Six women ran for the Democratic nomination for president this year, four of whom were well-qualified for the job. But in the end, the race came down to two white guys who became eligible for Social Security more than a decade ago, which makes the choice of a running mate particularly important.
That’s not only because there’s a reasonable chance that age or illness could force the president to step down or at least pass on his duties temporarily, but also because that vice president will be the likely Democratic nominee in the 2024 election, when Joe Biden will be a couple weeks shy of his 82nd birthday.
So at Sunday’s debate between Biden and Bernie Sanders, Biden made this announcement: “There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow. I would pick a woman to be my vice president.”
Sanders was asked by a moderator whether he would do the same, and he said, “In all likelihood, I will ... my very strong tendency is to move in that direction.” Not quite as firm a commitment, but still something that would be difficult to go back on, in the unlikely event that he became the nominee.
I can already hear the grumbles — “Women are taking everything these days! Men can’t catch a break!” After all, the nation has had 48 vice presidents, and a mere 48 of them have been men.
But it’s not only an excellent idea, it’s perfectly fine for Biden to announce it now. When Geraldine Ferraro joined Walter Mondale’s ticket in 1984, it was a statement — from a candidate who was headed for almost certain defeat. When John McCain put Sarah Palin on his, it was an act of desperation from another struggling candidate (and the most generous thing you can say about McCain’s decision is that he had no idea just what a spectacular nincompoop Palin was).
But this time it’s so long overdue that it would be a terrible misstep for Biden to do otherwise. Especially given the fact that he’s a Democrat.
I would certainly hope Biden understands the position he’s in as the soon-to-be leader of the Democratic Party. After they were offered the largest and most diverse field of candidates in history, Democratic voters seem to have settled on Biden not so much because he’s so spectacular as because of the widespread belief that other voters wouldn’t accept a woman or a person of color in the top job.
I suspect there are lots of Democrats who submitted themselves to that dispiriting conclusion but don’t feel particularly good about it. They need a vice presidential nominee who’s not just the kind of person they can get excited about, but whose presence assures them that Biden understands that his leadership of the ticket leaves a gap that has to be filled, in such a way as to acknowledge the party’s diversity.
That’s the most important reason the Democrat ticket has to include a woman: Democrats are, to a significant degree, the party of women.
That’s not just because they’re the party that advocates for concerns that are particular to women, including abortion rights. It’s not just because they’re the party where women run and win: In the current House of Representatives, there are 88 Democratic women and only 13 Republican women; in the Senate the numbers are 17 and nine.
The real reason is that women drive Democratic victories, both as the volunteers and activists knocking doors and making phone calls and as the voters who put Democrats in office.
In 2016, women gave their votes to Hillary Clinton by a margin of 54 to 39 percent, while men voted for Donald Trump by 52 to 41. The 2018 vote was even starker: Women voted for Democratic House candidates by 59 to 40 percent. And women turn out at higher rates than men do.
In today’s Democratic Party, it’s just not acceptable to have two men on the ticket, let alone two white men.
“But shouldn’t Biden just pick the best person for the job, regardless of who they are?” someone is bound to ask. The answer is that there is no one “best person.” There are many people who could do the job well and might also add something politically that would help him get elected. If diversity and addressing inequality are something Biden and his party value, they have to take an affirmative step to put it into action.
And there are plenty to choose from, as Biden acknowledged in the debate (“There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow,” he said). I can think of at least four or five women senators who would make fine vice presidents, including a couple who ran against Biden in the primaries. There are also six Democratic women governors to choose from, as well as a few women from outside those two jobs, including Stacey Abrams, whom Biden could consider.
We can’t know how long it will take for a woman to lead a major party ticket, and it could well be a conservative Republican (you can bet Nikki Haley is getting ready for 2024). But in the meantime, Biden deserves some credit for acknowledging that if nothing else, a woman vice president is long overdue.