Joe Biden officially named Kamala Harris as his running mate in the 2020 US Election on August 11th. Since then, all eyes have understandably been on the California Senator and former Presidential candidate.
Biden was leading in the polls prior to the Democratic National Convention, and performed better than expected at the DNC. The former Vice President has already said that he will rely quite a bit on his VP if elected. Also, to put it as delicately as possible, if Biden wins, there is a chance that his VP pick might secure the nomination for President or the Presidency itself sooner than eight years from now.
So who Biden’s running mate is carries a weight both in terms of winning and governing that VP picks don’t usually have to deal with.
The Right and the Establishment React
Right-wing pundits have dusted off the whole “radical left agenda” chestnut, proving that they will level those claims at truly anyone the Dems put up. Also proving that actually having a radical left agenda is no more dangerous for a candidate than not, as Fox News and speakers at the Republican National Convention (RNC) will say you do regardless. But I digress…
As expected, so-called centrist Dems, or the Democratic Establishment (basically the MSNBC crowd), are all very excited and supportive of the VP choice. So are the Liberal-supporting centrists here in Canada.
They are joined, though, by more than a handful of Canadian progressives. I’m talking “I vote NDP but wish they went more left, Trudeau’s just Harper with good hair and slightly better social policies” progressives.
Not sure if it’s because, when it comes to US politics, the bar is in a much different place, or the fact that Harris is an ex-Montrealer who went to Westmount High School. I didn’t go to Westmount High myself, though quite a few friends did, and it isn’t a private school, but a public one with a bit of a rough reputation — at least it had one in the late 70s and early 80s when she attended.
When it comes to American progressives, the VP nod has split opinion into three camps:
Kamala the Cop
Some have brought back the “Kamala is a Cop” narrative, to remind people of her significantly less-than-stellar criminal justice record as both a District Attorney and the California Attorney General. Given that she once referred to herself as the “top cop” in the state, you can’t really say the charge is unfair.
Harris’ time as a prosecutor has been both decried as regressive and even hailed as progressive. Democracy Now recently had two guests on that outlined their points.
Given the current climate, Harris’ record, when combined with Biden’s co-authorship of the 1994 Crime Bill, puts up a couple of red flags progressives find hard to ignore. And many aren’t.
It’s also what might help deflect any last-ditch attacks from the Trump camp. With the current President’s COVID-19 response failing across the board, the Law and Order card is the last one he has to play, and it may backfire if he tries to play it against former prosecutor Harris.
Kamala the Progressive Senator and Paradigm Breaker
Harris is both the first black woman and the first Asian-American to be a major party nominee for the Executive Branch. So this would be a paradigm-breaking administration, which is needed, especially given the rise of white nationalism under Trump.
That, along with the argument that her Senate record on Criminal Justice Reform, which many argue is significantly more progressive than her prosecutorial one, has some on the left genuinely excited by her candidacy. This includes some you wouldn’t expect.
In 2018, Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King said that the two candidates he would not support with 99% certainty were Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Good thing he didn’t say 100% because last week he tweeted this:
Kamala the Better Opponent
There’s another line of thinking espoused by some progressives, including hosts on The Young Turks and by me, at least in solidarity. I can’t vote in the US Election, but if I could, this would be my stance.
Put simply, it poses the question: Who would you rather fight for four years?
Joe Biden is clearly not in the progressive camp of the Democratic Party, far from it. But he is someone who listens to people in the room.
Kamala Harris may have a few more progressive bona fides than her running mate, but she is also far from an ideal lefty choice. She is, however, also someone who knows how to read the room and who acts accordingly.
Harris was originally for Medicare-for-All…before she was against it. While that may be something a typical shifty politician would do, it also means there is an opportunity to get her to switch her position back to the left.
Of course that is unlikely, but at least there is room to try. And if her and Biden don’t deliver, they can be primaried in 2024.
Come to think of it, if Biden serves out his full first term but declines to run again, Harris will most likely face multiple primary challengers, even from the center and right of the Democratic Party. These challenges would not even be motivated by ideological ideals, but by old-fashioned greed.
Even if that doesn’t happen, fighting against people who will listen and who need your votes to stay in power is a helluva lot better than the alternative.
Donald Trump and Mike Pence won’t listen in political circles. And if the RNC’s actions this week are any indication, they will make fighting back in the streets very difficult.
Oh yeah, there’s the whole inevitable dive into unchecked fascism that a second Trump term will bring. But I digress again.
It’s clear who the better opponents are.