Ever since Joseph Biden announced in March that he will be picking a woman to be his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris has always been in the top ten picks; and when the clamor for the Democratic nominee to choose a woman of color grew in the aftermath of the brutal slaying of African American George Floyd in the streets of Minneapolis at the hands of a white police officer, the chances of Harris moving closer to the Number Two pick became brighter. Politically it may be that the choice of Harris as his running mate might have been the smart thing to do; but Biden and much of the country knows that Harris brings with her a much bigger and larger picture of what America is all about. And this irrespective of what a handful of red necks and bigots in the political opposition might say.
There was long this fear that Biden might choose a running mate that would be easy cannon fodder to the Republican campaign, especially of those woman considered as too far to the left of the center and threatening corporate America. But with some fifty years of political experience in his home state of Delaware and Washington D.C. Biden should have known better. Every one in his final list were women of high accomplishments with race and heritage just one of the factors. Donald Trump and his coterie would attack just anybody on the ticket, only this time around they have found a person who would not be responding to silly or outrageous comments bordering or outright racist views.
Kamala Harris has indeed come a long way and traces her roots to Besant Nagar, Chennai, India and Jamaica. Her mother Shyamala Gopalan moved to the United States in 1958 to pursue higher studies in California and her Jamaican boyfriend and later husband Donald Harris who later went on to teach economics at Stanford. The marriage did not last long as Shyamala, a breast cancer specialist and scientist, became a single mother when Kamala was only five. To the Oakland born Kamala and her sister, the first tests of life came by way of being brought up by a single parent.
The Indian roots went beyond her liking of idlis and masala dosais but also imbibing some of the credentials of her maternal grand-parents: her grand father being an Indian freedom fighter and later serving the Indian Civil Service including a stint in Zambia; and her grand mother while being a home maker still taking a lead community role in helping victims of domestic violence. But Kamala Harris has not hid her special affection and admiration of her mother who seems a source of inspiration as well. Harris has made the point that the researcher mother—aside from being very active in the civil rights movement in America during student days– was at work until the very last minute of the birth of her daughters. “…in the first case her water broke when she was at the lab; and the other while she was making apple strudel”, Harris has said.
It is not just the African American community that will feel elated that Senator Harris has been brought to the ticket. There was indeed this subtle warning that should Biden not pick an African American woman he is doomed on November 3. The argument was that his strong base of support will not vote against him but just sit it out by not showing up on election day. In one stroke by his choice Biden has also injected an element of enthusiasm of the Asian communities, especially the 3.5 million strong Indian Americans who are now recognized as a political force in the United States. It is believed that much of this Indian American community has strong ties to the Democratic Party and has also contributed financially to the party over the years.
It is only the third time in Republican and Democratic Presidential politics that a woman has been brought on as running mate: first in 1984 when Walter Mondale picked Geraldine Ferraro; in 2008 when Senator John McCain went with Sarah Pailin; and now former Vice President has picked Senator Harris in the conviction that this Democratic ticket can take on the Trump-Pence combination. Over the decades the role of the Vice Presidency has changed: from being inconsequential to just an attack dog during the campaign and then quietly fade away to be called on to attend ceremonial functions. Today, the Vice President is a part of the Presidency, a person who takes an active role; and seen as someone who is a “heartbeat away” from the Presidency.
Senator Harris brings with her a rich resume, not just her African American and Indian heritage. She has eminently qualified herself as district attorney and Attorney General in the huge state of California; and in the process earned a lot of kudos and brickbats as well. A junior Senator from the Golden State, Harris was one of the promising candidates in the Democratic pack for the elections of 2020 before quietly withdrawing and throwing her weight behind Biden as many others did by seeing the writing on the wall. Her no-nonsense style of politics and talking brought her the tag of being an “ambitious” person, perhaps even standing in the way of her choice as Number Two. The argument was that at 55 years of age, Harris will be impatient and start angling for the Presidency from Day One should Biden win this November. Many Democrats have also not forgotten that she did not hesitate in going after Biden during a debate for trying to be “civil” with segregationist politicians in Washington DC. It would be a treat to watch her debate Mike Pence, the Republican Vice President, during a debate between the two scheduled in Utah this October.
For a campaign that has been anxiously and nervously watching the man in the Oval Office slipping in polls, even in Red States, the first reaction to the choice of Harris has been along expected lines. In fact it would have been big front page news if the Trump campaign had said anything polite and positive on the big development! But first things first… if it was “Sleepy Joe” for Biden, it is “Phony Kamala” for Harris and that she is nothing more than a mouthpiece for Bernie Sanders. “Not long ago, Kamala Harris called Joe Biden a racist and asked for an apology she never received. Clearly, Phony Kamala will abandon her own morals, as well as try to bury her record as a prosecutor in order to appease the anti-police extremists controlling the Democrat Party”, the Trump campaign said. “In her failed attempt at running for president, Kamala Harris gleefully embraced the left’s radical manifesto, calling for trillions of dollars in new taxes and backing Bernie Sanders’ government takeover of healthcare”, it added.
Biden and the Democrats have made history in putting Harris on the ticket. It is for the first time a woman of color is a running mate and in the process having a shot at the Presidency itself should the pair make it on election day. With nearly every poll showing Trump trailing Biden especially in critical and battleground states of the Midwest, some are urging the Biden camp to go all out and invest big in states that were once seen invincible for Democrats but wobbly for Republicans now. With less than three months to go for elections this first week of November the Biden-Harris ticket will have to rise much beyond the pettiness and cheap shots of the opposition to impress upon the country what America is really all about, not just a land of opportunities but of freedom and values.
- The writer was a former senior journalist in Washington D.C. covering North America and the United Nations.