Welcome to the party, Kamala Harris.
The white smoke finally rose Tuesday, as Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden picked the California senator as his running mate.
For a man whose candidacy sometimes seems a little too steeped in nostalgia for the good old days of Washington, Biden managed to make a forward-looking choice.
Harris, the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, is of course not the first woman to run on a major party Presidential ticket. But this is a groundbreaking moment in so many ways.
I found it a bit jarring, in the moments after the pick was announced, to hear Harris described as Biden’s “safest” choice for a running mate. That a Black, first-generation American is described that way says everything about where the Democratic Party stands in 2020. Harris wouldn’t have been the least bit safe four years ago.
Sure, the announcement didn’t come as a surprise. Harris’ background as a senator, former attorney general, and presidential candidate made her a front-runner from the start of Biden’s selection process, and clearly she never relinquished that status.
What does she bring? Experience, smarts, tenacity, charisma. Yes, her presidential campaign was uninspiring. But Biden, who ran multiple times without winning a single primary, knows how little that says about her ability to serve as vice president. It’s an entirely different gig.
Harris will not be a universally lauded pick, even among Democrats. Progressives find her insufficiently ideological. There really aren’t any signature causes her name is associated with.
Harris’ record as a district attorney and attorney general will come under close scrutiny as well. At a time when law enforcement has become synonymous among many voters with “mass incarceration,” her resume is going to prompt far more debate than it might have in previous cycles.
But I think all of that pales next to what she gives her 77 year-old running mate: a ticket that can credibly present itself as a bridge to the future.
That, as much as anything, is what voters are looking for in 2020.
I thought the selection process dragged on too long. But it also displayed just how much talent exists at the upper echelon of the party. Elizabeth Warren, Stacey Abrams, Susan Rice, Karen Bass, and Tammy Duckworth would have all made perfectly credible choices. The future of the party is going to much more closely resemble America than it has in the past, and that’s all to the good.
The Biden-Harris team has plenty of work to do. To win, they will need the support of both the liberal and the progressive wings of the party. They will have to hammer away at the sheer incompetence that has left 160,000 Americans dead from a virus. They will have to offer a convincing plan to help those who are struggling economically, and explain how they will address the huge inequities in income and racial justice that have ignited protests across the nation. Oh, and they have to find a way to protect the integrity of the election.
Like I said, not a short to-do list. But doable.
With Harris’s selection, the general election starts in earnest.
The Trump campaign is a huge oddity. He was going to run on the economy, until COVID-19 and his own lethargy wrecked it. He can’t have his obnoxious pep rallies. (RIP, Herman Cain.) Now he’s talking about defiling Gettysburg, and angling to get himself carved into Mount Rushmore, neither of which will happen. If he has an actual strategy (other than voter suppression) I’m not smart enough to divine it.
Biden is not necessarily the ideal candidate for this moment, either. But every day he reminds us of what we miss in a president: someone who takes the challenges facing our nation seriously, who sees the presidency as a profound obligation, who wants to appeal to the best, rather than the worst in us.
And now he has in Harris a running mate — and, let’s be blunt, an heir apparent — who speaks not to where America has been, but to where it’s going.
No surprise that people are cheering.