by Seth Barron
Thursday, 24
March 2022
Debate
07:00

Kamala Harris: the Vice-President nobody wanted

Even Joe Biden is struggling to defend his choice
by Seth Barron
Credit: Getty

When Joe Biden selected Kamala Harris to be his running-mate, the fact that she “ticked the right boxes” as a woman of mixed black and Asian descent wasn’t reason to discount her qualifications for holding the office of vice-president. She had served as attorney general of California and as a US senator and appeared to perform capably in both positions. Her own run for President fizzled out quickly, but it was a crowded field. Her record as a zealous prosecutor was underscored by her opponents, and in the reform-inflected mood of 2020, the slogan “Kamala is a cop” quickly sank her chances of success in the Democratic primary contest. 

Now, a new book is coming out detailing the extent of tensions between Harris President Biden following her selection as VP. According to This Will Not Pass, Kamala Harris warned Biden that she did not want to be pigeon-holed with race and women’s issues, but news of a rupture between the two became public when Biden gave her the job of managing the border crisis, possibly the messiest and most explosive assignment imaginable. Having promised to end the Trumpian era of strict immigration enforcement while simultaneously “securing” the border, Biden has put himself in an impossible position.  

Harris, unhappy with being set up as the obvious fall guy for a failed policy, demurred, asked instead to be put in charge of handling relations with the Nordic countries — the sort of role that might be given to a well-heeled donor or Foggy Bottom doyenne at the end of a long diplomatic career. Rebuffed, the Veep then insisted that her job would be to address the “root causes” of migration in the “Northern Triangle” of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.  

The idea that Kamala Harris, with no Spanish or experience in Central American history or politics, was going to solve the region’s entrenched poverty and violence was beyond absurd. Then, when asked by Lester Holt why she hadn’t visited the border, Harris responded “And I haven’t been to Europe!” She accompanied this sarcastic riposte with her now-characteristic cackle, a nervous bray reminiscent of the late cocktail hour. 

Vice-President Harris has since gained a reputation as prickly and uninformed. She can’t keep staff, always a sign of bad leadership. Her bizarre statements sound like Gertrude Stein tone-poems. At a recent event at a Louisiana library, she remarked: 

We were all doing a tour of the library here and talking about the significance of the passage of time. Right? The significance of the passage of time. So, when you think about it, there is great significance to the passage of time in terms of what we need to do to lay these wires, what we need to do to create these jobs. And there is such great significance to the passage of time when we think about a day in the life of our children and what that means to the future of our nation, depending on whether or not they have the resources they need to achieve their God-given talent. 
- Kamala Harris

In American Presidential politics you should be good behind the desk or good behind the microphone—ideally both. But if you can’t manage either, it’s not clear what you are doing there to begin with. 

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Vince B
Vince B
4 months ago

It’s quite amazing that Harris told Biden she didn’t want to be pigeon-holed into womens’ or race issues, when she made her race and gender virtually the entire reason for her candidacy. And, of course, it was cringingly obvious that Biden chose her as Veep for those very reasons, even after that awful, pre-planned “that little girl was me!” attack on his 40 year old (and correct) vote against busing. I don’t know a single person who was excited about her candidacy then, or her future prospects.

Michael James
Michael James
4 months ago
Reply to  Vince B

Exactly. I didn’t think anyone expected her to be any good. From meritocracy to diversocracy.

Russ W
Russ W
4 months ago
Reply to  Michael James

“From meritocracy to diversocracy.” Nicely turned phrase.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
4 months ago

Kamala was Willie Brown’s knob polisher and got her start in S.F. politics thanks to his influence. Then Parkinson’s Law saw her rise from D.A. to state attorney general to U.S. senator and then selection as vice president by a man who had lost his marbles being being put in the White House by the deep state, Big Tech, the corrupt press and social media. It was just a confluence of unfortunate circumstances, but there we are.

Jacob Mason
Jacob Mason
4 months ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

Governor Brown of California was undisputedly the ‘king-maker’ of the current crop of California politicians. Many worked for him before receiving his tacit support in pursuit of their own offices. Both Kamala Harris and Gavin Newsom (current California governor) are among them.

jill dowling
jill dowling
4 months ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

Surprised you got away with your first line!

Mike Michaels
Mike Michaels
4 months ago

We are one heart beat away from the diversity hire becoming leader of the free world at a time of intense danger and threat. Will she cackle at Putin? That’ll go down well.

JP Martin
JP Martin
4 months ago

Biden has made the same mistake with his abominable choice for the Supreme Court. There’s no fool like an old fool.

Richard Slack
Richard Slack
4 months ago
Reply to  JP Martin

You mean she is an educated and assertive black woman.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
4 months ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

Who declines to say what a woman is.

