Never mind that his own party found her insufficiently nominate-able when she was running against Biden and a throng of other candidates during the Democratic primaries. Biden is painfully familiar with her courage — or at least her audacity — having served as her target during a debate last year when she came close to accusing him of once being a racist. Like millions of Americans in the 1970s, Biden had opposed government-mandated busing as a young senator from Delaware.
Harris, one of those children who was bused to school, took a big chance in attacking Biden, who throughout his public service career has worked alongside African Americans, as well as women, in securing equal rights. It was a low blow that Biden has clearly forgiven. Or, perhaps, one that he has embraced in a gesture of restitution, if partly in the service of political advantage.
Or maybe it was just smart politics on both their parts. How, after all, can two old White guys, a.k.a. Republicans, compete with a stentorian senator holding hands with a tough, smart, telegenic woman who represents a full house of firsts? Not only is Harris the first woman of Indian and Jamaican descent to take her place on a major-party presidential ticket, but she’s also the first Black woman to be tapped for vice president.
And, therefore, president, or at least a better-than-even shot at the big job. If he wins, Biden, at 78, would be older than Ronald Reagan was when he left the presidency. You can do the math. If 78 seems old for a grueling job known to turn younger men gray, imagine what it will feel like at the end of the first term, when he will be 82.
This is not a welcome exercise. Needless to say, I don’t wish Biden ill. Nor is it satisfying to examine a candidate’s age when being sensitive to age seems kinder. Besides, Biden deserves respect for his long service, whatever his missteps along the way, including his abysmal handling of the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1991, when he was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
But, of course, age matters a great deal when the presidency is at stake. Even if Biden serves out his full term, it is unlikely he will run again, which means Harris will run for president in 2024 and, though it is impossible to know for sure, likely emerge in that circumstance as the front-runner for the Democrats.
That prospect tees up a second, even more interesting prospect — the first Black and Indian American vice president running against another Indian American woman, Nikki Haley.
Two women running against each other for president? Can’t you just feel the excitement from the National Organization for Women?
Although some have speculated that Trump would ditch Mike Pence and grab Haley’s comet if things became desperate enough, the clock is winding down for that drama. Haley’s too smart to risk her own presidential ambitions by involving herself any further with the Trump brand. Instead, she’ll continue making speeches — and money — and cast her own lot in 2024.
It’s almost worth electing Biden to ensure that we get the Harris-Haley showdown.
But not quite. Biden tapped Harris because she was the least risky choice. In doing so, he may have written the script for his party for the next decade, though nothing is assured. Polls indicating that Trump trails Biden, er, Harris, may not be telling us much. Fence-sitters who watched the primary debates and came away disliking Harris’s attack on Biden — and recalling her attacks on Brett M. Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing — may be more comfortable with a known quantity than with Harris, whose policies would offend anyone to the right of Bernie Sanders.
Biden, though he has made some adjustments to accommodate the more progressive wing of his party, isn’t a natural radical in the way Harris appears to be. If he wants to win with Harris by his side, he’ll need to bring her with him toward a less radical, more centrist position. And, if Harris wants to secure her presidential future, she would do well to pick her battles carefully going forward. Like or dislike Mike Pence as vice president, he’s a decent man who won’t enjoy fighting a woman. And even these days, most Americans won’t like watching it.