Now Comes the Difficult Work of Pushing the…

Now that pre­sump­tive Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Joe Biden has offi­cial­ly announced for­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Sen. Kamala Har­ris (D‑Calif.) as his run­ning mate, the only sur­pris­ing thing about the pick is that his team wait­ed so long to announce it. After all, Har­ris has long been con­sid­ered a front-run­ner for the posi­tion, but the Biden cam­paign nonethe­less stalled, drag­ging the vet­ting process out for months while lend­ing open­ings for Biden allies to snipe at VP hope­fuls in the press. Tar­gets includ­ed Har­ris her­self, whom for­mer Sen. Chris Dodd (D‑Ct.) tried to tar as too ambi­tious — a tone-deaf jab that teed up sharp rebukes on social media.

In ret­ro­spect, the rea­son for the delay was like­ly an abun­dance of cau­tion, which makes per­fect sense in the con­text of Biden’s long­time pitch: he’s the safe” can­di­date, a plain-but-pleas­ant reset but­ton we can push to dump Trump. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Biden’s polit­i­cal vision doesn’t offer much in the way of upend­ing the con­di­tions that made Trump­ism pos­si­ble. But his point that get­ting rid of Trump is of utmost impor­tance is cor­rect. As of today, that argu­ment appears to be per­sua­sive enough, with Biden trounc­ing Trump in most polls despite a lack of tra­di­tion­al cam­paign­ing. (Mak­ing sure the elec­tion is held in a safe and fair man­ner is anoth­er sto­ry altogether.)

Har­ris has now been anoint­ed as the safest option to help car­ry that strat­e­gy for­ward — a woman who’s already rec­og­niz­able at the nation­al lev­el and who has served in office for long enough that claims of inex­pe­ri­ence” don’t dis­tract from the steady, undis­tin­guished cam­paign that Biden is try­ing to run. Har­ris’ sta­tus as the first-ever Black woman — born of Jamaican and Indi­an her­itage — on a major par­ty tick­et is also like­ly an asset in appeal­ing to the young Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers among whom Biden was large­ly unpop­u­lar dur­ing the primary.

For pro­gres­sives and those on the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party’s so-called left wing,” Biden’s can­di­da­cy has been a tough pill to swal­low. After all, with an ongo­ing nation­wide upris­ing against struc­tur­al racism amidst a crush­ing pan­dem­ic and eco­nom­ic col­lapse, what cir­cum­stances could bet­ter illus­trate the need for the type of con­fronta­tion­al, sys­temic change pro­posed by can­di­dates like Bernie Sanders and Eliz­a­beth War­ren? Yet now, with unem­ploy­ment spik­ing, and mil­lions tak­ing to the streets to assert that Black Lives Mat­ter and demand­ing offi­cials defund the police, we’re in the unen­vi­able posi­tion of being forced to acknowl­edge that vot­ing for Biden — the author of the grue­some 1994 crime bill — and Har­ris — a for­mer tough-on-crime pros­e­cu­tor — is unde­ni­ably bet­ter than the alternative. 

If there’s a sil­ver lin­ing to this pick, it’s that oth­er fron­trun­ners for the VP nom­i­na­tion, like Michi­gan Gov. Gretchen Whit­mer and for­mer Oba­ma Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advi­sor Susan Rice, are, on paper, all more con­ser­v­a­tive than Har­ris. More­over, there’s some evi­dence that Har­ris is some­thing of a polit­i­cal weath­er vane: if she rose to nation­al promi­nence as a mod­er­ate pros­e­cu­tor, she’s moved marked­ly to the left since 2016, and has devel­oped one of the most pro­gres­sive vot­ing records in the Sen­ate. For exam­ple, in the cur­rent 116th Con­gress, she’s vot­ed with Sanders 92% of the time — and even signed onto his Medicare for All bill, before intro­duc­ing her own more watered-down ver­sion dur­ing the pri­ma­ry campaign.

More recent­ly, she’s joined demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ist Rep. Rashi­da Tlaib (D‑Mich.) in call­ing for month­ly direct cash assis­tance of $2,000 dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, and intro­duced a sweep­ing hous­ing bill call­ing for a year-long evic­tion freeze. Her left­ward shift has even been acknowl­edged by Lara Bazelon — the San Fran­cis­co law pro­fes­sor who authored a New York Times sto­ry that was arguably the most influ­en­tial case against Har­ris’ pros­e­cu­to­r­i­al record. As Bazelon described Har­ris’ evo­lu­tion in an NPR inter­view, Her record has been con­sis­tent, and it’s been good. And my hope is that she’s going to con­tin­ue in that vein, first of all, because it’s the right thing to do but then, sec­ond of all, prag­mat­i­cal­ly, because that’s where the coun­try is moving.”

The groups Root­s­Ac­tion and Pro­gres­sive Democ­rats of Amer­i­ca were slight­ly more blunt in their assess­ment of Har­ris’ selec­tion: While her pen­chant for tak­ing posi­tions broad­ly palat­able to the cor­po­rate donor class rais­es con­cerns about her ded­i­ca­tion to pro­gres­sive prin­ci­ples, her habit of align­ing her stance with the pre­vail­ing polit­i­cal winds gives us some hope.”

Ulti­mate­ly, while defeat­ing Trump remains a pri­or­i­ty, it’s up to those of us on the left to gen­er­ate the winds we want to pre­vail by build­ing pow­er out­side of pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics. Tak­ing to the streets for racial jus­tice, strength­en­ing the labor move­ment, demand­ing uni­ver­sal health­care, estab­lish­ing ten­ants’ unions, elect­ing more can­di­dates up and down the bal­lot who are com­mit­ted to tak­ing on cor­po­rate pow­er to ben­e­fit the work­ing class — this is how we can reori­ent politi­cians’ incen­tives and pri­or­i­ties. The weath­er vanes will follow.

Views expressed are those of the writer. As a 501©3 non­prof­it, In These Times does not sup­port or oppose any can­di­date for pub­lic office.

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