On Tuesday, Joe Biden announced that he had chosen Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate for the 2020 election — a historic, significant, and salient selection. Harris is the first Black woman and the first person of Indian descent to be chosen for a presidential ticket. At a time when our nation is facing a national reckoning with its treatment of people of colour, Biden's choice lends action to his promise to improve racial equity across America. And in a race that has largely become, for Democrats, about unseating President Donald Trump, she's not only a qualified contender but also a perfectly calculated choice.
Vice presidents have a long history of being chosen to round out lacking features in the presidential candidate. Trump chose Mike Pence, one of the country's most conservative and vocally religious senators, to win over the more religious sector of Republican voters dissuaded by Trump's scandal-ridden history. Barack Obama, a young newcomer to the national stage, selected Biden, the fourth-most-senior senator at the time. George W. Bush chose Dick Cheney to add federal clout and military expertise to Bush's own governing experience and platform of increasing the US military.
Following this tradition, Harris serves as an excellent foil for traits that Biden has been criticized for lacking. Biden is, politely put, a senior white man whose age is of concern to certain voters; Harris is a younger woman of colour. While Biden has been caught stumbling over words, Harris is a powerful speaker and presence, which she proved on the national stage through her own presidential campaign. She's a fresh, energetic force in a contentious election, and her strengths and traits help reinforce areas of concern around Biden.
While there are points of contrast between them that highlight the other's strengths, they have the more important characteristics in common: both fall within mainstream Democratic politics but show openness to a left-leaning agenda (Biden in particular has recently warmed to this side). Harris also isn't afraid to criticize Biden — when the news of her nomination broke, conflict between them from an early Democratic debate quickly resurfaced. During the June 27 debate, Harris criticized Biden for his opposition to school busing in the 1970s and for his past use of segregationist senators as examples of civility in the Senate. Harris eventually conceded that she and Biden held similar views on busing decisions and endorsed his campaign after suspending her own. Harris and Biden fall in a similar position on the Democratic spectrum, and she'll also make a strong debate partner. Biden reportedly wanted a relationship similar to the one he had with Obama, that is, a genuine rapport with space for debate. Harris has proved she won't disappoint.
When Biden committed to choosing a woman running mate, several strong women politicians arose as candidates. Out of these qualified women, Harris set herself apart. She's, frankly, less polarizing than Sen. Elizabeth Warren, which means she won't dissuade middle-of-the-road Democrats or Republicans who are against Trump. She's also more experienced at a federal level than the governors and mayors who were considered and likely benefited in that her role didn't hold her responsible for a city or state throughout COVID-19, freeing her from any criticism around handling it. Unlike other candidates from Congress, Harris has proved she can handle national media attention through her presidential campaign — a quality that sources say was important to Biden in his search. She's also shown serious fundraising chops, in her own political career and in sponsorship of the Biden campaign — a critical skill for taking on well-funded Trump. Just the news of Harris's nomination reportedly raised the Biden campaign $26 million in 24 hours, part of which came from 150,000 first-time donors.
Despite my excitement for Harris's nomination, I'm not blind to the criticism she's received. I understand she has only served as a senator for two years. To this I argue that our sitting president never previously held political office. I understand she took a harsh stance on criminal justice as a prosecutor, and that criticism is entirely fair. I hope her recent actions in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, plus her 2016 Open Justice initiative — an online platform that made criminal-justice data available to the public and helped improve police accountability — can convince voters she's on the right path. And I'm optimistic she can be swayed by progressive activists to more progressive causes. And will she continue to be criticized as a vice presidential candidate, through the lens of that special scrutiny reserved for women in the public eye? I'm sure.
But for me, Harris's nomination is as pragmatic as it is emotional. As a feminist who has watched Trump consistently attack women, limit our reproductive rights, and focus on appearance over political acumen, it's far past time we had women leadership in the White House. (I was particularly impressed by Harris's handling of Brett Kavanaugh.) As a supporter of racial justice, I'm thrilled that a woman of colour's perspective will have a presidential platform. And as the nanny to a 9-year-old girl during Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, all I can think of is the look on her face when she realised that, in her words, "We could have a girl president!" As a vice presidential nominee, Harris is not only a role model but also a voice long overdue in being heard.
Do I think she's perfect? Of course not. But I do think she's the perfect choice for Biden's campaign, which is set against the backdrop of a contentious political climate and an urgency to take back the White House. The first popup you receive when you visit Biden's campaign website says "Together, we will beat Donald Trump." For a campaign that has openly taken this positioning, Harris is the vice president to succeed. Biden said it best in his email to supporters on Tuesday afternoon: "I need someone working alongside me who is smart, tough, and ready to lead. Kamala is that person."
I can't wait to see what she does next.