Joe Biden has taken all the fun out of the VP announcement
OPINION: Since committing to choosing a woman back in January, the Democratic presidential presumptive nominee has ruined the suspense
Joe Biden can’t keep a secret. Joe Biden is the guy who walks out of the Jordan Peele film, Us, saying “I can’t believe Adelaide is the clone!” while walking past everybody waiting in line. Joe Biden is the guy who sees you reading the bible on the train, leans over, and says “You know he comes back in the end right?”
Biden is your friend who’s still in the driveway with an armful of balloons as you’re bringing your wife home for her surprise party. The vice-presidential pick is supposed to be an exciting boost during a long campaign, a glimpse into the mind of the presidential candidate and their vision for the future.
Instead, Biden has handled this all wrong, and in a week when we could be surprised and pumped up to see a Black woman ascend higher than she ever has in American political history we’ll all have a collective shoulder shrug instead.
Biden is going to pick a Black woman as his vice-presidential candidate because while he is gaffe-prone, often off-message and way too familiar with Black folks, he’s not stupid. The problem is he has squandered what could have been a truly historic week.
Since last August, when Biden said he would pick a woman for VP if he was the nominee, then rolled out names like Michelle Obama and Stacey Abrams, many voters, influencers and members of the press got the impression he was committed to picking a Black woman. While Biden didn’t technically say that’s what he was going to do, his campaign did nothing to squelch that rumor.
Now let’s be clear, there are plenty of Black women who are qualified to be VP, but being qualified versus being able to get through the vetting process, both official and unofficial is something else entirely.
Once Team Biden gave people the impression that it was a Black woman or bust for VP, the list was immediately narrowed down to about 4 or 5 black women, who had the national profile, the background and the ability to curry favor with the white male gatekeepers in the media, Washington and Biden’s selection committee.
Due to the fact that she was a candidate for the Democratic nomination, Senator Kamala Harris was always at the top of this list. This was roughly the equivalent of telling your kid in January that you’re getting them a car for Christmas. Nice right? Who wouldn’t be happy with a new car? (Unless you’re Brandy but that’s a whole other issue).
The problem is that telegraphing it months in advance totally takes away from the excitement of getting that new car. Which would you prefer? Coming out to the driveway with a brand-new Range Rover with a red bow around it, or driving to the dealership, filling out some paperwork then picking out which Infiniti is available in whatever colors they have in stock?
Now I know what you’re thinking. What difference does it make? A car is a car! A vice-presidential pick is a vice-presidential pick. The Democratic Party, and Biden in particular, owes Black voters and Black women specifically, so who cares if it’s a surprise or not? It actually matters to the campaign, the press and yes even the voters.
This week Biden is going to all but likely select Sen. Harris or former Obama national security advisor Susan Rice. However, imagine a world where he hadn’t let the Kiesha, Kamala, Karen, Val or Stacey out of the bottle 12 months ago. Imagine a shortlist that was Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Duckworth, Cory Booker, Gretchen Whitmer, Kamala Harris, Val Demings, Michelle Lujan Grisham, Karen Bass and Julián Castro. An amazing and diverse list of qualified numbers twos.
If Biden were to pick Harris out of this diverse list, it would be a bold, historic move that would be a shot in the arm to a campaign that arguably has been coasting comfortably for months. Given the enthusiasm gap between Trump and Biden supporters any little bit can help.
There is precedent for this kind of announcement mismanagement by Biden as well. He did the same thing almost 10 years ago on the issue of gay marriage when he was Barack Obama’s vice president. Obama’s White House had worked out this whole elaborate way to roll out his support for gay marriage, with all of the fanfare of a huge civil rights issue.
Instead, Biden blurted out his support for gay marriage on Meet the Press months early, ruining all of the surprise and political momentum Obama had hoped to get from the issue. It still happened, which was important, but Biden couldn’t keep a secret.
It’s akin to your brother in law who calls and says, “So I hear you’re gonna be a dad!” twenty minutes after your wife texts, “I have a surprise for you!”
Biden’s team tried to spin the story and suggest that he was ‘floating the idea’ for the White House, but everyone knew that he’d just given away the plot. Again.
In a similar way, don’t be fooled by the speculation. Team Biden has tried in the last few weeks to throw out other names to make the selection process look more interesting because they know after broadcasting the decision for months the announcement won’t pop the way it should. That’s why Amy Klobuchar said “I’m out” months ago, she knew it was going to be a Black woman and she didn’t want months of bad press.
A friend of mine has been analyzing flight patterns in and out of Delaware for VP clues (this is actually a real thing) and said Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan, is in the mix. She definitely is, but between not being a Black woman and the water issues in Flint, I can’t imagine she gets the nod.
One colleague told me it’s Susan Rice because she dumped a bunch of Netflix stock options and she’s the only candidate on the shortlist not scheduled on the DNC speakers list yet (like that can’t be changed). Rice is a gift to Republicans who’d love nothing more than to scream Benghazi at Biden for the next 80 days, and that’s before you look into her son’s politics.
Karen Bass shows up in texts from time to time but I doubt she’ll have the time to raise her profile to win the job. So, it’s probably Harris, which is who I and most people suspected would be the pick all along. She’s been subjected to a weeks worth of petty, racist and sexist rumor-mongering, from the likes of Biden VP committee member Chris Dodd (“Too ambitious” might become the “nasty woman” of 2020) all of which ignores the real weakness she has with criminal justice and inability to motivate young voters.
Nevertheless, we will vacillate between a sigh of relief and a polite church clap when Biden picks Harris before getting to the hard work of getting them into the White House to save what’s left of America from Trump.
If he picks someone else, I would be pleasantly surprised at his campaign’s ability to keep a secret and do the unexpected, but I’m convinced they had already given us spoilers a year ago.
Dr. Jason Johnson is a professor of Politics and Journalism at Morgan State University, a Political Contributor at MSNBC and SIRIUS XM Satellite Radio. Notorious comic book and sports guy with dual Wakandan and Zamundan citizenship.
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