Emre Emre
Emre Emre
4 months ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

Doing diversity assignments is a double-edged knife. If the role requires technical competency, such an assignment can end up doing more harm than good – e.g. would you like your airplane pilot to be selected on the basis whether they’re a lesbian or not?
It feels to me like there needs to be a distinction between power wielding/political appointments (which are to be diversity sensitive) vs technocratic ones (which should be merit based). The challenge though, which I’m not sure can be fully resolved, is to decide which ones are which or to what extent.
It feels to me that being a member of the supreme court is primarily a political assignment than a technocratic one yet it clearly requires a certain level of technical competency.

Last edited 4 months ago by Emre Emre
JP Martin
JP Martin
4 months ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

Right, the same can be said about Kamala Harris. An educated and assertive black woman…who is a terrible choice for the job.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
4 months ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

I think we might applaud such a woman. This one happens to be quite ideological and was picked for that additional attribute. Others equally qualified were not picked. Her inability to defend the ideology was on display over a single definition. The risk in her lies with a tendency to become moderate in later life. Hope springs eternal.

Vince B
Vince B
4 months ago
Reply to  JP Martin

I strongly disagree. Judge Brown-Jackson is a very respected judge by those who knows the law and respects the Constitution. Yes, Biden was very clear he was going to limit himself to nominating a black female, but that doesn’t mean she is not highly competent or couldn’t be an excellent Justice.

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
4 months ago
Reply to  Vince B

Let’s say Brown-Jackson is all you say. It’s one thing to declare, I am going to appoint a justice of merit; and, voila, I turned out also to have appointed the first woman. It is quite another to announce, up front, that race or gender are formal qualifications for even being considered. This marks a sea change. Are we better off when we enunciate the principle “I’m against racism/sexism except for the Good Kind” than when we say “anyone can grow up to be a Supreme Court justice” wink-wink nudge-nudge and turn up, say, Sandra Day O’Connor? Particularly when substantive results can be the same anyway?

Vince B
Vince B
3 months ago

I dont’ disagree one iota. He made race and sex a prerequisite for his choice and I don’t like that at all. Nonetheless, he did choose judge Jackson, and by all reports, she’s an outstanding legal mind. So let’s give her credit, while criticizing Biden.

Joe Donovan
Joe Donovan
4 months ago

There is a disturbing pattern to Harris’s public behavior. She is asked a question for which she should have an answer and, in panic mode, she just says something that undoubtedly is true but could have been pulled out of a sixth-grade reader. It may or may not be accompanied by the trademark cackle. “The passage of time” is one such instance. My favorite was when little child actors were hired to meet with her (presumably because they could be told that they were being paid to emote positively towards her), and she went on and on about “in the future, you will be able to see craters on the MOON!!” Earth to Kamala: You can go out in your backyard on a cloudless night and see craters on the moon with the naked eye.
Can you imagine having the assembled National Security Council gurus turning to her as president and asking what they are to do in some world-historical crisis like the one we are facing now?

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
4 months ago
Reply to  Joe Donovan

Thank god we don’t have a global crisis to deal with right now. Imagine if we did, like a war or suttin’ – and leadership was required…

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
4 months ago
Reply to  Joe Donovan

“All will be well in the garden.”

James Watson
James Watson
4 months ago

“Appeared to perform capably in both positions” quite a funny line given how she got her start

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
4 months ago

I have despised her since she was an infamously abusive prosecutor in California. I’m surprised her closet can hold all those skeletons. For anyone who wants some entertainment, here is the moment where her presidential run went down in flames.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4fjA0K2EeE

Last edited 4 months ago by Matt Hindman
Emre Emre
Emre Emre
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

That’s quite odd – she seems like a fairly component politician there unlike all the weird things she’s been reported to be doing. My suspicion is it probably was a little too early for her, or perhaps being a VP as that little too much.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
4 months ago
Reply to  Emre Emre

I hate to break it to you, but Kamala and competent are not words you find together often in sentences about American politics.

Last edited 4 months ago by Matt Hindman
AC Harper
AC Harper
4 months ago

Some bosses defend their position by selecting less than competent supporters. Arguably Kamala Harris is ‘just’ one of Biden’s defensive choices. Why should we expect more?

R Wright
R Wright
4 months ago

Live by the diversity sword, die by the diversity sword

David Kingsworthy
David Kingsworthy
4 months ago

How convenient to now have both a president and a vice-president that no-one wanted.

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
4 months ago

those higher up will be pleased with themselves…

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
4 months ago

Many suspect Mr Obama wanted compliant people who could be mouthpieces for his viewpoints. Biden isn’t sufficiently compliant and the Afghan decision seems to be his alone. Harris refuses to listen to anybody, apparently and is an arrogant fool whose self image gets in her own way.

John Montague
John Montague
4 months ago

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/what-happens-to-political-comedy-when-the-real-world-goes-beyond-satire-veep-is-about-to-find-out/2017/04/07/bd4be4e6-0281-11e7-ad5b-d22680e18d10_story.html…… written in 2017 to link Trump to Selina Myer…. real life has now taken over satire in ways which 10 years ago would have been – to quote another great film – “Inconcievable!”

