The Kamala Harris problem

Doug Ross, earlier today, put it more harshly than I would have. But yeah, having Kamala Harris in line for the presidency is not a pleasant thought. I mean, it’s light years better than having a Donald Trump, but it’s still far from being a good thing.

It’s about… I guess it’s about in the same ballpark as having Nikki Haley as president, in terms of qualifications, temperament and so forth.

Which is not a pleasant thought, as I said. You know me. I’ve got this thing about qualifications. A bit of a fetish, really. And neither of these ladies has them at the level I expect for this particular job. Unless you call “being a woman” or “being black” to be qualifications, which I don’t, any more than I would consider being a man or white to be relevant credentials. I mean, let’s face it: Most white guys don’t measure up to this job. Most other people don’t, either. And Nikki and Kamala are in the “most people” category.

Before I abandon my Kamala/Nikki comparison, though, I will say this in the veep’s favor: She’d probably retain a huge portion of Joe’s administration if he were gone, whereas I have no confidence at all in the random newbies Nikki would be likely to bring in. If you doubt me, ask Darla Moore about Nikki’s judgment on appointments.

Anyway, Matt Bai came closer than Doug to my view on Kamala Harris, in a column the other day headlined, “How Joe Biden should solve the Kamala Harris Conundrum.” It was a good piece, and I wish you could read it without a subscription. Here’s an excerpt… he said Joe’s biggest handicap is “the uncomfortable question of whether voters can get their heads around Biden’s vice president as a potential president — a question that is probably more pressing for Biden, who would be 82 if he takes the oath for a second time, than it has been for any nominee since Franklin D. Roosevelt sought a fourth term.”

And it’s a tough topic, especially for Democrats…

Because to understand the root of Biden’s Kamala Harris Conundrum now, you have to understand his thinking in 2020 — which means touching on fraught subjects of race and gender. (This is a thankless task in the current environment, but let’s do it anyway.)

Having publicly promised to choose a woman during his primary campaign with Bernie Sanders, and then wanting to hold his party together during an agonizing summer of racial unrest, Biden determined that his running mate should be a Black woman. It was the right call at the time, morally and politically — although I would argue that by publicly crowing about his criteria, Biden’s campaign did his eventual running mate a disservice, ensuring that whomever he chose would be seen as the best Black female candidate rather than the best candidate, period.

Given the country’s long struggle with inclusivity at the highest levels of politics, however, the list of Black women with obvious credentials wasn’t long, and most of the candidates were untested….

That’s probably all I dare lift directly from the column, but it’s all very much on point, in my view.

Y’all know I really like Joe, but that doesn’t mean I always think he does the right thing (abortion, Afghanistan, just to talk about the A’s). And I don’t think he should have promised to pick a woman, for the reasons Bai points out.

Of course, once he did, I didn’t think it was too bad, since I thought Amy Klobuchar was the best of his rivals during the primaries. Although, she deserved to be seen as the best candidate, not merely, as Bai points out, the best of a certain gender.

I was a lot more concerned when he said she also had to be black, because as Bai is also correct in noting, while we have more black women in politics than we used to, there’s a great lack of black women with “obvious” presidential credentials.

But I kept my eyes peeled, and ended up praising Karen Bass, who is now mayor of Los Angeles. (See “I think I like Karen Bass. As always, I’d like to know more.“)

But Joe went with the black woman who was one of the three black women I would least have wanted him to pick. Obviously, I think he was looking at different things from what I was looking at. And no, I don’t mean what President Obama was looking at in 2013 (although it was hard to argue with the president at the time, unless you were an ardent feminist).

I think he saw her as politically helpful, perhaps even politically necessary. And maybe he was right. Maybe it was close enough that he’d have lost without whatever portion of the electorate she helped turn out. And that would have been disastrous for the country. So Joe picked her, despite the way she had unforgettably stabbed him in the back the year before. He didn’t care about that as much as I did.

