A column is getting negative attention for all the wrong reasons
Given that it’s an opinion column from its Culture editor, Virginia Heffernan, I’m inclined to give the paper and the columnist a pass on charges of misogyny. It is, however, not a good column. (For those of you, like me, who don’t live on the West Coast and thus don’t subscribe to LAT, YahooNews has a full reprint.)
The setup is banal:
Sometime very, very, very soon, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will join forces with a running mate, and his campaign signs will get a refresh: Biden-Harris or Biden-Rice or maybe Biden-Bass or Biden-Abrams. Who will it be?
The rhythm of this cartoonish cotillion is familiar, even if this is the first time a male candidate has pledged, as Biden did on March 16, to pick a woman to ride in the sidecar. Whatever the virtues of that pledge, it has generated some odd optics.
I’m not saying it’s exactly “The Bachelor: Campaign Trail,” but it’s a little weird to watch an old man set out to choose a younger woman to take to the ultimate fantasy suite, the White House.
It’s not obvious to me why the optics are “odd.” While I would have preferred that Biden hadn’t pledged that his running mate would be a woman, eschewing identity politics that smacks of tokenism, the search hasn’t been particularly unusual aside from the constraints imposed by the COVID pandemic.
If she’ll have him. Because the candidates for Biden’s final rose seem to have the upper hand here. The presumed top three, after all, are at the height of their powers: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.); Susan Rice, a former United Nations ambassador and Obama advisor; and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles). These women, with all the world before them, seem to regard the VP role with clear-eyed skepticism, a slightly arched brow. As they should.
There is, so far as I’m aware, zero evidence of this. So far as I can tell, any of these women would jump at the chance to be Vice President. Harris ran for President in her own right this cycle; she would become the presumptive 2024 nominee as veep to a one-term President. And in what sense are Rice, who nobody has ever suggested should be President, much less Bass, who’s 66 and was a complete unknown until she got on Biden’s short list, “at the height of their powers”? It’s absurd.
This year, the vice presidency — never a plum job — will be especially bruising. Whoever runs with Biden is in for an oppo inferno. She’ll be relentlessly trolled as a deep-state dragon by the Trump campaign and all those under-bridge internet dwellers who support it. There will be presidential tweets with playground taunts. Chants in the lock-her-up style. Death threats.
“Every woman in public life needs to develop skin as tough as rhinoceros hide,” wrote Eleanor Roosevelt. Biden’s running mate will have to have a thicker hide still. Come to think of it, an actual dragon, if the deep state has one on hand, might be worth considering.
That’s American politics in 2020. Harris already endured it in her own run for the White House. Rice endured it as the fall gal for the Benghazi incident; at least she’d get a promotion out of it this time. Bass has only entered the national spotlight in the last month, as a result of these veepstakes. But she would go from back bench Congresswoman to the second-highest office in the land.
And then there’s the fact that once won, the VP position will be a high-wire act in windy weather. If Biden is elected, he’ll be 78 at his inauguration — the oldest president in history. As someone who knows the second-in-command role well, Biden has expressed an uncommon willingness to delegate to his VP and to his Cabinet. According to Politico, he has also told aides he will not seek a second term. In other words, Biden’s VP will have to be an unusually active understudy, shadowing the boss in a paradoxically bright spotlight.
So, the Veep would not only have an enhanced role in policymaking but a clear path to the nomination in four, rather than the customary eight, years? The horrors!
It’s a tall order. In past years people might have disdained the VP role because it’s not enough power; this time, for women in the prime of their careers, it might mean too much ascribed power for too little actual authority.
That . . . makes no sense.
Too much responsibility with too little authority can be a problem. I would never want to be, say, Secretary of Homeland Security. But power without authority is just fine. Ask any White House Chief of Staff.
In any case, the so-called shortlist is an extraordinary group, but so are the “and Peggys.” That’s a reference to the Schuyler sisters competing for young Alexander’s attention in “Hamilton” — yes, I’m trying to make up for disparaging this solemn affair as “The Bachelor.” Peggy Schuyler is the one who vanishes from the action. Biden’s “and Peggys” include the likes of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former First Lady Michelle Obama, among others.
I have no idea what the point here is. None.
Every cycle, there is running mate spot open. Occasionally, there are two. So, it’s not even slightly unusual that lots of people who had ambitions to be second banana will be disappointed. Warren will, presumably, console herself with being one of the most powerful U.S. Senators. Obama will continue being rich and adored. Life goes on.
No men. At all. It’s possible Biden could reverse his March pledge, but it would be a huge failure if he did. (Joe-Kanye is, blessedly, not going to happen.)
All of the shortlisters are Black. That wasn’t in the pledge (Biden did say he’d nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court if he had the chance as president).
In April, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said, “I’m among those who feel that it would be great for him to select a woman of color. But that is not a must.” Maybe not, but as Clyburn’s support in South Carolina was instrumental in scoring Biden the nomination, Biden would be wise to do whatever Clyburn — and so many others — thinks would be great.
It does indeed look like Biden has narrowed the list to two black women, Harris and Rice. It’s not obvious to me that either of them are going to energize the base more than, say, Warren would. Thankfully, however, the fact that Donald Trump is the alternative will accomplish that on its own.
Sigh. The column goes on a bit more after that. I won’t belabor the point. It is not good.