(Top Shelf Comix, $19.95). Writer Bill Kelter and illustrator Wayne Shellabarger want you to know, to really know, your vice presidential history, no matter how pathetic, embarrassing, or inconsequential it is, so they’ve produced a book of miniprofiles. Each profile has a “serious” portrait by Shellabarger, and then a much better and more amusing cartoon about the politician, who usually lent himself to being a comic figure. The profiles themselves are largely stories of how the veeps were selected for the office followed by series of amusing anecdotes.
Most of the characters are completely unfamiliar, with the exception of some who succeeded to the presidency, such as Harry Truman, as well as the Founding Fathers, who in a spectacularly bad decision, made the losing opposing presidential candidate the vice president. John Adams was the first VP, and of the job he’s quoted in the book’s introduction as saying, “I am Vice President. In that, I am nothing.” The introduction continues:
What does a person have to do to make his mark as Vice President of the United States, besides shooting an elderly man in the face? Among [them were] a genius who died penniless, a drunk who died penniless, and two who died while serving the same President. Two were charged with treason (though they aren’t even remembered for these efforts), and a third was lucky enough to die before he could be charged. One severed a man’s arm and was charged in two states with murder – the only reason anyone today recalls his name. There was another who allegedly enjoyed the love that dare not speak its name with a future President, and two who enjoyed the most intimate company with their female slaves, one of whom didn’t blink at putting his slave up for sale when she didn’t return his affections. … The office has been so little respected that during the first 176 years of its existence… it stood vacant at sixteen instances for an astonishing total of 37 years.
The authors do confess to starting the book “as a cheeky hatchet job, a chance to aim our guns at the hapless fish inside this rarely considered barrel of American history… [but] Upon close examination, most of these men engender more sympathy than scorn or ridicule.” So if you’re wondering about who longed after James Buchanan, or why Aaron Burr cut off a man’s arm, or how Lyndon Johnson humiliated Hubert Humphrey, this is the book for you. It should also prove handy at devising trivia contests.
There’s a large bibliography at the end and, oddly enough, a stand-alone Web page for the book.