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What does the vice president even do??

NEED TO KNOW
  • The nation's No. 2 is more than just the cheerleader-in-chief
  • 14 vice presidents have become president
  • Hey look! A Schoolhouse Rock! video and Millard Fillmore reference!
Vice president Joe Biden has constitutional authority to break any ties in the Senate.

Editor's Note: "Really Dumb Question" is based on the idea that some of the best conversations we have result from someone nervously saying "OK, this may be a really dumb question, but..." and we all learn it really wasn't such a dumb question after all. In fact, it's often quite the opposite.

Today's Really Dumb Question: What does the vice president even do??

Before Joe Biden and Paul Ryan debate about who is best qualified to be the vice president of our nation, it's probably a good idea to talk about what exactly that means.

Every middle school civics, social studies or history class, at some point, teaches us about the three branches of our government and what each one does. And sometimes if you're lucky, you even get to watch a film.

But every discussion of the executive branch focuses pretty solely on the chief executive -- except for that little part about what happens if he or she dies. And that's pretty much it, as far as what we're taught about the vice president.

So what is it then that they actually do? Just sit around in a perpetual state of fear all day, hoping nobody bursts into their office with news that something terrible has happened to the president?

That doesn't sound like a very good job.

Well beyond being permanently on-deck and looking very serious during the State of the Union address, the vice president has an important role as the presiding officer of the Senate, with constitutional authority to break any ties. The veep is our Tiebreaker-in-Chief. Senior Rock, Paper, Scissors official.

And also! Beyond that... ahh, nothing. That's it actually. The tiebreaker thing is the only official responsibility of the nation's No. 2.

Which isn't to say they don't serve important non-official roles as well. The vice president is still a member of the president's administration, often a trusted adviser and -- as the position has evolved over the last few decades -- an important public champion and defender of the president and the administration's policies.

Vice presidents can also use their influence to push legislative actions or drive policy decisions. Joe Biden, for instance, has made domestic violence a key issue and launched the "1 is 2 Many" initiative to reduce violence against women. Before him, Vice President Dick Cheney even ran the entire country. I mean... was a key adviser to President Bush on national security.

And while even political science professors concede the VP is "a pretty meaningless role," perhaps the most important reason to pay attention to the other guy on the party ticket is this: 14 vice presidents have become president, whether by election or succession.

That's 32.55% of the time. Meaning, historically, there's about a 3 in 10 chance that one of these two guys will end up in the Oval Office.

So perhaps listen a bit more closely to what they have to say at the debate and choose a bit more carefully on Election Day.

Because Joe Biden or Paul Ryan may just be the next Millard Fillmore.

Follow Jonathan Anker on Twitter @JonFromHLN

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