Yesterday afternoon I began getting calls and texts from friends and family wanting to discuss Joseph Biden’s vice-presidential selection. I have been having these discussions about vice-presidential selections by Democratic nominees since 1984, which was the first time I was old enough to follow this process closely. Typically, the discussion focuses on whether it was the right choice and whether it will help the ticket. Rarely are their strong feeling about the nominee as a politician or person.
Yesterday was different. There was a consensus that Kamala Harris will help the ticket, but I also heard something else, genuine excitement about the ticket. There was already a lot of excitement about Biden because he is the only person who can save us from the acute destruction to our country and democracy that second Trump term would bring. However, Harris brings a different kind of excitement and energy to the ticket that had not been there before.
Harris is an unusual politician in that she has the legal and political skills to humiliate people like Attorney General William Barr during a hearing regarding the Mueller Report, but also has an infectious laugh and upbeat disposition. In this way she is able to use her ample political skills, while also showering herself to be human and likable as well. That skill set will be very valuable both during the campaign and as part of the Biden administration if the ticket wins.
As an African American woman, Harris could provide demographic breadth to a ticket for a very diverse political party. Because she had been elected three times statewide in California, Harris had the campaign and media experience necessary for the campaign
Biden’s selection of Harris to join him on the ticket was also the result of an interesting process because Harris was always the front-runner. She positioned herself for this brilliantly by dropping out of the race early, because her path to the nomination depended upon beating Biden in South Carolina. While Biden is smart and mature enough to have looked past Harris’s pointed criticism of his position on school busing in an early debate, a tough two person primary between the two of them in South Carolina would probably have ended in a Biden victory and Harris being out of consideration for the vice-presidency. By getting out when she did, Harris helped preserve the relationship.
The other reason she was always the front-runner was that Harris always made so much sense for the ticket. As a US Senator in her fourth year she has enough experience to take over as president if necessary, but is not yet a complete Washington insider. Moreover, during her tenure in the Senate, she distinguished herself through her voting record, support for progressive legislation and sterling work on the judiciary committee. Her experience as Attoreny General of the biggest state in the US is also relevant from a legal and a managerial perspective. As an African American woman, Harris could provide demographic breadth to a ticket for a very diverse political party. Because she had been elected three times statewide in California, Harris had the campaign and media experience necessary for the campaign. No other candidate came close to bringing so much to the ticket.
Biden’s selection of Harris was the right choice, but it was also the conservative one, not with regards to ideology, but with regards to process. By making the conservative choice, Biden revealed one reason why he is such a potent candidate against Trump
Nonetheless, Biden had to explore other options and interview other candidates, many of whom including Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Representatives Karen Bass of California and Val Demmings of Florida, were also very accomplished women who would have brought quite a bit to the ticket. He and his team did this work to make sure they were making the right choice. Some around Biden, including Democratic Party insiders Chris Dodd and Ed Rendell did not even bother to conceal their gender and race biases in their efforts to sink Harris’s chances. Those attacks probably backfired as they framed the final days of the selection process as being a question of whether Biden would give in to the bullying by Dodd and Rendell. He did not.
Biden’s selection of Harris was the right choice, but it was also the conservative one, not with regards to ideology, but with regards to process. By making the conservative choice, Biden revealed one reason why he is such a potent candidate against Trump. Ideologically, Biden is a centrist who is being pushed leftward by an increasingly progressive party, but temperamentally, he has always been a conservative. He makes cautious, rather than rash, decisions and does not do things just to get attention, rock the boat or provoke. The contrast to Trump is apparent, but these characteristics also make it harder for Trump’s attacks to stick on Biden. For example, the idea that Biden is a socialist does not seem to resonate with swing voters who know Biden to be an older, cautious, white man. In picking Kamala Harris, Biden brought a smart, qualified and politically gifted on the ticket, but he also showed us again why he is in a good position to win in November.
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