This week Milwaukee, Wisconsin – known as the Brew, Beer or Cream City, with a statue of Robert Burns in a local park – hosts the first “virtual” Democratic National Convention. Joe Biden’s choice for Vice-President, Kamala Harris, has boosted party morale, delivered an electorally safe and politically sound running mate, and recruited a spectacularly talented, tough, and experienced Attorney General and US Senator.
Likely to be Biden’s “attack dog”, she is the candidate that Trump fears. And, in true prosecutorial style, she has already described the case against Trump and Pence as “open and shut”. In her first speech, Harris said: “This is what happens when we elect a guy who just isn’t up to the job. Our country ends up in tatters. So does our reputation around the world.”
President Trump, appearing confused and muted in his response, failed to unleash the expected torrent of abuse and vitriol that only he is capable of.
Political folklore tells us that the first political convention took place in a saloon in Baltimore, Maryland, when Andrew Jackson’s Democratic party met there in 1832. The convention has become a boisterous, politically and financially extravagant event, attracting delegates from the 50 states, tens of thousands of activists, grandees, politicians, and the media with a view to officially confirming the candidates for President and Vice-President and setting out the Democratic platform for the election.
However, this year the pandemic has forced the first “virtual” convention, which will run for four days, and include speeches from Michelle and Barack Obama, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, finishing on Thursday with Biden’s acceptance speech from his home in Delaware, not Milwaukee. The theme of the week will be “Uniting America”, with Biden talking about America as “an idea”, and linking this to daily themes of we the people, leadership matters, a more perfect union and American progress.
A president in waiting?
This will be a vital week for Harris, at the start of what could be a long journey, leading to a run for the presidency in 2024, if Joe Biden decides to step down after one term, as he has hinted. Biden has, on many occasions, said that he is a “transitional figure in the party” and is conscious of the aims and aspirations of a new generation.
But for now, Harris brings a great deal to the ticket in addition to her career and personality. Biden had already announced that he would choose a woman. But he has now chosen the first woman of colour on a major party presidential ticket. Recent events in America, including the death of George Floyd and the “Black lives Matter” campaign, have reinforced the significance of her appointment.
The Trump campaign has been stepping up its efforts to disenfranchise black and Asian voters – the scale and intensity of these electorally corrupt moves is breathtaking.
Harris, the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, will help inspire minorities to turn out. Black votes matter more than ever in this election and Harris is well placed to gain their confidence alongside Biden, who owes his recharged presidential campaign to black voters in the former ‘Dixie’ states.
Appeal to centrists
Biden initiated an exhaustive process to select his VP running mate from an impressive range of candidates. Tough interviews followed, scrutinising old enemies or embarrassing quotes in the media. For the 11 finalists there followed a thorough examination by a panel of 12 to 15 lawyers and ending with one-to-one interviews with Biden himself. There was an extensive legal vetting. Biden’s early decision, that he would select a woman, only added to the public pressure, intense media interest and lobbying to secure a woman of colour.
Writing in the Washington Post, Michael Scherer said, “Kamala D Harris emerged to become the first Black woman, the first Asian American, the first graduate of a historically Black college and the first Californian since Ronald Reagan to find a place on a major-party national ticket”.
Biden’s decision is ground-breaking. Set against ideological divisions within the Democratic party, Harris at 55 is younger and is closer to Biden’s centrist position as the party overall is moving to the left. Deepening his appeal to moderate black voters, college-educated women, and suburban whites is a Biden priority. Gender and race have become even more important for the Democrats in the battle for the White House.
‘Racist, ignorant and stupid’
The response of Trump, to the Harris nomination, was eagerly anticipated. The President responded quickly by just calling her “nasty” and “disrespectful”, based on her attack on Biden in an earlier presidential TV debate. Labelling her as a liberal and insisting that “the Democratic party have been taken over by the radical left” was his next outburst. But, getting into his stride, Trump’s poisonous criticism has assumed a more sinister tone. In describing her as “phony”, the President is resorting to his scarcely concealed racial and misogyny slurs. Not content with being an expert on the definition of “whiteness”, the President has become an expert on what constitutes “blackness”. He suggested that Harris is not “really black” as her immigrant parents were Indian and Jamaican.
Trump, true to form, has also embraced the sentiments of a bogus conspiracy theory circulating on social media that questions Harris’s eligibility to stand for the Vice-Presidency. It is called “Birtherism”. Trump used this against Barack Obama to claim that the 44th President was not a natural born US citizen and that he was ineligible to be President. MSNBC has described Trump’s hint of support for this ugly trope as “racist, ignorant and stupid”. The Republican party has no idea on how to deal with Harris. Few women, in their white America, are given prominent positions. Their response has wavered between accusing her of being in the pocket of Wall Street and being a Trojan horse for the extreme left! Both cannot be true.
Responding to Trump’s attacks, Biden’s campaign spokesman said: “Donald Trump’s presidency is melting down after his failed, divisive, erratic leadership that has cost over 160,000 American lives, tens of millions of jobs and left the United States the hardest-hit country in the world by Covid-19.” He could have added that, with five million cases, America has 25 per cent of the world’s coronavirus cases, despite having only 4.3 per cent of the world’s population.
Trump is more desperate than ever. Kamala Harris will only add to his long list of demons.
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