Why Bi­den’s Veep can­di­date mat­ters

The Province - - EDITORIAL - AN­DREW CO­HEN An­drew Co­hen is a jour­nal­ist, pro­fes­sor and au­thor of Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made His­tory.

Nor­mally, by now, the Democrats would have held their na­tional con­ven­tion, as they had planned to do in July, and we would know the woman Joe Bi­den had cho­sen as his run­ning mate.

Nor­mally, by now, we would have heard about the good and bad of his vice-pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee: her po­lit­i­cal, philo­soph­i­cal, ge­o­graphic and de­mo­graphic ad­van­tages; her record in public life; her prospec­tive strengths in gov­ern­ing. And then, nor­mally, we would hear the statu­tory disclaimer that the vice-pres­i­dent makes lit­tle dif­fer­ence in win­ning or los­ing. That the vice-pres­i­dent is no more than “standby equip­ment” in the event the pres­i­dent dies or is in­ca­pac­i­tated.

This is the way it once hap­pened in pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns, when con­ven­tions were week­long fes­ti­vals, the vice-pres­i­dency was an empty ti­tle, and the value of the of­fice was more about run­ning than gov­ern­ing.

No longer. Things have changed. To be­gin, the vice-pres­i­dency mat­ters. It mat­tered for Al Gore and Joe Bi­den. It mat­tered most when the wily and wil­ful Dick Cheney ma­nip­u­lated Ge­orge W. Bush to push Cheney’s ro­bust con­ser­va­tive agenda. The choice of vice-pres­i­dent is more mo­men­tous this year than ever. Never in the his­tory of the repub­lic has the vice-pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee of the op­pos­ing party been so con­sciously and ev­i­dently con­se­quen­tial.

Sev­eral vice-pres­i­dents have come to power on the death of a pres­i­dent, in­clud­ing: An­drew John­son in 1865, Theodore Roo­sevelt in 1901, Calvin Coolidge in 1923, Harry Tru­man in 1945, Lyn­don John­son in 1963. But Amer­i­cans had not ex­pected that the vice-pres­i­dent would be­come pres­i­dent when they voted in 1864, 1900, 1920, 1944 and 1960. In 2020, things are clearer. We know Joe Bi­den is likely to be pres­i­dent in Jan­uary.

That makes his vice-pres­i­dent count in a way that it did not for, say, Wal­ter Mon­dale (who chose Geral­dine Fer­raro) in 1984 or Robert Dole (who chose Jack Kemp) in 1996. Be­cause nei­ther Mon­dale nor Dole had much chance of win­ning, their run­ning mates were unim­por­tant, even if Fer­raro was the first woman on a na­tional ticket of a ma­jor party.

More­over, we know this time that Joe Bi­den would be the old­est pres­i­dent to take of­fice, and we know he is not as sharp or alert as he once was, which can hap­pen at 77.

So, what mat­ters most in a fu­ture vice-pres­i­dent to a for­mer vice-pres­i­dent?

For­get ge­og­ra­phy. Bi­den isn’t go­ing to pick At­lanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bot­toms solely to win Ge­or­gia, an un­likely gain.

If he chooses her, it will be for per­sonal ap­peal and her ur­ban ad­min­is­tra­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ge­og­ra­phy hasn’t mat­tered since John F. Kennedy picked LBJ to win Texas. Bill Clin­ton didn’t pick Gore to carry Ten­nessee any more than Barack Obama chose Bi­den to carry Delaware.

Win­ning the Mid­west is no longer in se­ri­ous doubt for the Democrats. Bi­den is ahead in Penn­syl­va­nia and Wis­con­sin as well as Michi­gan, where Trump has stopped ad­ver­tis­ing. Bi­den does not need Michi­gan Gov­er­nor Gretchen Whit­mer or Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wis­con­sin for that rea­son, though he might for an­other, such as chem­istry.

Po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence re­mains in­dis­pens­able. Bi­den takes a risk pick­ing Su­san Rice, much as he likes her, be­cause she has never held elec­tive of­fice. (He could make her Sec­re­tary of State — be­fore she runs for the U.S. Se­nate in the newly cre­ated state of Columbia, a prospect if the Democrats win big.)

It is thought Bi­den, a for­mer sen­a­tor, val­ues na­tional more than state ex­pe­ri­ence, which is why he is con­sid­er­ing Ka­mala Har­ris and Tammy Duck­worth, both sen­a­tors, and Karen Bass, a con­gress­woman.

But Duck­worth would dis­ap­point black Democrats, a crit­i­cal party con­stituency.

Bass, a highly cre­den­tialed pro­gres­sive who fa­mously praised Fidel Cas­tro, would bol­ster Trump’s well-worn ca­nard that Bi­den is con­trolled by “the rad­i­cal left.”

Duck­worth and Har­ris would pros­e­cute the case bril­liantly against Trump, which mat­ters in a scorchedea­rth cam­paign. Both would prob­a­bly be bet­ter for run­ning than gov­ern­ing.

But if Bi­den de­cides gov­ern­ing is more im­por­tant, and he wants ex­ec­u­tive ex­pe­ri­ence to im­ple­ment a com­plex so­cial agenda, he may opt for a gov­er­nor, such as Gina Rai­mondo of Rhode Is­land.

Run­ning or gov­ern­ing? No one among the re­ported fi­nal­ists has it all. The safest choice re­mains Ka­mala Har­ris.

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