Analysis

Kamala Harris Is a Milestone for America, Good for Biden and Comforting for Jews

Harris married into the tribe and is backed by some significant Jewish donors. But Netanyahu and his friend in the White House, who hoped to have a field day with a more progressive candidate, are a different story

Chemi Shalev
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Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks at a campaign rally for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden in Detroit, on March 9, 2020.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks at a campaign rally for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden in Detroit, on March 9, 2020.Credit: Paul Sancya,AP
Chemi Shalev

Joe Biden’s decision to appoint California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate was logical, reasonable, calculated and widely expected. Biden thought, checked, discussed, polled, interviewed, consulted, deliberated, changed his mind and reconsidered before making his final decision. After four years of Donald Trump’s chronic chaos and caprice, Biden’s patient and methodical decision-making process carries its own message: This, he reminded Americans, is the way serious presidents are supposed to behave.

Of all the potential candidates who qualified for consideration, Harris provides the best answers to Biden’s most pressing political needs, with the added bonus of ensuring his place in history.  If only by virtue of appointing the first woman of color to the national ticket of either big party, Biden’s name will be forever inscribed as a civil rights trailblazer and equality pioneer.

Harris’ promotion enthralled Biden’s Democratic base. It was greeted with grudging satisfaction throughout other wings of the party as well. Much to their own surprise, liberal types on social media were effusive in expressing relief, joy, and even a kind of national pride, emotions they thought long gone after four years of Trump in the White House.

Unlike other, younger presidential candidates, Biden could not allow himself to make do with a pale run-of-the-mill running mate who brings a geographical dowry but never outshines the boss. The lingering doubts about his age compelled Biden to appoint a politician talented and experienced enough, not only to stand by his side but also to replace him, if it ever becomes necessary.

Harris, who gained national recognition and support in the course of her short and volatile primary run earlier this year, was seen by many Democrats as the most presidential of Biden’s VP choices by far.

Harris’ appointment also marks Biden’s strategic political decision about the tone and nature of his campaign and where he wants to run it from: The center, where he feels most comfortable. Harris’ appointment reassured her many admirers in Biden’s own centrist/establishment base and provided a staging ground for both her and Biden to try and lure wavering Republicans and independent voters who have had it with Trump but need one more push before crossing to the other side. 

Biden came to the conclusion that the benefits of appointing a centrist VP candidate who can rebuff GOP efforts to tar Democrats as radicals far outweigh the potential harm of disappointing the radicals themselves. Biden assumes, perhaps mistakenly, that their venomous dislike of Trump will provide sufficient fuel to drive progressives to the polls even if they’re not happy with Harris or Biden or even both.

By appointing Harris, Biden checked all the appropriate boxes of identity politics and picked a running mate who seems to be his polar opposite: Harris is black, relatively young at 55, quick-minded and sharp tongued and plays West Coast to Biden’s East Coast to boot. To his great credit and Trump’s total bafflement, Biden even managed to rise above Harris’ infamous evisceration of his past collaboration with segregationist senators during the televised primary debates. Perhaps he appreciates the spunk.

Harris’ appointment virtually assures an inevitably outrageous reaction from Trump, sooner or later. Throughout his presidency, Trump has reserved his most crude and condescending rhetoric for Democrats who happen to be both black and female, whom he invariably describes as stupid or nasty and all the variations thereof.

Thinly veiled racism directed at America’s first black female vice presidential candidate may enthuse Trump’s white supremacist base but it will also galvanize angry Democrats as well as fair-minded Republicans, insofar as they still exist.

Harris’ mixed ethnicities defy categorization in any case. Her father is Jamaican and her mother Indian-Tamil. Although she is dark skinned, African-Americans don’t view her completely as one of their own. For potential Republican defectors who have yet to shed their prejudices, Harris’ story can be viewed through the prism of immigrant daughter rising to top, as prescribed in the American Dream. Americans whose origins are in Jamaica or India, for their part, are sure to flock to the polls.

Most of the Jews, needless to say, are kvelling as well. The majority of American Jews who vote for the Democrats identify with the party establishment as well as with Biden and Harris’ centrist positions.

They were relieved to learn that Biden had not opted to balance out his ticket with a progressive vice presidential pick. With Harris, the Jews will feel at home: She married into the tribe, socializes in circles in which Jews feel comfortable and is backed by several well-known and well-trusted Jewish donors. Like Biden, Harris is intimately familiar with Jewish shtick and Yiddishkeit, enough to not only persuade Jews to come out and vote but to capture their hearts as well.

By the same token, Harris’ appointment will come as an even greater relief to AIPAC and other pro-Israeli groups, who have been crying gevalt over the supposedly unstoppable rise of the radicals, who are considered anti-Israel almost by definition. Like Biden, Harris is seen as a solid Democratic supporter of Israel, which won’t make any difference to the GOP’s Jewish right, which is already savaging her non-existent record of acting against the Jewish state. 

Benjamin Netanyahu will hardly be reassured, either, given that he no longer takes the trouble to differentiate between valid criticism of Israeli policies or even him personally and opposition to the country’s very existence. Netanyahu, in fact, may be disappointed, along with his friend in the White House: Both could have had a field day with a more progressive VP pick who could be described as a Hamas-supporting, Israel-hating anti-Semite. 

Netanyahu’s critics, meanwhile, are already hoarding up on popcorn in anticipation of the first rhetorical duel between the prime minister and Harris, who has criticized him in the past. Netanyahu’s opponents can’t wait for Harris to lash out at him with her famously sharp and deadly tongue.

This is doubly true of Trump’s opponents, who were apprehensive about Biden’s ability to match the president’s penchant for punchy put-downs and are overjoyed at the deployment of Harris’ rapid-fire rhetoric on the battlefield. Spare a thought, however, for Trump’s own Vice President, Mike Pence. The appointment of the charismatic Harris has already focused a sad spotlight on Pence’s slavish blandness, and now he can look forward to her destroying and humiliating him in their single scheduled debate in early October. 

Small wonder that some of Trump’s advisers are urging him to dump Pence and to replace him with the far more popular and telegenic former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, whose parents also immigrated from India. Now that would be a fight for the ages, a blockbuster battle between two formidable politicians whose personal stories embody the American Dream.

A Harris-Haley showdown would showcase just how far women had come in America, though it could also precipitate widespread uncontrollable rioting across an Indian subcontinent split between the warring sides.

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