HERE WHAT IS the millions of Americans who take their opinions from Fox News and related media have heard of Kamala Harris. The vice-president was in charge of the southern border because she “has brown skin”. His picture book, “Superheroes are everywhere,” was distributed to migrant children, possibly out of corruption. (“Is she taking advantage of Biden’s border crisis?” Republican supremo Ronna McDaniel tweeted.) Metropolitan elites adore her; Vogue, who ignored the charming Melania Trump, put it (her!) on her cover. Her entrepreneurial niece, Meena Harris, is an anti-white racist queen of the cancellation culture.
In other words, while the mainstream media soberly covers Ms Harris’ efforts to gain Joe Biden’s trust and control his portfolio (which includes Mexico and Guatemala but not the border, where his book has only been distributed to no one), she is set relentlessly on the right as a dishonest member of the corrupt elite with an agenda alien to white America. Tucker Carlson – who during the election campaign refused to pronounce Mrs. Harris’s Hindu name correctly – perfectly synthesized these two slanders. “She’s a globalist superhero. Just like Voldemort, you can’t really figure out how to pronounce his name.
So far so predictable, you might say. But Ms. Harris is no ordinary vice-president. As the first non-white female vice president of a party that has made diversity an organizing principle, she is the next Democratic presidential candidate. It is difficult, even at this early stage, to imagine that it will be refused. Considering the age of Mr Biden, 78, his rise could only be three years. And the election that would ensue – the growing unrest among Republicans suggests – may well be as crucial as the one that just elapsed. This begs the question of whether it has what it takes to rise above right-wing slander and appeal to Central America, as Barack Obama did, or whether it will be destroyed by them, like Hillary Clinton was. And that makes senior Democrats nervous. “Everyone says, ‘Oh my God, Kamala is next and then we’re in trouble,’” said a Democrat close to the White House.
Oratory aside, Mr. Obama’s success hinged on an ability to reassure white Americans that was rooted in his intimate knowledge of them. Son of a white woman, raised by his white grandmother, he promised better times for all and rarely spoke of the race spontaneously. Ms. Harris is a different case. She is the daughter of South Asian and Jamaican immigrants, brought together by the civil rights movement, who raised her as black. While nothing resembles the vindictive racial warrior of Mr. Carlson’s fevered imagination, she leans more into black identity politics than the former president.
It’s a good way to win an election in California. It would be a disastrous general election strategy, as evidenced by the white reaction to Mr. Obama, despite his cautiousness, and Ms. Harris’ inability to impress even black voters during her ill-fated presidential run. African Americans tend to support the Democratic candidate who seems most likely to appeal to white voters, on that basis they preferred Mr. Biden. And his Hail Mary’s efforts to turn things around by accusing Mr. Biden of racial insensitivity during a televised debate (“I don’t believe you are a racist [but]… ”) Did not confirm them in their choice. Polls suggest black voters found him cynical and insincere.
Coverage of his current work has also been mixed. She has been accused of failing to carve out a well-defined “Veep” role or of not hiring politically savvy staff. It is probably unfair. Her urgent need is to do whatever Mr Biden (with whom she had bad things to do) wants to ensure the success of his administration. And she seems to do that. She participated in recent Middle East diplomacy. She is due to travel to Mexico City next week. Although inexperienced in foreign policy, she is a polite singer who espouses Mr. Biden’s internationalist views. Rather, the criticism against him seems to reflect not only the underlying angst about his ability to succeed him, but also the unusualness of his position.
Since Walter Mondale reclassified the vice-presidency in the late 1970s, most of its occupants have spent four years trying to make themselves useful; then a second term, if it materializes, laying the foundations for a presidential election. Carp suggests that Ms. Harris should do both things at the same time, which is unrealistic; and indeed she would be castigated if she tried to do so.
There is, however, a political task that it cannot delay. This is to understand why his presidential campaign failed, which was not primarily related to his race or gender, regardless of the electoral burden they represent. His truncated speech sounded like a group-written marketing speech (something about wanting to “sue Donald Trump”). Her – quickly quashed – promise to do away with private health insurance suggested to a politician who had no clear idea of what she was standing for: whether it was on the left, with a focus on expanding government, or towards the center, with more focus on business and opportunity. That’s why the experts and donors who first flocked to her quickly moved on. This in turn is why she resorted to the race card against Mr. Biden. No wonder it makes some Democrats nervous.
She should reflect on the fact that centrist Mr. Biden won like Mr. Obama before him: by promising hope, opportunity and solidarity for all. There is no evidence that Democrats can get around Americans’ distrust of government and vexed racial politics in any other way (however they hope to rule). Mr. Obama, a great admirer of Ms. Harris, must believe she can pull off the same trick. Talking about his credentials as vice president was one of his two big political calls last year. The other was his initial rejection of Mr. Biden. It would be a terrible shame if the former president was wrong on both points.■
This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the headline “Veep stakes”