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What Kamala Harris Tells Us About Joe Biden

Updated: Aug 13, 2020

Max Stearns

Picture this: At a Republican primary debate, a candidate who is smart, forceful, a woman, and yes, a person of color, goes after Trump personally and sharply, even unfairly, claiming that something he did decades before hurt her personally despite the attenuated nature of the claim. Imagine that despite this, there are lots of reasons to elevate this person, even choose her as running mate. Would Donald Trump do so? Unimaginable. For Trump all choices are about ID, his inner, never-ending thirst for adulation.

Not so Joe Biden. We know Joe Biden was truly hurt when Harris railed against him at a debate for working across the aisle, including working with those who supported segregationist policies, and for opposing busing, even though it wasn’t true. Indeed, Biden was so hurt that reports claim that advisors, and even his wife, held the grudge much longer than Joe Biden himself. So, what does Biden selecting Harris tell me about the candidate at the top of the ticket? The choice tells me that Biden doesn’t view the election as about himself. It is larger, it is grander, and it is historical. His personal feelings, even his ego, is frankly beside the point.

The United States faces a series of existential threats. This isn’t hyperbole. Consider these: the pandemic, climate change, frayed international relations, the border crisis (yes, still a crisis), a wrecked economy, a blown federal debt, North Korea emboldened, and the list goes on and on. Even beyond these crises, our governmental system is on the verge, or at least threat, of breakdown. We have seen over and over again that our system of checks and balances—hailed repeatedly, and ironically, during the impeachment hearings—has proved utterly feckless. Barack Obama said that electing Trump was an ultimate stress test. If so, the patient risks dying.

What does Biden choosing Harris say to me? Biden gets it. He knows himself. He knows he is aging (she’s 22 years younger), he’s a white man (she’s a person of color), he’s not an inspiring speaker (she is), and he can get tangled in his own words (she’s sharp as a tack). Brilliant leaders don’t need brilliance; they need discernment, self-awareness, and judgment. The best leaders lead by recognizing their personal weaknesses, not imagining false strengths. Biden, in one swoop, has exhibited something rare among politicians—wisdom. The wisdom to know his own limits and to find someone who compensates for them.

Remember, the VP slot is the first step in building a governing team. To be blunt, most of the time it’s more symbolic than other picks, those positions that come with actual portfolios. Some speculated Harris would be Attorney General. And she would have been a good pick there too. But she’s savvy, and she knows that Biden might just be choosing #47. He is, after all, himself going to be 78, the oldest elected President, if and when he starts as #46.

Harris was a smart choice. It shows that for Biden the election is about what matters most: defeating Donald Trump and restoring our nation to some hopeful sense of decency, kindness, and normalcy. The election, for Biden, is not about his ego and certainly not about past grudges. Choosing Harris because she compensates for Biden’s weaknesses makes him the stronger, wiser, better man. It reveals him the anti-Trump.

Harris was the right choice not because she is perfect. No one is. She was the right choice because she shows the kind of leader that President Biden will be.

I welcome your comments.

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Aug 14, 2020

I agree with you about the fact that many may be compelled to endanger their lives in order to preserve the democratic process. I wonder if the national conversation should change to (or at least be supplemented by) a focus on how to vote safely in person, how states can ensure safe voting by accepting ballots in drop boxes in lieu of mailing, etc. Unfortunately in many states, see Kentucky, there will be no political support for those kinds of ideas. So people in those jurisdictions will have to stand in line for hours, risking their lives, livelihoods (by missing some or all of a workday), in order to cast their votes. I worry about the working poor, who …


Aug 14, 2020

Thank you, rmmclain, for the comment. Sadly, of course, no amount of wisdom can overcome blatant and unchecked attempts to seize power by undermining democratic processes, such as through voter suppression and ending the ordinary operation of the U.S. Mail as a means of safe voting in the pandemic. It is profoundly tragic to be witnessing these events, and I fear that Democratic voters will ultimately be forced to endanger themselves to avoid allowing this administration to continue endangering our constitutional system. That's a bleak picture, but there's no point sugar coating it. Thanks again, and I hope you'll continue reading and commenting. Best wishes, Max


Aug 14, 2020

The big question: Can Biden's wisdom inspire voter turnout enough to overcome #45's blatant and unchecked attempts to suppress the vote?

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