J Bryant
J Bryant
4 months ago

The closest comparison I can find to Harris–and it’s one that concerns me–is Richard Nixon.
Like Harris, Nixon was smart, hard-working and ambitious. Like her he had an extensive political career beginning in state politics then to the senate then to the vice presidency. Nixon, of course, eventually became president.
Nixon was famously odd and “uncomfortable in his own skin” as one commentator noted. He was never personally popular and made many enemies. He really wasn’t presidential material yet he became president, although ultimately that didn’t turn out well.
I don’t discount Harris. I see shades of Nixon in her and, in a race-obsessed era, she has the race card going for her.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
4 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Comparing Harris to Nixon is a little unkind — to Nixon. Read Nixon’s history and it looks like a Shakespeare plot line, with some character flaw bringing a talented man down. I can’t say precisely what that flaw was, but I can say it seemed to kick in around the time he ran, unsuccessfully, for Governor of California. Before that he seems to have had an honourable record in politics, admired, if not liked, by most, and respected by giants like Eisenhower and Kennedy. Harris, on the other hand, was always a joke, and a joke of hugely questionable integrity, as her record as a prosecutor shows. Personally, I think the article is too kind to her.

Last edited 4 months ago by Francis MacGabhann
Emre Emre
Emre Emre
4 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I’d argue, the person to compare Nixon is Trump, not Harris. Nixon was a populist (representing the “silent majority”) and a paranoid man to boot. He picked up a fight with the “East cost establishment”, spent his political life complaining about “biased media” and was duly defeated in the end by the said establishment (by a collaboration of the executive agencies).

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
4 months ago
Reply to  Emre Emre

Populist is an overused word…. Yada. Look up the meaning of the word populist. They are all populists.

Emre Emre
Emre Emre
4 months ago

Fair enough, but I do mean populist here. I find it odd that Nixon isn’t widely regarded as a populist because judging by the things he said and did he was one. Only he was not a crook which is what people take it to mean these days probably. I also suspect this has to do with Watergate having become part of a cannon of heroic journalism (before it was understood who deep throat really was), and now it’s too late or thorny to go back and do another assessment of the man.

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
4 months ago

The opposite of ‘populist’ is ‘unpopulist’.

Emre Emre
Emre Emre
4 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Like Harris, Nixon was smart, hard-working and ambitious.

Also, I suspect this won’t be a popular opinion here, but I agree with you. She doesn’t seem ready for the job though, at least yet.

Stephen Wood
Stephen Wood
4 months ago

Cackle? I find her laugh quite endearing even if the timing is ill judged. Is this is what politics in the US has been reduced to? Sneering at each other?

Last edited 4 months ago by Stephen Wood
DA Johnson
DA Johnson
4 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Wood

Mr. Wood, this is an endearingly naive comment! Of course, politics has always been about sneering at each other, in the US and elsewhere.

Richard Slack
Richard Slack
4 months ago

This is a fairly pointless piece all things being considered. The role of Vice President is of pretty much minimal importance as John Adams, the very first office holder in 1789 discovered. Being part of the Executive the VP was not allowed to contribute to debate in the Senate, just cast a casting vote if required but at the same time the VP doesn’t really have a defined role in the Executive either. In fact Harris has been quite busy in the Senate as casting votes are required because of the arithmetic.
The VP is not usually a shoe-in to be elected as President on the expiry of the President’s full term. Bush (Sen) succeeded Reagan in 1988 but before that you would have to go back to 1836 when Martin Van Buren succeeded Andrew Jackson. (I am not talking about when a VP is elected after a period of time, such as Biden himself and Nixon earlier..
What were the highlights of Mike Pence’s term as VP? Trump completely ignored him and the only plus point was when he refused to be bullied by Trump into overturning the constitution because Trump couldn’t accept the result. I doubt if Harris had many ambitions on become VP candidate and she already has a good political career to look back on; no doubt though someone on here has a conspiracy theory, Unherd thrives on them

Warren T
Warren T
4 months ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

I think the main highlight of Pence was that he was qualified to serve as POTUS if the situation arose. I doubt even you would agree that Ms. Harris would be.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
4 months ago
Reply to  Warren T

Neigh.

Sean Penley
Sean Penley
4 months ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

One of his policies eventually was, most likely, a source of great schadenfreude to him. He mentioned how if he was having dinner or any other meeting outside of office hours with a female employee, he would always bring his wife. The media mocked him as a dinosaur. Then #metoo hit and many famous men were accused of inappropriate behavior with women while no witnesses were around. Some admitted guilt, most insisted innocence, but were usually declared guilty without trial in the court of public opinion. Pence never had to break a sweat. That dinosaur outlasted the more ‘advanced’ species. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of his, but he deserved that win. And it was quite fun to watch the torpedoes fired at the right circle back on politicians and entertainers of the left.