Nation: The President Giveth and Taketh Away

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Probably no one is better able to testify to the frustrating, mostly unrewarding burden of the vice presidency than Hubert Humphrey, who served the most demanding—some would say tyrannical—President of modern times, Lyndon Johnson. In a relaxed interview last week with TIME Correspondent Leo Janos, Humphrey, now teaching at the University of Minnesota and Macalester College, explained his seeming subservience to L.B.J. and offered some insights into Spiro Agnew's behavior:

IT'S like being naked in the middle of a blizzard with no one to even offer you a match to keep you warm—that's the vice presidency. You are trapped, vulnerable and alone, and it does not matter who happens to be President. Anyone who thinks that the Vice President can take a position independent of the President or his Administration simply has no knowledge of politics or government. You are his choice in a political marriage, and he expects your absolute loyalty.

The public is often misled about what the Vice President can or cannot do. Friends used to complain: "Hubert, what's got into you? Why are you talking this way about Viet Nam?" What could I say? Absolutely nothing. Why, could you imagine what would happen to a Vice President who publicly repudiated his Administration? Man, that's political suicide. Before the nomination, I told Johnson that I would express my views privately, but once a decision was made—that was it. For better or worse, I was a loyal Vice President.

I think it's tougher to serve under a President who himself has been a Vice President. Johnson prided himself on total loyalty to Jack Kennedy, so he stressed the loyalty aspect with me. Now, Nixon served Eisenhower as the bare-knuckle fighter playing the role of a controversial partisan. That seems to be Agnew's role—and don't think that he's not acting under orders. A President who has been a Vice President knows all the tricks about how to manipulate his number-two man. That was true of Johnson; I'm sure that it's true of Nixon, and it might even have been true of me had I made it.

Some examples? Well, Johnson made sure he never did anything to upstage Kennedy. So Johnson decreed that no reporters would be allowed to accompany me in my travels around the country. Sometimes before Cabinet meetings, Johnson would ask me to give some member particular hell. For one reason or another, he did not want to do the job himself.

The first year in office I spent most of my time on Capitol Hill pushing the Great Society programs. Damn it, I was good at it, and my office was a popular spot with the Democrats. So the Democratic leadership got a wee bit jealous, and I was told to close down my Capitol Hill office. The President giveth and he taketh away. My role in helping to get this legislation passed has never been made public. And that's another of the Vice President's frustrations—the President gets the credit.

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