I think I like Karen Bass. As always, I’d like to know more

Karen Bass

As y’all know, I’m a huge Joe Biden fan. From the beginning, he was the one guy the country most needed to win the Democratic nomination for president, and he did it, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I agree with everything he does. I’ve never in my life encountered a candidate like that. There are people I think are awesome, like Joe Riley. But there have been times when I didn’t agree with the Charleston mayor, either. If you’re honest, if you really think about all the issues, perfect agreement is impossible.

I’m not going to offer a list of things where I think Joe’s wrong right now (maybe later), but I say all that to mention one that is relevant to this post: I wish he hadn’t promised several months ago that his running mate would be female.

And no, it’s not just because that mean ol’ white guy Brad hates Identity Politics, although yeah, I’d prefer that someone who would be president would always promise to choose the best candidate, period, without regard to demographics. But here’s the real reason in this case:

We just had a small army of Democrats run for president. Quick, how many was it? Wikipedia says 29 “major” candidates sought the nomination, with as many as 25 running campaigns at any one time. I paid close attention. And at no time did I see or hear anything that in any way challenged what we knew at the start: Joe Biden was far and away the one candidate best prepared and suited for the presidency. He was ready for the job. Finally, an overwhelming proportion of the electorate agreed.

So while I watched to see if anyone presented evidence or arguments that challenged that fact — and no one did — my mind ran on a second track: As long as we’re looking so closely at all these other folks, which one would make a good running mate?

At some point, I — and a lot of other people — decided that would be Amy Klobuchar. I don’t remember when I first decided that, but here’s something I wrote back in October:

Oh, and I came close to a decision last night. I think I’d like to see Amy Klobuchar as Joe’s running mate, assuming everything goes right and Democrats decide they actually want to beat Trump. It would probably be Mayor Pete if he weren’t so young and inexperienced, and if he didn’t keep reminding us of it (But that happened five minutes ago, and as I may have mentioned previously, I wasn’t born yet…). I don’t see Sen. Klobuchar as quite ready to be president yet, but she comes close, and would be a good understudy….

From that point on, I became more and more certain of that. I had a feeling that Joe Biden did, too, to the extent that he had time to think about it.

In fact, I keep telling myself that the reason Joe announced that his running mate would be a woman, he thought it would be Amy Klobuchar. Which is one reason why I didn’t go around loudly complaining when he did it. Because I couldn’t think of anyone of any gender who would be better, or as good.

But here’s the thing: That wasn’t a done deal. And as things have turned out, she’s not the one. But Joe is stuck with his promise. He can’t go, “OK, who else looked good in that process? What about Cory Booker? How about Pete Buttigieg?” Which is a shame, because looking back, perhaps those were the best options after Sen. Klobuchar.

So now we’re in kind of a fix, because his running mate is going to be someone from one of two categories:

  1. Unfamiliar candidates who have not been vetted enough to inspire confidence. As y’all know, I’ve written a lot over the years about the importance of experience. It’s certainly one of Joe Biden’s top strengths. But as I’ve also explained, it’s not just about how experience prepares the candidate for the job. There’s also the fact that people who are experienced in public life have been out there performing in those jobs long enough for us to assess how we think they might perform in the future in public office. So even people with great resumes could fall down if we the voters haven’t been in a position to form impressions of their performance over time.
  2. Candidates who have been more or less thoroughly vetted and found wanting. That would include, say, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about why I’ve written them off in this post because this post is going to be long enough without that. We can argue about their relative merits another day, if necessary. But I had enough information about Warren eight years ago, when I wrote this. Nothing I’ve seen from her since then has changed that assessment. I went into the season with an open mind on the lesser-known Harris, but was disappointed in debate after debate. And other voters seemed to agree with me, which is why she didn’t even last until the first primaries. She was vetted, and did not hold up.

This is not a good situation. The only hope is that Biden will choose someone from the first category — and that person will hold up well under the tidal wave of examination that will wash over her when the time comes. Which would be astounding, the odds seem so strongly against it happening. But the country needs it to happen.

So I’ve found myself looking hard at previously unknown (to me, at least) potential candidates whose names pop up. Some of the best I’ve seen, making me momentarily hopeful, have been:

  • Val Demings — The former police chief of Orlando, and member of Congress since 2017. I like what I’ve seen, but I just haven’t seen enough. I like her 27 years of working in the vineyards of law enforcement — but hey, if the mere accident of being from Minnesota excludes Klobuchar, how well will a career cop do with the Democratic electorate in its current mood? And I really want to see more experience on the federal level.
  • Tammy Duckworth — I like all sorts of things about her. Of course, there’s the fact that she’s only in her first term in the Senate, but she did serve a couple of hitches in the House before that. But I really want to see a lot more than I’ve seen. So I’ll keep watching her. Tucker Carlson seems to be an ass (I say “seems” because I’ve never watched him, but only heard about him), but handing him the George Washington thing was a political misstep that is worrisome. We don’t need someone who will hand the opposition clubs to beat Biden about the head and shoulders with. But, as I say, I continue to watch her.

