Biden’s Promise to Pick a Woman VP: It’s 2020 and it’s the Right Thing to Do

Photo by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

From the mainstream press, progressives, and the broader reality-based community, most analysis centered on how the pledge, and the individual woman chosen to fulfill that pledge, would help or hurt Biden’s electoral chances. 

In both cases, it is presumed that the Biden campaign is making a calculation, reaching the conclusion that a commitment to putting a woman on the ticket will, the the aggregate, help his cause. Folks on the right, obviously, purport to know that it is a miscalculation and also somehow discriminatory against poor, poor men. Everyone else, more or less, has focused on the particular factors that motivated the pledge.

You know them already: Perhaps the campaign is seeking to give a jolt to turnout from women, who favor Democrats; they hope to attract women who may have voted for Trump in 2016 to switch sides at the prospect of electing a woman vice-president; they see a commitment to diversity as something that will unify and energize more left-leaning voters who may not feel great enthusiasm for Biden; it is intended to present to the entire electorate a glaring contrast with Donald Trump, who is known for—and even celebrates—his abuse and dehumanization of women. And so on.

In all cases, the analysis—be it negative, positive, or neutral—is about tactics. It is taken as given that Joe Biden made this pledge to help him win the presidency, and all that’s left to do is to qualify and quantify that choice.

I am no grizzled veteran of national political wars, but I have been working in various arenas of national politics for 13 years, including a presidential campaign, and I can tell you with certainty that yes, this pledge was made after weighing all of these tactical factors. But I also do not believe they were decisive. Because what I also can tell you from my experience is that all of the people involved in these mammoth and byzantine political enterprises are human beings. 

Let’s take a trip way back in time to another era, one that might be unrecognizable today. Hop in our time machine and we’ll set the dial back five whole years, and we’ll set ourselves down in the city of Ottawa in a magical land called Canada. 

Standing at a podium before the national press was an impossibly handsome new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, flanked by his newly-appointed cabinet. True to a pledge of his own, Trudeau had assembled a cabinet with 15 men and 15 women.

“Your cabinet, you said, looks a lot like Canada,” said one reporter. “I understand one of the priorities for you was to have a cabinet that was gender balanced. Why was that so important to you?”

There is a pause, during which Trudeau somehow manages to simeltaneously deadpan and smolder, as only he can. He responds.

“Because it’s 2015.”

And then he gently shrugs.

Trudeau went on to explain that he had chosen excellent people for an excellent cabinet that represented the country’s diversity of viewpoints, but mentioned not one more word about anyone’s gender. 

Those who worry about “tokenism” claim to be concerned at the great injustice done to better-qualified candidates for positions being rebuffed for lesser-qualified choices who tick an identity checkbox. But this makes the absurd assumption that there is always one, single “best person” for any given job, one “right answer” among a sea of wrongs. It’s preposterous.

For any position there exists a wide variety of individuals who might excel, bringing to bear their own unique blend of skills and experiences. The idea that there’s a singular “best person for the job” is a trope, an ideal to which one can aspire, but not some incontrovertible mathematical constant. We’re talking about human beings working within human-created systems. 

Trudeau’s unspoken message was that he had indeed chosen the “best” people for their respective cabinet positions, and that there were any number of “best people” he might have chosen. For the project of appointing a national cabinet, achieving a gender balance was no hindrance. Trudeau was telling us that because of the wealth of talent available to him, there were no compromises or consolations in ensuring gender parity.

And by saying, “Because it’s 2015,” he was really saying, “Because it’s the right thing to do.”

In the Biden campaign’s decision to publicly commit to placing a woman on the ticket, there is no doubt that many surveys were studied, many polls were taken, many consultants were consulted, and the political temperature of many constituencies was taken. This is presidential politics, and politics must be done.

Joe Biden is also a human being. He leads a campaign made up of human beings. All of them got into politics and government for a reason, and I’m willing to hazard the guess that the vast majority of them did so for the right reasons, imperfect as they all are. And as imperfect as he is, I think Joe Biden is in politics for the right reasons.

At the March 15 debate on CNN in which this pledge was announced, Biden channeled a bit of Trudeau (though, he could never come close to Trudeau’s unflappable delivery). “My cabinet, my administration will look like the country and I commit that I will, in fact, appoint a — I’d pick a woman to be vice president,” said Biden. “There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow. I would pick a woman to be my vice president.”

In other words, to commit to choosing a woman is in no way a limitation. There are myriad women, right now, who would be excellent presidents, and he’s going to pick one of them.

I can’t know anything for sure about what’s in a man’s heart, but I think Joe Biden has committed to running alongside a woman because he thinks it’s the right thing to do.

Because it’s 2020.

