Bi­den needs to play it safe with VP pick

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - MONA CHAREN @monacharen­EPPC Mona Charen is a se­nior fel­low at the Ethics and Pub­lic Pol­icy Cen­ter.

Po­lit­i­cal pledges of­ten cause headaches.

On elec­tion night in 1904, Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt told re­porters, “Un­der no cir­cum­stances will I be a can­di­date for or ac­cept an­other nom­i­na­tion.” He re­gret­ted it al­most im­me­di­ately. Later, he would say, “I would be will­ing to cut off my hand if I could call back that state­ment.”

In 1988, ac­cept­ing the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion for the pres­i­dency, Ge­orge H. W. Bush pledged “no new taxes.” Bush did wind up agree­ing to raise taxes. It may have been the right gov­ern­ing choice, but be­cause he had pledged in such mem­o­rable terms not to do it, he stirred a pro­found sense of be­trayal among Repub­li­cans and en­cour­aged cyn­i­cism about politi­cians in gen­eral.

On March 15, Joe Bi­den pledged to choose a woman as his run­ning mate. Now, that pledge is weigh­ing him down. He has de­layed the an­nounce­ment of his choice by a week, sug­gest­ing that it is prov­ing more dif­fi­cult than ex­pected.

It’s great to pick a woman for vice pres­i­dent, but less great if you’ve first pledged to do so. The pledge tele­graphs that you were not look­ing for the best per­son, but the best woman. Bi­den could not know in

March that the coun­try would be con­vulsed by the death of Ge­orge

Floyd at the end of May and that pres­sure would build among Democrats for the ticket to in­clude an African Amer­i­can. Ab­sent that pledge, he could be con­sid­er­ing Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., or for­mer Gov. De­val Pa­trick of Mas­sachusetts.

Few Black women have the ex­pe­ri­ence and stature to step into the pres­i­dency. Don’t get me wrong. The paucity of African Amer­i­can women in top-tier po­lit­i­cal roles is the re­sult of cen­turies of slav­ery and dis­crim­i­na­tion. But it is a fact none­the­less. There is only one African Amer­i­can woman United States se­na­tor. There are no gov­er­nors.

Any pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, and par­tic­u­larly one who will be 78 on in­au­gu­ra­tion day, needs to choose some­one ready to step into the job at a mo­ment’s no­tice. That some­one needs to have gov­ern­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. She needs to have en­dured the piti­less spot­light of na­tional pol­i­tics. She needs to be broadly ac­cept­able to swing vot­ers. And she needs to be some­one the pres­i­dent trusts com­pletely.

Among the women who meet the above tests, there are prob­lems. Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris has been ex­posed to the scru­tiny a cam­paign brings, but she for­feited some trust with Bi­den by aim­ing an in­sult­ing charge at him, sug­gest­ing that he al­lied with racists on busing decades ago.

Su­san Rice has a dis­tin­guished record of pub­lic ser­vice but has never run for any­thing. She is also, po­ten­tially, quite a light­ning rod. She mis­led the coun­try about what had hap­pened in Beng­hazi, Libya, in 2012, and Trump par­ti­sans be­lieve she was part of a con­spir­acy to dam­age the in­com­ing Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. The lat­ter ac­cu­sa­tion against her is mostly rub­bish but could cause a need­less sideshow in the fall.

Rep. Karen Bass heads the Con­gres­sional Black Cau­cus. Peo­ple like and re­spect her, even Repub­li­cans. But some trou­bling state­ments and as­so­ci­a­tions have sur­faced. In 2010, she spoke at the open­ing of a huge Scien­tol­ogy Cen­ter in Los An­ge­les. Ques­tioned about this, she tweeted last week­end that she had ap­peared there be­cause the cen­ter was in her dis­trict — which isn’t much of an ex­pla­na­tion. But that wasn’t even true. She tweeted on Aug. 5 that she “re­grets the er­ror.”

Bass eu­lo­gized Oneil Mar­ion Cannon as a “friend and men­tor” in 2017 with­out men­tion­ing that he was a long­time mem­ber of the Com­mu­nist Party USA. As a young adult, she was a mem­ber of the Vencer­e­mos (“we shall tri­umph”) Brigade, a pro-Cas­tro group, and trav­eled to Cuba eight times in the 1970s. When Cas­tro died, Bass re­leased a state­ment of con­do­lences to the Cas­tro fam­ily and the Cuban peo­ple: “The pass­ing of the Co­man­dante en Jefe is a great loss to the peo­ple of Cuba.”

Look, Don­ald Trump has said equally ap­palling things about Kim Jong Un. The Repub­li­can Party that stands with Trump is hardly in a po­si­tion to throw stones at Bass.

And yet, we are told that part of what made Trump pos­si­ble was the ten­dency on the right to look the other way about the ex­trem­ists, kooks and un­sa­vory el­e­ments within their own ranks. The same rule should ap­ply to Democrats. Be­sides, choos­ing such a con­firmed left­ist would alarm the cen­trist vot­ers Bi­den will need.

Time for a closer look at Sen. Tammy Duck­worth of Illi­nois and Rep. Val Dem­ings of Florida. Duck­worth’s lik­a­bil­ity and story of hero­ism and sac­ri­fice are pow­er­ful. Val Dem­ings is a for­mer po­lice chief. The dis­ad­van­tage is that there is no po­lice department in which sto­ries of wrong­do­ing will not sur­face. But the up­sides are greater. Who bet­ter than an African Amer­i­can for­mer cop to ad­dress ques­tions of po­lice bru­tal­ity with sen­si­tiv­ity? And who can ac­cuse the Democrats of be­ing the party of “De­fund the Po­lice” with Val Dem­ings on the ticket?

Bi­den is about to be­come the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee be­cause he was per­ceived to be safe. He should choose some­one just as safe for VP.

PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES

Sen. Tammy Duck­worth speaks with a fel­low par­tic­i­pant at a down­town June­teenth march.

Rep. Val Dem­ings

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