Choosing a vice president is mostly a process of elimination. In Joe Biden’s case, that process led to a very short list. Biden had already announced that he would choose a woman, and it’s been clear for some time that he had to pick a Black woman. There were too many Black women on the list to find none of them qualified. This was the year.
There was a lot of talk about Karen Bass, for whom I have great respect. But Rep. Bass has never gone through the miserable process of being examined under a microscope not only by the national press, which still has some rules, but by a world of bloggers and tabs, many of whom do not. Already, comments she made years ago about Cuba were being highlighted on conservative websites. And she was “only” a representative. In the polls I’ve seen, Americans don’t see the generic member of Congress as a president.
Senators and governors are the safe pick. And senators are safer because the worst thing they can do is vote wrong. They don’t have to explain escaped convicts or crazed juvies.
If you’re looking for a Black female senator or governor, your list is down to one. If you’re looking for a Black woman who has been vetted nationally, you get the same name.
So why the process? Why did so many of us start looking at people who were mayors or members of Congress or former police chiefs? The answer is simple: voodoo economics.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan ran on a promise to cut taxes, raise defense spending and balance the budget. One of his opponents, George H.W. Bush, called it “voodoo economics.” Ronald Reagan chose him as his running mate anyway. I was on the ground in Florida. I think Reagan could have won with Mickey Mouse on his ticket, but the tape of Bush demeaning his running mate’s platform was played for years to come.
In Kamala Harris’ case, it wasn’t Biden’s economic platform but his record of working across the aisle with segregationist senators on non-racial issues and his opposition to court-ordered school busing of students that provided her with two memorable debate moments at Biden’s expense. Former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, a longtime friend of Biden’s, was repeatedly quoted expressing concern about her comments. Others questioned her record as California attorney general. At one point, the Biden people felt the need to say publicly that Biden and Harris had a collegial relationship.
If the first rule of vice presidential selection is to do no harm, what matters is not how Harris’ attacks played in the primaries or how Biden felt about them [that they were unfair] but how they would play in a general election.
Ask yourself: What could President Donald Trump do with those tapes? What would he say about her tenure as a tough-on-crime attorney general whose office sought the death penalty for a heinous murderer?
The answer, of course, is nothing. Attack Biden for his opposition to mandatory busing? Americans are also against it. Attack Biden for working across the aisle to get things done? No Trump on that one. How about attacking Harris for being too tough on crime as attorney general? Trump’s law and order campaign doesn’t work against somebody whom progressives considered too conservative.
If you look at it from Trump’s point of view, it couldn’t have been worse. Let’s face it: In the hours since the announcement, we would have been hearing about Cuba if it were Karen Bass and Benghazi if it were Susan Rice. We would be hearing things we didn’t know, because millions of people would suddenly emerge with bits of information and misinformation.
As historic as today’s news is, we are not meeting someone new. Kamala Harris doesn’t need to introduce herself at the convention, as Geraldine Ferraro [my old boss] dramatically did in 1984. If that makes it less exciting, it also makes it safer. In retrospect, Biden’s choice was easy, and the fact that it looks that way tells you that it was the right choice for the time.
On his first presidential decision, Joe Biden did good.