Basu Opinion: Kamala Harris' presence in the presidential race makes the 'fight for America's soul' more attainable
Joe Biden's choice of Kamala Harris as a running mate says a few important things about the former vice president that should give Democrats, and Americans at large, cause for hope. It says he's got enough class and confidence not to hold a grudge over having been upstaged by Harris when she criticized him in a primary debate for his position on voluntary school busing in the 1970s.
At that time, she was a child being bused for school integration. But asked later, in Des Moines, about her own position on voluntary busing, Harris didn't disparage it, calling it a tool in the toolbox. Each one later called the other's claims unfair. But neither is petty enough to bear a grudge. It should tell you something that Harris, in fact, is secure enough to invite the ex-wife of her husband, Doug Emhoffer, for dinner. They're friends, she told me in an interview last summer.
It's also to his credit that Biden doesn't fear appearing alongside such a strong, charismatic second-in-command. He might have answered the growing call for female and African American representation by picking someone with less experience who avoided the limelight. But he clearly wants Harris' energy and oratorical skills, her powerful style of speaking truth to power. I can hardly wait to see her debate Vice President Mike Pence on women's reproductive rights.
Many factors clearly went into this choice in a year that saw the most diverse pool of Democratic candidates in history. It was hard for many voters who had expected Hillary Clinton to become the first female U.S. president to see Donald Trump get that job. It has been harder to see Trump's toxic, contradictory and self-aggrandizing style in office.
Then, with Biden on track to win the nomination, the prospect of a more progressive ticket more representative of American was at risk. Biden has taken flak for being too old school in his cultural references and too casual in his interactions with women. At this pivotal moment in America's reckonings with racial injustice, sexual violence and the looming question of what binds us together as a nation, he stepped up. He shows he's listening and learning at a time when America is hungry for moral leadership that inspires us to dream bigger. He's chosen to attempt to put the first woman, the first African American, and the first Indian American in the direct line of succession for the presidency.
Even the GOP seems unusually gingerly in its reaction to the choice of Harris, careful not to swing too hard when history is being made. Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann in a news release kept his response generic and pro forma, saying, “Iowans have already rejected the radical policies of Kamala Harris and Joe Biden, like free health care for illegal immigrants and raising taxes by $4 trillion to pay for their far-left agenda." But neither Biden nor Harris was regarded as especially left of center, a place staked out by U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
Some comments on the Black Lives Matter Iowa Facebook page are celebrating the choice of "a progressive Black woman" while others challenge that depiction of Harris, noting her record as a prosecutor in California.
Democratic Iowa state Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, one of only a few elected African American officials in office in Iowa, says Harris was one of his top picks for the post. He believes she has the potential to bring African American voters to the polls if she gets out and connects with them.
Iowa's Indian American community weighed in with elation. Harris was born to an Indian immigrant mother and a Jamaican immigrant father, both academics who fought for civil rights. “As a member of the Indian American community and chair of the Indo-American PAC, this is a proud moment for me and all minorities," said Prakash Kopparapu. He previously headed the Iowa Asian-Latino Coalition to enable immigrant and minority groups to hear directly from candidates and encourage their political participation. "Senator Harris is a proven leader with an abundance of experience to lead the campaign and the nation, with much needed integrity and respect for the rule of law," he said. "Her energy will help Vice President Biden fight for the soul of our nation.”
In an interview last summer, Harris told me she and her sister, Maya, were raised as Black American kids, but hers is also an intercultural American story. It's similar to Barack Obama's, and similar to my own children's. Theirs is a generation so steeped in diversity from birth that race and ethnic differences are taken for granted, if not assumed.
That's a far cry from the America in which Donald Trump and Mike Pence have surrounded themselves. This next presidential election will indeed be a fight for America's soul. Bring it on.
Rekha Basu is an opinion columnist for The Des Moines Register. Contact: email@example.com.