After holding the country in suspense since the early days of being named the prospective Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden has finally named his own vice presidential pick on August 11, 2020. Biden has chosen the junior senator from California, Kamala Harris, to be his running mate. In an email to his supporters, Biden wrote that Harris is “smart, tough and ready to lead,” and that Harris “understands the pain” so many American citizens are feeling during the COVID pandemic.
In a highly contentious 2020 election marred by a global pandemic and a country facing a national reckoning over racial issues, Biden’s pick of Kamala Harris fulfills his campaign promise to choose a woman as his running mate. But more importantly, in the context of racial equality, women — especially black women — are finally receiving representation on the national stage.
Women, including women of color, have represented a key constituency for the Democrats. The disappointment they felt after Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016 led to a record number of women running for Congress. We are also witnessing a societal shift that has women’s rights receiving far greater attention. Trump’s blatant sexism and Republicans’ efforts to raze women’s healthcare infrastructures are also driving forces. Biden has acknowledged these as factors. Picking Kamala Harris is a smart choice, and it represents a major shift in American politics, where men and women can finally be on a path toward equality. Harris’ background as a daughter of immigrants, a woman of color, and a person of South Asian descent is also noteworthy. Regardless of one’s political positions, this must be regarded as a historic pick.
Kamala Harris spent the majority of her career rising through the law-and-order hierarchy in California, with her early career as deputy district attorney at Alameda County in California, before being elected as District Attorney in San Francisco in 2004. She later went on to become Attorney General of California from 2011, until her election to the US Senate in 2017.
Harris describes herself as a “progressive prosecutor”, in which she sees it as possible to take a “tough” approach on crime while also addressing the inequalities of the American criminal justice system. Harris has pitched to voters that she can be trusted to reform the justice system, knowing it as she does “from inside and out”.
Because of her background as a prosecutor, Harris attracted attention for her “grilling” of Trump nominees in the Senate. Most of us remember her acerbic prosecutorial style in the confirmation hearings of Jeff Sessions, Brett Kavanaugh and William Barr.
During her time in the Senate, she has aligned herself with the progressives in the party, backing legislation on the minimum wage and Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All policy. During her campaign, however, she was known as a moderate candidate in contrast to Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Now, in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, Harris has been one of the most outspoken members of the Senate, spearheading legislation to overhaul policing and make lynching a federal crime (remarkable that it was not yet a federal crime).
No political analyst would have picked Harris to partner up with Biden after her debate stage attack on him a year ago. At that time, Harris remarked that while Biden was enjoying a collegial relationship with segregationist senators in the Senate, “there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day, and that little girl was me.” That debate stage attack dented Biden’s lead a little bit at the time, and also provided momentum to Harris’ campaign. She briefly leapfrogged over Bernie Sanders to second place, behind only Biden. Almost a year later, however, here we are. Harris is Biden’s running mate.
Biden not only chose a qualified, energizing candidate, but also showed his ability to see what’s best in somebody without allowing his judgement to be clouded by her sharp attack of him on the debate stage. By selecting his former rival, Biden demonstrates his understanding of the fact that Harris can bring a lot of value to his campaign, especially given the age question (Biden is 77, while Harris is 55). In an important way, Biden also shows his ability to be forgiving to his fellow candidates. Harris’ attack on Biden on the debate stage was considered by Dr. Jill Biden, Biden’s wife, to be a “gut punch.” It is remarkable that Biden did not hold any grudges and is willing to overlook an isolated incident for the good of the country. This is very much in contrast to Donald Trump, who is unforgiving and has gone to extreme lengths to discredit anyone who crossed him.
Harris’ road to the White House alongside Biden will be challenging for her. She will be subjected to relentless attacks from the Trump campaign. Knowing Trump, she may well be subject to sexist or misogynistic comments. But she has proved herself to be a fighter, and this is exactly what Joe Biden needs for this campaign.
Kamala Harris is bringing women in general, and women of color in particular, one step closer to the White House. This is a historic moment, as women have spent many years standing on the White House doorstep, knocking on the door. With this choice, their chances are now far greater, and the consequences likely historic.