Anyway, he picked her, and I tried to be optimistic. But I have to say that in the last three years, I haven’t seen her take on any qualities that would increase my confidence in her. Of course, admittedly, I don’t spend a lot of time scrutinizing what veeps do.

And now, Joe’s stuck with her. And while Matt Bai’s diagnosis of the problem was really good, he didn’t really come up with what I would call a solution to the conundrum.

What he suggested seemed kind of fatalistic, really. But I admit I don’t have any better ideas. And neither does anyone else. As long as there are no acceptable alternatives to my man Joe for the top job — and there aren’t ANY — it may just be a problem we have to live with. Which is kind of what Bai said…

13 thoughts on “The Kamala Harris problem

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    To be clear about my lede there, Doug called her a “moron.” She’s not a moron, or even close to it. She demonstrated that when she passed the bar exam in 1990.

    Of course, it was the California bar exam, but still…

    1. Doug Ross

      A moron can pass a test. She owes much of her political standing to being Willie Brown’s girlfriend and being in the right place at the right time for Biden. Her speech is gibberish more often than not now… Can you picture her on the world stage? She’s the diversity Dan Quayle.

      1. Barry

        Numerous male politicians owe their political standing to the women they know or slept with – so turnabout is fair.

        The “good Christian” Speaker of the House in Tennessee has been reportedly sleeping with a lobbyist – the wife of an assistant to the governor. Not a world in right wing La-La land about it. I guess they are too busy praying to notice.

        Kamala’s political standing isn’t owed to Willie Brown. That’s nonsense.

        What elected official in the world refuses to appoint people they know and trust to boards and commissions?

        That person doesn’t exist.
        He appointed her to the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and to the California Medical Assistance Commission.

        No one seriously thinks that’s 1) a problem 2) a rocket ship ticket to the top of the political world.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          OK, you got my nostalgia machine running with that reference to the “Speaker of the House in Tennessee.”

          To me, that phrase refers to only one person, Ned Ray McWherter. He was the speaker from 1973-87, which more than covers the entire period during which I covered Tennessee politics.

          That was a guy who knew how to run a House…

          That was a very, very different time, of course, when politics in Tennessee made sense. There was perfect balance, dictated by history and demographics, spread across the three great states of Tennessee. East Tennessee was Republican, but of course old-school Republicans, since it had supported the Union during the Recent Unpleasantness. Lamar Alexander, the Republican governor with whom Ned Ray worked quite effectively, came from there.

          Middle Tennessee, if I remember correctly (I seldom paid close attention to it), was solidly Democratic. Then you got to my stomping grounds, West Tennessee. If a statewide general election was going to be close, it would be decided there. Of course, we didn’t start having close ones until the 80s, when I was there.

          The essence of West Tennessee found expression in Carroll County, which was one of my counties I covered as a reporter in 1978. It was said that if you won there, you won the state. I haven’t looked back at the numbers to see how true that was, from one election to another, but the county certainly gave that impression. There was a delicate balance between parties there, and it was reflected in the private sector. There were two small law firms in the county seat, and their lawyers were great sources of mine — if there was something big going on in Huntingdon, the county seat, one or more of those guys was always involved, and he’d tell everything that was going on.

          But the relevant point here is that each firm had two partners — one Democratic, the other Republican. That way, they could get everybody’s business. Which I suppose was one of the reasons they always knew so much…

          But I digress…

  2. Ken

    You’re clearly contradicting yourself.

    You’ve stated several times on this blog that we had equally great picks in the 2008 presidential election. But we didn’t. McCain’s choice for VP was far, far worse than Harris could ever be. Palin was a clear pre-cursor to the Trump phenomenon and as such reflected very badly on McCain’s decision-making. If it’s an “uncomfortable question of whether voters can get their heads around Biden’s vice president as a potential president,” then that same question was at least equally uncomfortable for the GOP ticket in 2008.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Folks, could you try to simply address the ideas being presented, and stop exerting yourselves so strenuously to seize upon things to demonstrate what a bad, stupid, hypocrite ol’ Brad is? You’re likely to sprain something.