Which brings me to someone I’ve heard less about, and I wish it were more.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife casually mentioned having read about a woman who sounded good. She told me it was an African-American woman about our age, and she’d heard really good things about her. But she couldn’t remember her name. My reaction? Well, the fact that you can’t remember her name is a problem. Again, the point I make so often — we’re talking about a person who could become president of the United States. It needs to be someone we’ve been watching for years.

But it won’t be, will it? So, I get interested in any lesser-known person who sounds good, because that’s the situation we’re in.

I was pleased to read George Will’s column the other day headlined, “The woman Biden should pick to lead us to calmer days.” It was about U.S. Rep. Karen Bass from California. I mentioned the piece to my wife, who said, “Yes, that’s the woman I was talking about before.” Well OK, then.

Here are some of the things I liked:

  • First, that headline. “Calmer days” are exactly what this country needs. When I’m in a hyperbolic mood (which happens), I tend to think that my fondest wish for a future with Joe Biden as president would be that I would then live in a country in which I could completely ignore the White House for days and even weeks at a time, while feeling that my country was OK. I’d really like to stop thinking about the POTUS for awhile, at the same time knowing there’s someone qualified, decent and normal in charge. And a qualified, decent and normal person is in the backup position.
  • Second, she’s in her fifth term. While I may not have been in a position to vet her during that time, she’s held up under the examination of her constituents, over and over. Five terms isn’t what you’d call a long time in Congress, but it beats the other candidates I’ve been looking at.
  • Her elective service isn’t limited to Congress. She also cut an impressive swath on the state level: “Elected to the state assembly in 2004, in three terms Bass became majority whip, then majority leader, then speaker.” That doesn’t happen to people with sub-par leadership skills.
  • She’s from a district that has probably seen as much racial unrest in the streets as any in the country — the site of the Watts riots, and the Rodney King situation that “engulfed a swath of Los Angeles, killing 63 and injuring 2,383.” She brings history and understanding to this moment.
  • Our own Jim Clyburn, who helped us get to Joe Biden being the nominee, has good things to say about her, based on Will’s interview with her.

Well, I could go on and on, but there are a lot of things I liked. And I really didn’t see anything I didn’t like. Which is unusual, when you’re talking about the acerbic George Will. (Oh, and if someone jumps in with a “who cares what George Will thinks?,” I’ll address that. But once again, this piece, at more than 1,700 words, is already too long.)

That doesn’t mean I won’t find something that worries me. But hey, as long as it’s not disqualifying, that would be reassuring. As I said at the top, there’s nobody I don’t disagree with about something — especially if I know enough to consider the person as a backup president.

Maybe y’all can help get me started. I want to know a lot more about her…

25 thoughts on “I think I like Karen Bass. As always, I’d like to know more

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Just before I finished writing that, I ran across this piece that The Atlantic posted yesterday, “Why Joe Biden Has His Eye on Karen Bass.”

    I’m going to read that with interest. What little of it I’ve read at this point, scanning over the top, increases my positive impression.

    The subhed, by the way, is “The California representative’s low-key manner and progressive credentials could strengthen Biden’s campaign when he needs it most.”

    Yeah, from what little I’ve seen so far, that could very well be true. She might be exactly what Joe, and the country, need…

  2. bud

    I don’t think it matters much who Biden picks for VP. Far too much time has been devoted to this. All the names mentioned so far will be competent and barring an early tragedy should have time to prepare to assume the role as POTUS.

    What I’m more interested in is what Biden will do as president. Today’s speech was a pleasant surprise. Biden was talking about the environment. During the primaries he came across as a Mitt Romney clone. Gag!! But today he was more like AOC. Hurray! He was promising an aggressive approach to global warming. Let’s hope he means it.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Bud, I’ve seen more speculation about it than I’ve wanted to read as well — but that’s mostly because much of the buzz has been about candidates who haven’t been worth talking about.

      I’m encouraged about this one, based on the couple of things I’ve seen. Now I want to see more…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I mean, on the one hand this process is tedious.

