Joe Biden has picked Kamala Harris as his running mate, a woman with experience in government, political campaigning and credibility as a politician. The idea that women could govern has been a topic of humor for a couple of millennia—as far back as Aristophanes: interesting to speculate about and good for a laugh, but in the end always rejected as being merely fanciful and even against nature. The kind of mockery that we find in Aristophanes has persisted over the centuries and the idea that women could only be ridiculous as leaders is now embedded in our culture.
There have been a few historical exceptions. Wyoming, known as the “Equality State”, broke this long-standing mold in 1920 and Jackson Hole, Wyoming had the first of what is called a “Petticoat government”. Incidentally, Wyoming was also the first American territory to give women the vote on December 10, 1869. Why this happened is a matter of debate. Some have written that it was actually an attempt to keep the Blacks and Asians from getting the vote. Others that it had started as a joke, and others still that they truly believed in gender equality. In other words, as has also happened in recent political history, they may have done the right thing for the wrong reasons. Be that as it may, the fact is that they did.
Yet despite these exceptions, as of today the US has not had either a female president or even vice-president. As I have written before, it is astounding to think that Third World countries have had female leaders, whether Presidents or Prime Ministers or Premiers, yet the self-proclaimed leader of the free world, has not had the daring to do the same.
Will November 2020 break this pattern? I’m intrigued by Biden’s choice because Harris was tough on him during the primary debates and Biden even admitted that he felt betrayed by her. Apparently for years they had a close, warm friendship and he felt blindsided by her attacks on his record on school busing and segregation —among other issues. Yet in spite of his feelings of betrayal and hurt, he still picked her as his running mate. Of course, I’m sure that there was a good amount of political calculation in the selection other than the fact that he thought her the best for the job. Nevertheless, can you picture someone as vindictive and self-serving as Trump picking a running mate who had attacked him in a debate?
What happened in the past does not count, we now have the chance to elect a female vice-president and make history. Hillary Clinton came close to becoming the president, and as far as many are concerned, given the fact that she got 3 million more votes than Trump, she did win the election. In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro became the first vice-presidential nominee of a major political party (Democratic), causing elation among historians and women in general.
Yet Sarah Palin, vice-presidential nominee for the Republican party in 2008, set the cause of women in government back decades. Not because she was a woman, but because she was the wrong person for the job. Her personal characteristics were seemingly made to order to caricature all the worst stereotypes of women. Inexperienced mayor of a small town in Alaska, had never run for major office, had no name recognition, had no ability whatsoever to debate, and also came across as ignorant and uneducated. Unable even to name one reputable newspaper or magazine when asked what she liked to read, and unable to answer even the easiest questions when they required both a little knowledge and common sense. In the end, she became a national joke. Aristophanes could have written a play about her. But Harris has credibility.
This time we cannot afford to nominate a candidate simply as a token to appease political correctness and the demand for a woman to fill the position, as McCain did by choosing Palin. This is serious because should Biden win the election, he will be sworn in at the ripe age of 78. Finishing out his term he would be 82. We all wish him well, of course, but we must consider the very real possibility that this time, the vice president, whose job is normally a sinecure, could become the president.
A further consideration is that at 82, Biden would most likely not run for re-election, therefore the sitting VP would be well-positioned to run for president. If Biden were to win the election, it is not far-fetched to think that Harris could well become the first female president. According to pundits, one of them being Jeff Zeleny on CNN, Biden picked Harris precisely because she was tough during the primary debates and he knows this will be a brutal campaign. He needs someone who already has campaign experience, not someone who would have to learn along the way—as Whitmer or Duckworth would have to do. He also wanted someone with governing experience. Harris ticks all these boxes and more, being favorably viewed by suburban women, for example, a large demographic group whose support an aspiring President needs. David Axelrod, CNN commentator and political analyst, called the choice a huge historical move forward.
We need to consider the skill set, character and experience of the vice-presidential nominee and ask ourselves whether she would make a good president. This time we really could end up with a woman president—and not only would it be timely, but long overdue. Yet as much as I would wish this to become reality, at the same time I hope that Harris has the character and competence to be more than a token VP, or a choice made to curry favor or garner votes. This kind of opportunism would not serve the country well. We are in the midst of a leadership crisis in this country. We need to turn things around if we are to truly make America great again—not as a fake slogan, but in reality.