The Democrats’ First Debate: Nothing Changed, and That’s Huge

Photo credit: Hillary Clinton / Foter / CC BY-NC
In a sense, nothing really changed about the dynamics of the race as a result of the first Democratic presidential debate, but that in itself is extremely important. Clinton performed as excellently as I expected, and probably reminded many folks why they liked her to begin with. Sanders also did himself some good by setting himself up as a substantial and passionate contrast to Clinton. With neither of them making any meaningful mistakes, they served to solidify the existing situation, which is a win for Clinton.

O’Malley may have helped himself to a percentage point or two in the polls, if for no other reason than that he was fluid and enthusiastic, and appeared to be a plausible alternative to the current top tier. But he gained nothing that truly effects Clinton’s or Sanders’ positions. I do have to wonder if O’Malley’s slickness came across as sincere or contrived to the average viewer. He was laying it on quite thick at times, and as an actor and a veteran political observer, I don’t trust my own view to know how he comes across to others.

Webb and Chafee performed abysmally. I was genuinely embarrassed for both of them, especially considering that they both seem like good, well-intentioned public servants who would otherwise probably deserve a fair shot at consideration. But Webb was all grouse and resentment (and weirdly threatening China), and Chafee was an unmitigated disaster. I can’t think of anyone in a presidential debate who has ever performed as poorly as Chafee did tonight, and I’m including Quayle. For his own sake I hope he drops out tonight.

But again, Webb and Chafee had no effect on the larger race, and tonight really only served as a chance for voters to rule them out, and perhaps — perhaps — consider O’Malley. Which merely buys O’Malley a point or two at best.

So, as I said, this debate changed very little, other than to settle the race for a while, to where it more or less has been anyway.

With one exception: Joe Biden.

I don’t know if Biden is still considering running, and I’d be shocked if he was. But after tonight, it doesn’t matter. By not participating in this debate, I believe Joe Biden ruled himself out of the race. The fashionably late don’t get to be president, and, learning the lessons of Wesley Clark, Rick Perry, and Fred Thompson, he must know that. Biden is, as of tonight, a non-factor in this primary race.

And that is a big, big win for Hillary Clinton.

You are Stuck with Joe Biden

So there is this small flurry of rumors fluttering about the murkier reaches of the Beltway media saying that President Obama has been courting Hillary Clinton to join him on the 2012 ticket in place of Joe Biden, and these rumors of course have nothing to do with the fact that Romney is not only touching politics’ third rail with his choice of Paul Ryan, but that he has gotten down on all fours and licked the third rail until it’s slippery.

I don’t even want to link to any of the stories because they don’t deserve page views. If you want to see them, go use the google.

Let me explain as clearly as I can why you should not believe these rumors, and that they are, in fact, an enormous, steaming pile of crap. And you don’t even have to get into the weeds of the Obama-Clinton soap operas that the press loves to doodle about in their notebooks, or think about who likes who or who wants who to run for president one day or anything. All you need to know are these two things.

1. Joe Biden is actually a huge asset to the president. Not only is he widely reported to be a close and valued counselor to the president, trusted with a sizable and extremely consequential governing portfolio, but he is also a key ambassador to white, middle-class voters in key swing states. Where Obama’s coolness or eloquence fail to connect, Biden’s down-to-Earth familiarity and jocularity ease doubts and forge bonds.

2. Obama gains nothing electorally from having Clinton instead of Biden on his ticket that he doesn’t already have locked up. Obama is trouncing Romney with women voters, and the notion that Hillary Clinton can help with rural voters in places like West Virginia is a load of nonsense, a relic of the Democratic primaries, where, when the electorate was entirely made up of people who were already Democrats, Clinton fared far better than Obama. She in no way would sway rural voters already inclined toward Romney in the other direction. I mean, just think about what a silly idea that is, that Hillary Clinton is somehow the key to winning over coal miners or something.

The Obama team would probably rather Joe Biden were a little more careful with his words sometimes, sure, but no one’s votes (or as Biden himself might say, “LITERALLY no one’s votes”) are being swayed by Biden saying something a little goofy now and then. They know that.

If nothing else, Obama suddenly replacing his vice-president on the ticket would be, perhaps, the ultimate sign of weakness and desperation. In this election, as I have spelled out, Obama is neither weak nor desperate. It is Romney who, in the midst of an election he at one point believed he could win by default, has decided to attempt the Hail Mary of choosing a running mate who exemplifies everything the Obama team already wants you to think about him: That he is going to heartlessly slash programs for the elderly and poor, while cutting the taxes of bazillionaires.

The right knows that it’s Romney who’s desperate, and they’d rather you thought the opposite was true. It’s kind of what they do. Don’t buy it.