On Tuesday, Joe Biden finally announced his running mate. Here’s what our panelists think about the choice.
Theodore Johnson: Biden is betting on Black voters
Theodore R Johnson. Circular panelist byline.DO NOT USE FOR ANY OTHER PURPOSE!
Joe Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris to be his running mate signals one thing: he believes that Black voters are the key to his chances of winning the White House. While he is certain to win upwards of 90% of the Black vote, just as Democratic nominees have done for decades, the more pressing issue is Black voter participation.
Having Harris on the ticket is a bet that she is best suited from among the vice-presidential field to increase the number of Black voters who will turn out for the election. The Biden gamble seems to be that if Harris can help rebound Black turnout, which dropped seven points from 2012 to 2016, then he can carry the states that Hillary Clinton lost by extremely narrow margins – Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. And the hope is that choosing Harris may also make Biden more competitive in purple and red states like Florida, North Carolina and perhaps even Georgia.
Naming Harris to the ticket, however, is the easy part. In order for Black turnout to increase, she will need to maintain a consistent presence in the areas central to the Biden electoral strategy. And she will need to fight hard to ensure grassroots organizations are properly funded and resourced to help mobilize Black voters.
But make no mistake: the Biden-Harris ticket is an explicit declaration that the campaign has cast its lot in with Black voters.
- Theodore R Johnson is a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice
Malaika Jabali: I find it hard to be excited about Harris
Over the past few months, the Biden campaign has promised Black Americans many things, including a Black woman on the US supreme court, and, also, the potential for a Black woman vice-president. Now that it’s official, and Senator Kamala Harris has been announced as Biden’s running mate, one can’t help but feel that this moment feels … hollow.
Today, hundreds of thousands of Black men and women on the frontlines of a deadly pandemic face death, evictions and massive unemployment. I wish I could believe that Vice-President Kamala Harris would make a material difference in our lives, but I find it hard to.
During her time as California’s attorney general, Harris failed to prosecute Steven Mnuchin, then the CEO of OneWest Bank, for mortgage fraud. At the time, a foreclosure crisis was sweeping through the country after the 2007-2008 financial crisis, which was leaving countless people who had been preyed on by banks homeless. Today, millions face evictions in a new crisis that is disproportionately affecting Black and Brown Americans. Forgive me for not being sure that Harris will fight for us.
The frenetic veepstakes have reduced Black political strategy to transactions instead of vision and possibility. It’s limited Black power to the backbreaking labor we can provide – whether in the booths or as VP – to uplift a meager candidate with meager vision. To top it off, we are given a Black woman benefiting from the Black activist energy of the same criminal justice movements she has denigrated for years when she was San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general. I would appreciate the irony if it weren’t so tragic.
- Malaika Jabali is a Guardian US columnist, public policy attorney and activist
Jill Filipovic: Kamala Harris is no ideologue. That’s a good thing
Kamala Harris is not a universally unifying vice-presidential pick – but in today’s Democratic party, there isn’t anyone who is going to draw our cleaved, factionalized party together. Progressives are disappointed that Harris is relatively moderate (although certainly more progressive than Joe Biden), and specifically that, as a former prosecutor, she holds some responsibility for the exact ills that a multiracial coalition of young people have spent all summer out in the street protesting.
This is certainly a fair concern – Harris is not a leftist, and she has a troubling record on policing and prisons. But Harris has a few things going for her. The first is the fact that her candidacy is groundbreaking, and a win would make her the first woman, the first African American, and the first south Asian vice-president. African Americans, and African American women in particular, are not just the Democratic party’s most loyal voters, but its moral center. Virtually no Black women voted for Donald Trump, and Black women have long been the people who work the hardest to get Democrats elected. It is far past time the Democratic party stopped taking this constituency for granted, and instead extended real power.
The second factor – and perhaps the most important to disappointed progressives – is that Harris, like Biden, is a remarkably malleable candidate. She is not an ideologue; she’s a political animal, someone who will move with the changing tides – a representative, one might say. That makes her untrustworthy to people who want a true believer in office. But it also means that the most dynamic movements, such as Black Lives Matter, and the laudable efforts of disappointed Bernie Sanders fans to get more progressives into office, create an environment into which Harris will fit herself. As the Democratic base goes, so go both Harris and Biden. This is good news for the progressives who are winning the hearts and minds of Democratic voters.
And here’s the truth: Harris is the pick, and it’s now a two-way race between Trump/Pence and Biden/Harris. You can wish the VP were someone else, but she’s not. A vote for anyone other than Biden/Harris is a vote to keep Trump in office. That might not feel good, but it’s the reality we’re in. And there is absolutely no question that any progressive who takes issue with Harris’s record should be terrified of another four years of Trump – there is no comparison. Vote accordingly.
- Jill Filipovic is the author of the forthcoming book OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind
Wesley Yang: ‘Harris and Biden’s weaknesses could be their strengths’
In this election, it’s clear that Donald Trump is going to run as a bulwark of law and order who stands between Americans and roving anarchists and antifa. He regularly paints Democrat-run cities as “totally out of control” on crime. In a sit-down interview with Fox anchor Chris Wallace last month, Trump claimed that Biden wants to “defund the police,” which Wallace pointed out was inaccurate on-air.
That line of attack is going to be difficult when your opponents are the author of the 1994 crime bill and a hard-nosed prosecutor who laughed about cracking down on truancy.
In much the same way that partisan discipline put the kibosh on the Tara Reade accusations against Joe Biden, Democrats and the liberal media that support them will put daylight between Democrats and the disorder in the street.
Turns out all the opposition research that progressive activists used against Biden and Harris in the primary is suddenly a strength in the race against Trump.
- Wesley Yang is an American essayist. He is currently a columnist for Tablet magazine and a contributor editor for Esquire
Geoffrey Kabaservice: Sometimes conventional wisdom is right
I should have put money on my bet last summer that the 2020 Democratic ticket would be Biden-Harris.
It seemed a long shot at the time, when all the energy in the party seemed to be with progressives like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. But the 2018 midterm election confirmed that the party’s progressives are still outnumbered by older, more socially conservative African Americans and college-educated suburbanites, particularly women.
Once those groups made Joe Biden the nominee, and once Biden declared that his running mate would be a woman, it was a foregone conclusion that Kamala Harris would be the VP pick. She was the only contender at the intersection of key Democratic preferences.
For pragmatists who wanted Biden to choose a plausibly presidential running mate and potential successor, Harris’s status as a senator from America’s largest state was critical. Every announced Democratic vice-presidential selection since 1944, with the exception of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, has been a senator. Biden, based on his own experiences, no doubt considers service in the upper chamber to be the best preparation for the presidency. And Biden’s selection of Harris, despite her debate attack on his long-ago support for bussing, will be put to great effect on the virtual campaign trail as a demonstration of mutual reconciliation and Biden’s openness to Harris educating him on racial matters.
Many Democratic women and minorities see Harris’s selection as VP is an important symbol of recognition and equality. The most woke progressives will resent her law-enforcement and incarceration record as the former California attorney general. But few of them live in the important swing states – and others may note that on an ideological scale, Harris ranks as the second-most progressive senator, behind Warren but ahead of Sanders.
Overall, Harris satisfied the critical Democratic factions without being unacceptable to any of them. Sometimes the conventional wisdom gets it right.
- Geoffrey Kabaservice is the director of political studies at the Niskanen Center