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Stiehm: Biden’s Dilemma: To run with Harris again?

By Jamie Stiehm - | Mar 16, 2023

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Jamie Stiehm

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is bound to run for reelection, and so he should. The real question, rumbling below ground, is whether he should keep Vice President Kamala Harris as his running mate.

Is Harris really ready to be understudy for the world’s center stage? Given Biden’s advanced age of 80, the jury is out.

Biden seems to share the sentiment that she is struggling to define herself in the plum post, which he once held. As author Chris Whipple wrote in “The Fight of His Life,” Biden described Harris as “a work in progress.”

Voting rights was the piece Harris pressed the president to let her take on. In a blow, her efforts fell short in Biden’s beloved Senate. A close call, since the bill had a fighting chance to become law after the blue House passed it.

First, the case for Biden. The Democratic party needs a steady hand to navigate the stormy seas ahead as standard-bearer.

He’s aged into the best version of himself, a man who knows his mind and speaks it (sometimes too much.)

Not an intellectual, Biden has a kind of seasoned intelligence and judgment, notably on the human heart’s terrain.

They say men of the people often come from small towns, where they grow up known by all. “Joey” Biden rose from such a background.

Biden delivered more than most expected, uniting the wings of his party behind infrastructure building, major climate action, lowering the cost of prescription drugs and raising the corporate minimum tax to 15%.

The economy’s employment engine roars, defying expectations. The White House Cabinet is full of good picks, not a ragtag gallery of rogues, like former President Donald Trump’s.

All that did not happen by luck of the Irish.

Rather, it took deft skill, patience and horse sense in negotiations with Congress. Centrist Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, W.Va., got a special place at the table.

While Biden cherishes democracy’s winding way under the dome, President Barack Obama found that part of the job vexing. He’s not an easy extrovert like Biden.

Suppose we reframe Biden’s age as a positive. A “grey champion” in early New England was treated with respect and honor. Elders were apt to be leaders, especially in times of crisis, noted the historian David Hackett Fischer.

That’s exactly what happened here, when the pandemic hit in 2020.

Biden thought Harris would do better, given her campaign for president as a freshman senator.

But only a shooting star in the sky — like Obama — can pull that off. Several senior senators urged him to run.

The California senator did not connect on the hustings and failed to make it to the first 2020 contest in Iowa.

I’ve seen Harris in the Senate, where her demeanor was a bit icy to many of the other 99. Aloof, she did not mix much on her side of the aisle, much less across it, to make new friends.

Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren even said the 2024 ticket should be “what makes Biden comfortable.”

The most effective senators spend time getting to know other lawmakers. Harris never lingered long to vote and visit. I agree with critics that her political gifts are not ready for primetime.

The vice president has not had a good moment in front of the American public yet. Most disapprove of her.

Harris seems uneasy in public speaking, missing notes of gravitas, as at Arlington National Cemetery among graves in the rain.

The former prosecutor speaks in few keys. She excels in sharp questions at confirmation hearings.

But odd bursts of laughter in speeches and interviews appear as awkward self-defense. She’s working on that habit.

Despite Harris’ delicate perch as the first woman — and person of color — to play her part, Biden may cut the cord. The first Black president, Obama ruptured their relationship to support Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Abraham Lincoln’s tragic flaw was changing vice presidents, choosing bitter Southern racist Andrew Johnson.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt let go of his vice president, Henry Wallace, and ran with Sen. Harry Truman in 1944. That worked out well.

Two governors in their 50s, Gretchen Whitmer, D-Mich., and Gavin Newsom, D-Calif., wait in the wings.

Jamie Stiehm may be reached at JamieStiehm.com. Follow her on Twitter @JamieStiehm.


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