The Face of America

In choosing Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden demonstrated character traits missing in President Donald Trump: A generosity of spirit and an ability to put aside petty grievances in the interest of a greater good. Just as former President Barack Obama overlooked Biden calling him “clean” and “articulate” in choosing the Delaware senator as his vice presidential choice, Biden ignored Harris’s skewering of him on race during the presidential nominating debates last year. Biden’s selection contrasts neatly with Trump’s pettiness.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, appropriately masked

Wednesday, the two tickets exhibited very different images of America. Biden and Harris, making their first public appearance as running mates, look like America, as it is and as it will become. Harris, a woman and the biracial child of Indian and Jamaican immigrants who is in an interracial marriage, is the face of a diverse nation. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” means, of course, Make America White Again, and the president displayed his racist and backward views in two tweets. In one, he congratulated “future Republican Star Marjorie Taylor Greene on a big Congressional primary win in Georgia.” Greene is a devotee of the QAnon conspiracy theory that believes Trump is waging war on “deep state” saboteurs who worship Satan and traffic children for sex. She is infamous for racist, Islamophobic, and anti-Semitic comments. Since her district is heavily Republican, Greene virtually is assured of a seat in the new Congress next January. Prepare for the QAnon caucus within the Republican conference.

Trump’s other offensive tweet repeated his theme of “them” versus “us”: “The ‘suburban housewife’ will be voting for me. They want [sic] safety & are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood. Biden would reinstall it, in a bigger form, with Corey [sic] Booker in charge!” Not only is Trump’s subtext obvious, but his image of “suburban housewife” is mired in a suburbia that probably never existed but certainly does not now. (And, what does Trump know about Biden’s potential Cabinet picks that no one else does?)

Harris was always an obvious choice for Biden. She is smart, capable, and qualified to become president on day one. Biden vowed to choose a woman, and his final list of potential nominees was filled with superbly able women. An African American woman was also indicated since Black women are the Democratic Party’s most loyal constituency and Black voters lifted Biden to victory in the primaries. A Californian, Harris is also the first Democratic nominee from west of the Rocky Mountains, and her selection recognizes the importance of the West in American and Democratic politics.

Biden knows he is a transitional candidate — an older white male who heads a coalition that depends on women, people of color, and the young. Biden is among the last of the leaders of the Democratic Party who came of age in the immediate years after World War II and inherited the legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal. Biden’s Democratic Party is rooted in the blue-collar Whites among whom he grew up, and his presidential appeal always has centered on the argument that he can win those voters back to the party. Harris represents the ethnic, racial, and gender diversity of the Democratic Party of the future. While not as young as other possible choices, Harris’s evident youthful vigor will play well on the campaign trail. She hails from the San Francisco Bay Area, a multiracial and multiethnic globalized hub of the emerging information economy.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren

Harris does not come from the most progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Many on the left would have been happier with Senator Elizabeth Warren as Biden’s running mate. (Warren would make an excellent Secretary of the Treasury, but, unfortunately, the governor of Massachusetts is a Republican, complicating Democratic hopes of gaining a majority in the Senate if Warren were to take the post.) Harris has a complicated record in law enforcement. As California’s attorney general, she declined to investigate shootings by police officers and did not support reforms to hold police accountable for violent actions. Her waffling on Medicare-for-All during her abortive presidential campaign indicated a politician unsure of herself and lacking in truly progressive ideals. 

Still, progressives do not seem overly disappointed with Harris’s selection. Acceptance of Harris by the Democratic leftwing stems partly from a recognition of the obvious forward-looking nature of her choice and also from a realization that Harris does have some claims to progressivism. She has one of the most liberal voting records of any sitting senator and has worked with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on climate legislation. “She’s not Warren… in terms of her background, but I don’t think it makes sense for us to criticize the reality,” says Larry Cohen, chair of Our Revolution, a group with ties to Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Cohen describes Harris as “extremely competent.”

It will be an ugly next few months. Already, Trump has trotted out a Harris-is-a-nasty-woman accusation with all its racist and sexist overtones. Trump also touchingly came to Biden’s defense when he accused Harris not only of being nasty to Trump appointees but to Biden during the Democratic debates. The president and his supporters also engaged in a completely erroneous claim that Harris is not eligible to run for high office because her parents were immigrants. Trump and his surrogates are just getting started, and the attacks on Biden and Harris will only intensify. When it comes to nasty, Trump is a master.

Nothing is ever assured in politics, but the Biden-Harris ticket is in a strong position. Of course, Team Trump is doing all it can to suppress the vote and potentially steal the election. The Democratic nominees not only have to convince enough Americans to vote for them, but Biden and Harris also have to insure that their supporters get to vote and that those votes are counted. 

In the end, competence, combined with Biden’s steadiness of purpose, sure looks good after the mayhem and chaos of the Trump presidency.

Posted August 14, 2020

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