The Democratic running mate
Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has one goal in mind: to show American voters fairness, moderation and competence. To show that if they vote for him in 80 days, they will choose a president who can easily be ignored for a few days. Because he doesn’t send out impulsive tweets 24/7, often before you wake up. Because he is busy with the “boring” and serious job of being a leader.
The choice of his running mate, Kamala Harris, fits in with that. She has the political experience you’d expect from someone who wants to become vice president of a world power and aspire to the highest office of president. She has legislative and executive experience, and was a prosecutor. The Democrats’ message is clear: With us, expertise is returning to the White House.
Biden not only made a safe choice, but also a historical one. It is useful to remember that Harris is only the third woman to be selected for this role, and the first Black woman. She is the daughter of an Indian medical researcher and a Jamaican economist. Given Biden’s age (he will be 78) there is a higher than average chance that Harris will become president.
The fact that she is accused of being ambitious shows once again that women are required to meet different standards than men. Because why wouldn’t she be ambitious? As Jessica Bennett noted in The New York Times, “No one, it is safe to assume, told J.F.K. he was too ambitious” for wanting to become president.
Picking Harris is, above all, a tactically smart choice by Biden in his bid for the Oval Office. She can win elections, as she has proved with the elected positions she has held. She just did not win the nomination for president. She can debate, as Biden knows from his own experience, and which Vice President Mike Pence will come to experience (unless Donald Trump replaces him at the 11th hour with, for example, former Ambassador Nikki Haley).
In June 2019, during the first televised Democratic debate, Harris attacked Biden over his partnership in the 1970s with Republican senators who advocated for racial segregation. His reply was weak; he relied on his cooperation and friendship with Barack Obama.
But Biden cannot build a campaign on nostalgia for the Obama years. Although Obama is seen in Europe as a president who was skilled at forging connections, he was also the catalyst for the polarization that brought Trump to the White House. Moreover, little was accomplished in the last Obama-Biden years, due in part to Republican opposition in Congress.
They barely closed the huge gap between the underprivileged and the privileged in the U.S., and that has not happened in the past four years, either. The big question is what voters who voted for Trump in 2016 think about that, those who elected the outsider who drew attention because of the frustrations and disillusionment of uneducated Americans. Now Harris positions herself as a champion of people who are overlooked, who are not heard, emphasizing her own background.
Are those voters content with a president who does things that are not in their interest? A president who sows division, who excludes people and erodes democratic institutions? Or do they see that as “draining the swamp” and support Trump because he is Trump?
The president is a street fighter, in it to win. In the coming months, now that he can no longer point to the “great” U.S. economy, and the death toll from COVID-19 is still rising, he will want to create a culture war. As such, he would benefit from sowing even more division to stir up his conservative supporters. A hateful campaign lies ahead.
Biden is mainly anti-Trump. He has already indicated that he only wants to serve one term to make way for the next generation in 2024. “I see myself as a bridge, not as anything else.” His candidacy came about not because Democrats are so impressed with him, but because they think swing voters will vote for him. That is a poor starting point given the four years that Democrats had to decide their strategy.
American voters deserve better. They deserve to be able to make a choice based on ideas in the coming months. The midterm elections showed that there is a need for that. There is currently no stimulating poster slogan to counter “Make America Great Again,” the sequel. But with Harris, Biden has chosen an interesting protagonist.