        On the other, wouldn’t it have been wonderful if there had been a discussion for a couple of month about Sarah Palin before McCain picked her? McCain would have been warned off — he might even have done what I wanted him to do, which was to pick Joe Lieberman.

        And the rest of us would have been spared several years of Palin as a TV talking head…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          It would have been nice if there had been ANYTHING about Palin. As soon as her name came up, I started combing through Alaskan editorial pages and found NOTHING indicating what she was like.

          I had done all I could to warn McCain and the country about Mark Sanford, but no editor in Alaska could be bothered, apparently. They didn’t seem to give a damn.

          It was pretty maddening…

  3. randle

    I also like Karen Bass, and I think choosing her as VP would do two things: motivate progressive and African American voters and acknowledge the contributions black women have made to the Democratic Party, which is long overdue. Vice presidents have always been chosen at least in part based on some sort of political calculation of what they will bring to the ticket. It used to be about geography, but that’s not much of a factor now.
    Bass was a frequent guest on news shows after George Floyd was killed, and she was indeed calm and matter-of-fact in the face of a national crisis, which is what caught my attention. She’s an effective leader of the Congressional Black Caucus and seems to be a practical person who gets things done. Of course, she needs to be vetted, as everyone should be. The big question is how she would handle debates and the garbage that will be thrown at her. While Kamala Harris was less than impressive during the debates, she is an incisive questioner during Senate hearings. Likewise, Val Demings during the impeachment. Both of these women should do well in the debates and could probably handle incoming fire; I don’t know about Bass; I haven’t seen that side of her. I do think we have good choices; may the best woman win.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      You make a lot of good points, Randle.

      I should probably clarify something I said earlier, though. It’s not so much that Sen. Harris wasn’t “impressive” in debates. She often made an impression, and often it was a bad one. The worst was in the first debate, as I mentioned recently on Twitter:

      Joe Biden can probably forgive that. He’s that kind of guy. But he doesn’t really need to, when he has someone like Karen Bass to choose (from what I’ve seen so far, anyway).

      That was an interesting and revelatory moment. At first, it seemed to give her a boost — at least, among people who didn’t mind her sliding in on Joe with her spikes up.

      But after a few days, I started noticing that a lot of other people noticed something about her: She wasn’t making a point. She really didn’t have a coherent point to make about busing or anything else. She was just trying to take Joe down, any way she could.

      And I think that was the beginning of a lot of people forming a negative impression of her…

      It’s like an episode of The West Wing I rewatched while working out on the elliptical today. It was the one in the third season when Leo had to testify before the GOP-run committee investigating Bartlet for having not disclosed his M.S.

      When the young Republican counsel Cliff Calley (the one who briefly dated Donna) learns that one of the members is about to interrogate Leo about something that has no bearing on the subject but will embarrass Leo over his alcoholism, he rebels, and chews out the member during a recess, saying, “Not while I’m the Majority Counsel, it’s not. This is bush league. This is why good people hate us. This right here. This thing.”

      And things like Sen. Harris’ attack on Joe, the guy the country needed to go up against Trump…

  4. Randle

    That was a cheap shot, obviously planned for the sole purpose of takin down the front runner, which is why there was no point. I hope she regrets it and is ashamed. I never could figure out why she was running for President. No plans, no agenda that I saw. Maybe she was running for Vice President. However, I like what I see in hearings and what she has said lately. She’s no Sarah Palin.
    I hope we see more of Bass; George Will has said America want a president they feel comfortable having in their living rooms (or something to that effect). She’s like that.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Right. That’s exactly what we need. A normal, decent human being we can trust.

      After that debate last year, I wouldn’t trust Kamala Harris as far as I could throw her….

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        … which, to be clear, would not be very far.

        I’m badly out of practice on my people-throwing skills. I can’t even start to get warmed up to do it, and everybody yells, “No! You had a stroke!”…

  5. bud

    There is one deal breaker for VP: do NOT put a senate seat in jeopardy. That would have eliminated Amy and should also end Elizabeth Warren’s chances. Perhaps in Illinois (Tammy Duckworth) or California (Harris) the dems are safe. However, AL also seemed safe for the GOP 3 years ago so you never know. Demmings, Bass, Susan Rice or Stacey Abrams would all be good picks.

    1. Mark Stewart

      Umm, how is Elizabeth Warren’s Senate seat up for grabs in MA? Maybe if Charlie Baker wanted to run, but I don’t think he wants to be anywhere near the current mastastacized GOP.

      1. bud

        Warren replaced a Republican. Also, MA has a Republican governor. MA is reliably blue for POTUS but can support the GOP down ballot. Best to play it safe if other good options are available.

