by Jennifer Rubin
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms at a press conference on May 30 in Atlanta Ben Gray—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP
Funny how just a year ago, being a woman, let alone a woman of color, was said to be considered a deficit, a burden for a presidential candidate. Too risky. Too important to go with a woman. America won’t accept a woman, let alone an African American woman. Now, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, we see how wrong and narrow-minded that definition of a “risky” candidate was.
Former vice president Joe Biden committed to pick a female vice president, a decision that was widely praised given the plethora of solid female candidates who came up short in the presidential run. So selecting a woman became savvy. Capture suburban women! Energize the base! But didn’t they say . . . well, you see the evaluation of just who is “risky” is utterly subjective and largely wrongheaded, for it assumes the only way for Democrats to beat President Trump is to win back white men from the Rust Belt. Wrong.
Putting together a diverse coalition and returning to inclusive, bread-and-butter economic issues turns out to be a much better way to victory than trying to persuade a MAGA hat-wearing Fox News viewer he was wrong. (Many people who didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, especially suburban woman, are persuadable; some simply are not.) In the wake of Floyd’s killing and the great awakening on racial injustice many white Americans finally are experiencing, that coalition is more visible and larger than ever before. The political ground and the culture have shifted beneath our feet.
Biden knows a good political issue when he sees it. Opposing veneration of the Confederacy is an easy one to embrace. (“The names affixed to our military installations must honor the diverse heritage of leadership and sacrifice in our country’s history,” he told Politico. “I fully support Senator [Elizabeth] Warren’s bipartisan effort to form a commission to rename Defense Department facilities named after Confederate leaders in the next three years, and look forward to implementing the commission’s work as president.”)
Likewise, picking an African American vice president now seems almost critical, a way to fully embrace the emerging consensus on race and to further illuminate Trump’s backward, racist, clueless mind-set. Trump offers his white base a fairy tale (Make America Great Again — when women and nonwhites were marginalized). Biden offers a better, more decent America — and that, a great majority of Americans understand, means addressing race.
Sure enough, the Associated Press reports that there are a slew of women of color on the Biden short list (“as few as six serious contenders”): “Among the group still in contention: Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California, as well as Susan Rice, who served as President Barack Obama’s national security adviser. . . .The campaign’s list includes several black women, including Harris and Rice. Advisers have also looked closely at Florida Rep. Val Demings and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, both of whom are black, and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Latina.”
Warren, another white septuagenarian, does not seem to fit the moment, despite her policy chops and devotion to systemic change. In another year, perhaps; not in the post-George Floyd time, however. Among the other contenders, Susan Rice strikes me as the most problematic given her lack of experience in elective office, her role in the Benghazi affair (which Republicans will use as a giant distraction) and her focus on foreign rather than domestic affairs.
By contrast, Harris has long seemed the front-runner. Her presence and forceful voice on criminal justice reform and race have only strengthened her position, but do not rule out Demings, age 63, or Lance Bottoms, age 50. These are two supremely impressive women whose hands-on experience with the issue now convulsing the country (systemic racism in policing and elsewhere) have made them among the most credible and inspirational figures over the last few weeks.
Frankly, Biden will not go wrong by picking Harris, Demings or Lance Bottoms. It would be “risky” to choose anyone else.
Jennifer Rubin opinion writer for The Washington Post.