Many in the U.S. are celebrating the selection of the first Black woman as a vice presidential running mate as a victory for diversity. But she is likely to be a very awkward vice president, and represents a great danger to the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden.
Although it was not unexpected, Joe Biden’s choice of Sen. Kamala Harris as his vice presidential running mate stirred up more fuss in the U.S. than usual. After all, the decision is historic in many respects. Harris is the first Black woman to be chosen for the position, and thanks to her Indian mother, she is also the first woman of Asian descent to be a vice presidential candidate.
At the same time, Harris is married to a white Jewish man and has Jewish stepchildren. There could hardly be more diversity. Harris, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, thus represents in many respects the noble idea of America that so often clashes with reality: a colorful, diverse, immigrant society in which anyone can reach the top as long as one works hard enough.
Her skin color makes Harris a symbol at a time when America is being unsettled once again by racial discrimination, and as the left is entirely concerned with identity politics. In that context, one somewhat overlooks the fact that Harris brings with her many more qualities other than her skin color, and what her nomination says about Biden and his character.
Because, in fact, if Biden wins, Harris would not be a comfortable vice president. The equally sharp-witted and sharp-tongued former state attorney general is the most ambitious politician among the women Biden had on his short list.
In the primaries, she created difficulty for Biden when she strongly attacked him during televised debates, thus contributed to the long period in which a question mark hung over Biden’s candidacy.
For many, Harris represents the future of the Democratic Party, and she would use the office of vice president to prepare for her own presidential candidacy. The danger that presents for Biden is that this young and energetic woman will outshine him in the second half of his term in order to raise her own profile.
Of course, Biden knows all of that as someone who has been in the business of politics longer than anyone else in the U.S. And yet he was confident enough to name this strong woman as his No. 2. That reminds one a little bit of Biden’s former boss, Barack Obama.
With Biden, Obama also named a staunch intraparty opponent as his vice president and surrounded himself with strong personalities during his first term. Obama’s first cabinet was often described as a “team of rivals,” in reference to Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet. By nominating Harris, Biden is following a similar path.
Biden also represents a contrast to Trump with respect to character. The narcissist in the White House is an erratic, unstable personality. He cannot stand strong women and cannot bear it when others in his government occupy the spotlight.
For any leading member of the Trump administration, too much media attention is normally a sign that they will soon be fired. The fact that Mike Pence is again running as the vice presidential candidate for Trump’s possible second term is primarily thanks to his outstanding ability to stay in the background, and loyally submit to the president.
Biden is often described as too old and uninspiring. But after Trump’s erratic presidency, America needs someone who can bring calm and confidence to the office. And if Trump’s presidency has demonstrated anything, it’s this: Questions of character are much more important in politics than we generally assume. And the more powerful the office, the more the personality of its occupant is determinative.
In choosing Harris, Biden has now shown that he is confident enough about having strong personalities — and a strong woman — around him. And that is already much more than can be said about the current officeholder.