  6. Barry

    Sounds good to me.

    Other VP candidates I would choose over MIke Pence are:

    Lance Bass- former member of boy band NYSYNC
    A smallmouth bass from Lake Murray
    A largemouth bass from any lake

        1. Bryan Caskey

          His high school tryout, as made for a movie, but he played QB for the Gamecocks after high school. One of our best QBs ever.

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          I’ll admit I didn’t think of Ronnie Bass (partly because I only learned of him through your comment).

          But don’t assume I included every name I could think of. For instance, I thought of Billy Bass, but refrained from including him:

          … because I thought maybe we were getting a little off the subject.

          … which is that I think Karen Bass might make a good running mate. Of course, there’s some utility in thinking momentarily about all the ways Trump would try to mock her name.

          Not that it matters.

          I liked Max Boot’s column today noting how badly Trump has failed to get any negative stuff going against Biden: “Trump can’t land a blow on Biden, and it’s driving him crazy.

  7. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, regarding Tammy Duckworth and the attack from Tucker Carlson, the ass.

    I just heard the extended interview with her that the hosts of The Argument — Frank Bruni, Ross Douthat and Michelle Goldberg — did this week. (I highly recommend programs such as this, and I’m eager to hear them interview Karen Bass, if they can get to it before Joe makes his decision.)

    First, I learned that I like Tammy Duckworth, even more than I thought. For a number of reasons, including the fact that apparently a lot of people who voted for Trump in 2016 also voted for her. That would be an important strength for Joe to have on his team.

    Also, she talks the way I do about some party matters. For instance, when they were talking about how hard it is to get things done in the Senate with the filibuster, and it got into a thing about that awful Mitch McConnell and how he’d be a barrier even if the Dems get a majority (but less than 60, which they’re highly unlikely to exceed), she mentioned the problem with Senate Majority Leaders using the “nuclear option” — and she mentioned Harry Reid just as prominently as McConnell. I was impressed by her fairness. Of course, the immediate problem IS McConnell, and much of what he has done (Merrick Garland, for instance) is unforgivable. But she also suggested that much of the problem is that while he’s in the Majority position, he prevents issues that WOULD pass from coming to a vote. She talks about having had the same problem in the House with Boehner and Paul Ryan — without the filibuster problem.

    Basically, she’s very knowledgeable and fair, and comes from the segment of the electorate that Joe needs to crush Trump. As opposed to Elizabeth Warren, whom Michelle Goldberg prefers, as she reminded us in the podcast.

    As for the Tucker Carlson thing… well, it certainly demonstrated what an ass Carlson is. Her “sin” that he jumped on wasn’t so much what she SAID as what she failed to say. She passed on the chance to say, clearly, “No, we don’t need to take down monuments to George Washington.” But I thought she addressed that fairly well in the podcast, and I completely understood why she preferred to change the subject and talk about the Russian bounties on U.S. soldiers.

    (If there was anything I would pick at, it would be where she said something about how we needed to acknowledge ALL our history, including that Washington owned slaves. I’ve heard a bunch of people say things like that lately, and I’ve been meaning to write a post about it, along the lines of Who in America didn’t know Washington owned slaves? I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know that! Whenever I hear something like that, it reminds me of Trump and his “a lot of people don’t know” thing that he does whenever he learns something about history — or about anything — that everyone but him already knew.)

    Anyway, I liked her. I still lean more toward Karen Bass, though — so far.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Oh, before Bud gets furious that I “equated” McConnell with Harry Reid. Well, I didn’t.

      McConnell is a huge problem in this country, and Reid was never in his league.

      But it’s a problem when ANY Majority Leader bends Senate rules. And it impresses me when a member of either party acknowledges that clearly and fairly…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Oh, and let me be equally clear: I don’t see either leader’s use of the “nuclear option” to get past the problematic filibuster as being as bad as what McConnell did on Garland, which was unforgivable.

        It’s one thing to try to see to it that a president’s nominees get voted on, and another entirely to completely block a president’s nominee from even being considered…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I get confused when I talk about the filibuster, and I think that’s in large part because I’m ambivalent about it.

          On the one hand, I think it’s outrageous not to be able to get anything done without 60 votes.

          On the other, well, it’s nice sometimes to have something that prevents 50 percent plus one from ramming things down the throats of the other 49 percent. Devices to prevent a tyranny of the majority can be good.

          But then I get outraged again that in the Senate, you get to have the effect of a filibuster without actually going to the trouble of, you know, filibustering. And at moments like that, a “nuclear option” sounds pretty good…

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