Now Comes the Difficult Work of Pushing the Biden-Harris Ticket Left

If Biden’s VP pick Kamala Harris is a “weather vane,” then it’s up to progressives to change the weather.

Natalie Shure

Joe Biden Kamala Harris
This isn’t the ticket progressives wanted, but now it’s on us to push them every step of the way. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Now that pre­sump­tive Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Joe Biden has offi­cial­ly announced for­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Sen. Kamala Har­ris (D‑Calif.) as his run­ning mate, the only sur­pris­ing thing about the pick is that his team wait­ed so long to announce it. After all, Har­ris has long been con­sid­ered a front-run­ner for the posi­tion, but the Biden cam­paign nonethe­less stalled, drag­ging the vet­ting process out for months while lend­ing open­ings for Biden allies to snipe at VP hope­fuls in the press. Tar­gets includ­ed Har­ris her­self, whom for­mer Sen. Chris Dodd (D‑Ct.) tried to tar as too ambi­tious — a tone-deaf jab that teed up sharp rebukes on social media.

In ret­ro­spect, the rea­son for the delay was like­ly an abun­dance of cau­tion, which makes per­fect sense in the con­text of Biden’s long­time pitch: he’s the safe” can­di­date, a plain-but-pleas­ant reset but­ton we can push to dump Trump. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Biden’s polit­i­cal vision doesn’t offer much in the way of upend­ing the con­di­tions that made Trump­ism pos­si­ble. But his point that get­ting rid of Trump is of utmost impor­tance is cor­rect. As of today, that argu­ment appears to be per­sua­sive enough, with Biden trounc­ing Trump in most polls despite a lack of tra­di­tion­al cam­paign­ing. (Mak­ing sure the elec­tion is held in a safe and fair man­ner is anoth­er sto­ry altogether.)

Har­ris has now been anoint­ed as the safest option to help car­ry that strat­e­gy for­ward — a woman who’s already rec­og­niz­able at the nation­al lev­el and who has served in office for long enough that claims of inex­pe­ri­ence” don’t dis­tract from the steady, undis­tin­guished cam­paign that Biden is try­ing to run. Har­ris’ sta­tus as the first-ever Black woman — born of Jamaican and Indi­an her­itage — on a major par­ty tick­et is also like­ly an asset in appeal­ing to the young Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers among whom Biden was large­ly unpop­u­lar dur­ing the primary.

For pro­gres­sives and those on the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party’s so-called left wing,” Biden’s can­di­da­cy has been a tough pill to swal­low. After all, with an ongo­ing nation­wide upris­ing against struc­tur­al racism amidst a crush­ing pan­dem­ic and eco­nom­ic col­lapse, what cir­cum­stances could bet­ter illus­trate the need for the type of con­fronta­tion­al, sys­temic change pro­posed by can­di­dates like Bernie Sanders and Eliz­a­beth War­ren? Yet now, with unem­ploy­ment spik­ing, and mil­lions tak­ing to the streets to assert that Black Lives Mat­ter and demand­ing offi­cials defund the police, we’re in the unen­vi­able posi­tion of being forced to acknowl­edge that vot­ing for Biden — the author of the grue­some 1994 crime bill — and Har­ris — a for­mer tough-on-crime pros­e­cu­tor — is unde­ni­ably bet­ter than the alternative. 

If there’s a sil­ver lin­ing to this pick, it’s that oth­er fron­trun­ners for the VP nom­i­na­tion, like Michi­gan Gov. Gretchen Whit­mer and for­mer Oba­ma Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advi­sor Susan Rice, are, on paper, all more con­ser­v­a­tive than Har­ris. More­over, there’s some evi­dence that Har­ris is some­thing of a polit­i­cal weath­er vane: if she rose to nation­al promi­nence as a mod­er­ate pros­e­cu­tor, she’s moved marked­ly to the left since 2016, and has devel­oped one of the most pro­gres­sive vot­ing records in the Sen­ate. For exam­ple, in the cur­rent 116th Con­gress, she’s vot­ed with Sanders 92% of the time — and even signed onto his Medicare for All bill, before intro­duc­ing her own more watered-down ver­sion dur­ing the pri­ma­ry campaign.

More recent­ly, she’s joined demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ist Rep. Rashi­da Tlaib (D‑Mich.) in call­ing for month­ly direct cash assis­tance of $2,000 dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, and intro­duced a sweep­ing hous­ing bill call­ing for a year-long evic­tion freeze. Her left­ward shift has even been acknowl­edged by Lara Bazelon — the San Fran­cis­co law pro­fes­sor who authoredNew York Times sto­ry that was arguably the most influ­en­tial case against Har­ris’ pros­e­cu­to­r­i­al record. As Bazelon described Har­ris’ evo­lu­tion in an NPR inter­view, Her record has been con­sis­tent, and it’s been good. And my hope is that she’s going to con­tin­ue in that vein, first of all, because it’s the right thing to do but then, sec­ond of all, prag­mat­i­cal­ly, because that’s where the coun­try is moving.”

The groups Root­s­Ac­tion and Pro­gres­sive Democ­rats of Amer­i­ca were slight­ly more blunt in their assess­ment of Har­ris’ selec­tion: While her pen­chant for tak­ing posi­tions broad­ly palat­able to the cor­po­rate donor class rais­es con­cerns about her ded­i­ca­tion to pro­gres­sive prin­ci­ples, her habit of align­ing her stance with the pre­vail­ing polit­i­cal winds gives us some hope.”

Ulti­mate­ly, while defeat­ing Trump remains a pri­or­i­ty, it’s up to those of us on the left to gen­er­ate the winds we want to pre­vail by build­ing pow­er out­side of pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics. Tak­ing to the streets for racial jus­tice, strength­en­ing the labor move­ment, demand­ing uni­ver­sal health­care, estab­lish­ing ten­ants’ unions, elect­ing more can­di­dates up and down the bal­lot who are com­mit­ted to tak­ing on cor­po­rate pow­er to ben­e­fit the work­ing class — this is how we can reori­ent politi­cians’ incen­tives and pri­or­i­ties. The weath­er vanes will follow.

Views expressed are those of the writer. As a 501©3 non­prof­it, In These Times does not sup­port or oppose any can­di­date for pub­lic office.

Natal­ie Shure is a Los Ange­les-based writer and researcher whose work focus­es on his­to­ry, health, and politics.
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