        If you don’t, you’ll find your comments get approved even less often than they do now — or ever, if you can’t shake the habit. Because when you do somersaults to “demonstrate” what a wrong ‘un I am, I’m not going to publish it without carefully explaining what I actually said, as opposed to what you SAY I said. And I’m not going to waste any more of my life performing such tedious tasks…

        1. Ken

          Here’s what you don’t seem to get:
          Too often, it’s what you don’t say that makes what you do say so problematic.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            OK, let me see if I can get really, really smart and “get” it, for once.

            You’re saying that you are the person with the special power of reading my mind so that you can see what I REALLY think, so that you can argue with THAT instead of what I said.

            Right? Or do I still fail to “get” it.

            Here’s the deal: This is my blog. Has my name on it and everything. It’s where I, Brad Warthen, come to share with people what I really, truly think about things, and I allow others to share their views on these matters, and we cordially discuss them, without accusing and badgering and disrespecting each other.

            If there are things I am NOT saying that you’re bursting to argue with, why don’t you go find a site where people are actually thinking and saying such things, and argue with THEM? I’m sure there are plenty such sites. This one is different. It’s not about participating in the great binary shouting match. But there are loads of people out there who LOVE doing that sort of thing…

  3. bud

    Biden is hardly perfect but he has gotten many thing right. We absolutely had to get out of Afghanistan so bravo for that. He continues to fight the good fight on abortion. But that is a sad uphill battle. And best of all is his pragmatic choice for VP. I strongly disagree with Brad’s contention that race/gender should not be a consideration for high office. We all have different life experiences that factor in to how we view issues. An old white dude just won’t be able to empathize the same way as a woman of color. That is important. She’s infinitely qualified to step in to the top job. Sadly Biden is showing his age and is making more and more unforced errors particularly when it comes to oil. Why the back backtracking on drilling on federal land?? But we’re probably stuck with Biden so let’s get behind him regardless of his flaw. He’s certainly better that Robert Kennedy Jr.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, we could discuss that all day, but again, Bud confuses me by the way he responds to my writing. I’ve looked back over what I wrote, and I can’t find “Brad’s contention that race/gender should not be a consideration for high office.”

      Of course they’re “considerations,” such as other political points such as geography. Many a time a presidential candidate from, say, the Northeast has tried to “balance” his ticket with a candidate from what we today call “flyover country.”

      What I said is that such things are not qualifications, which of course they’re not. Being from Dubuque doesn’t, for instance, give you valuable experience in foreign affairs.

      Considerations and qualifications exist on different planes. They fit differently into the formula of decision-making, or at least they should.

      Frequently, candidates get themselves into hot water thinking only about the “considerations.” This might be clearer if Bud thinks about Sarah Palin.

      I can’t tell you exactly why John McCain disastrously elevated that woman to national politics. But I can tell you what it looked like. It looked like he was really ticked off that the partisan wing-nuts in his party weren’t going to stand for his picking Joe Lieberman. So he basically picked Palin — someone utterly lacking in actual qualifications — as a way of saying to them, “OK, here’s someone you people will like.”

      He made the political consideration of unifying his party for the election over anything remotely like qualification.

      The result was the biggest mistake I can think of him making. Everybody makes mistakes, sometimes big ones — as Joe has done on Afghanistan and abortion, for instance. 🙂

      1. bud

        Oh I know what you said. I just disagree. We absolutely need diversity in the executive branch. That is to say that an all white male cohort serving POTUS IS not well qualified to serve the needs of the American people even if, on paper, it’s the most experienced best educated smartest etc. Diversity confers a quality that is essential to effective governance. This diversity component may necessitate a trade off that sacrifices some degree of work experience. Over time that tradeoff will lesson as we develop a growing cadre of experience qualities among all demographic groups.

        It’s not just about balancing the ticket to achieve some electoral advantage. Although clearly that is an important consideration. Rather diversity is important to good governance aside from electoral math.


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