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The Kamala Harris Factor
Gratuitous, Strategic, Historic VP Choice
There is no use debating this: California Senator Kamala Harris was presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s best choice for a running mate. He is ahead in the polls and his opponent is self-immolating. This was the safe, boring choice, despite its historic ramifications of a woman of color and daughter of immigrants.
Harris is an accomplished center-left former state persecutor and attorney-general and a recent addition to the U.S. Senate, as well as a fully-vetted presidential candidate who had just failed to gain the nomination and knows why. She is strategically pragmatic, spinning her ideology with how the political winds blow. She has media chops, an engaging personality and bulldog debating skills. Crucially, she is young. At fifty-five, Harris balances a candidate who will be seventy-eight when he is sworn in. Mostly, she fits the key element of Biden’s choice, since he put himself in a corner by narrowing his pick by gender. Harris is indeed a woman. And, most importantly for many political and cultural reasons, a black woman, specifically Jamaican/Indian. Harris checks off a bunch of firsts to be part of a major political party ticket for the presidency. She was the logical course of action to keep the wheels rolling to November.
But let’s get down to what kind of actual factor Senator Harris can be for the ultimate prize here: Getting rid of Donald Trump.
This is the sixth presidential race this space has covered and in each I have broken down VP picks. In almost all cases, even weird ones like Sarah Palin, it is difficult to pinpoint what they ultimately mean to the candidate’s chances for victory. There have been none that did a better reverse balancing act of age/experience than Dick Cheney for George W. Bush, since he was a stalwart Republican D.C. lifer that boasted foreign policy experience when everyone was worried Bush’s kid was a dullard who woke up out of a cocaine fog at forty and decided he wanted to run things. You only have to see Biden, another D.C. lifer, to see why Barack Obama made him his wise choice for a young black man who had been in the senate for fifteen minutes running for president in 2008.
However, Harris is interesting, beyond this historic, and for many Americans, inspirational decision. For one, unlike Hillary Clinton, who felt subjugating her rigid personality would make it more palatable for goofballs in the electorate to not think her a bitch because she was a thinking, aggressive woman – among many Clinton mistakes – Harris does not have this problem. Her general demeanor is confrontational and no-nonsense. She loves being tough, telling you she is tough, and fighting you if you’re not buying it. She is smart, articulate, and well-versed in law and politics, something missing in the current VP. I would feel sorry for Mike Pence, if he wasn’t such a vapid ass-hat.
Personality and gender are all well and good, but let’s take a look at what pundits in the black community are warning against – the token pick.
Of course, VP picks are always “token picks”. Take JFK tapping a man he hated, Lyndon Johnson as his running mate in order to unify the party and gather southern support he needed. Or Ronald Reagan choosing a man he called a wimp, George H. W. Bush, who in turn called the Gipper’s tickle-down economic theory “voodoo” to appease center-right and independent voters. Bill Clinton was accused of, and in some cases bragged about fucking everything in sight, so he chose a prude in Al Gore who spent much of the late 1980s leading pogroms against rock music.
It is just plain racist and sexist to suggest Biden is doing any less pandering by picking Harris. He absolutely had to choose a woman of color, but beyond balancing age, gender and race, it is for two other essential reasons: Getting elected and giving due props to those who put him in this position in the first place.
Firstly, this decision goes beyond the current climate of racial reckoning in this country. The current president is pandering to the ultra-right and more racist elements of America when he embraces confederate symbols, calling black protestors terrorists, and making 1950s-style warnings to white suburban “housewives” that their neighborhoods will soon be invaded by minorities. This enables Biden a contrast to this, yes, but let’s face it, African-Americans are the second most consistent voting-block in this country. The first is senior citizens. But unlike older voters, they are mostly loyal to the Democratic Party. Barack Obama’s victories in 2008 – the most impressive for a winning candidate since 1988 – and 2012, in which Biden, of course, was a part, brought out record numbers of black voters, many of whom stayed home for Clinton and ultimately cost her states like Pennsylvania. If Harris helps this even a little, she is effective.
And because this is politics, and politics, like business, life and everything else, is about contacts, assistance and deal-making, and Joe Biden has been doing this for a long, long, loooonnnng time, the former VP has some debts to pay. If it were not for the African-American vote, inspired by an African-American congressman from South Carolina, there would be no Joe Biden candidacy. It is the voice and work of one man, Jim Clyburn that allowed Biden to now be leading in national polls by nearly ten points and looking like an eight-five percent gambling bid to take the White House in a few months.
Covered in this space in the first weeks of March as something of a political resurrection, Biden gathered nearly fifty-percent of the vote in the SC primary – remarkable considering the packed field. This after having never in three attempts at presidential candidacy winning one, including the first three held in early 2020. Following a stern lecture from Clyburn on his shitty organization and tepid stump speeches, the congressman went to the mat to endorse Biden and strongly prompt the African-American community, for whom he is a trusted staple, to save Joe’s ass.
Biden won, gave the speech of his life that evening, and since has been the leading contender to oust this bleating lout in the White House.
Now he adds a woman who Reuters is already calling, due to recent polling, a more popular figure than the former VP among registered voters. And that helps. Her acceptance speech this week also helps. She tore Trump and Pence newly efficient butt-holes on everything from trying to kill us all with this Trump Virus to owning the worst economy in more than a century. It was a cold, hardcore slam. Let’s see more of that. Hell, having a prosecutor on a ticket running against a criminal is another good call.
Choosing the senator from California was a no-brainer for Biden. He needs Kamala Harris, but he also needs to, as they say, “dance with the girl who brung him.”
© James Campion 8.14.20
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James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of “Deep Tank Jersey”, “Fear No Art”, “Trailing Jesus”, "Midnight For Cinderella" and “Y”. +, “Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon” + “Accidently Like a Martyr – The Tortured Art of Warren Zevon”
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