OPINION: Harris as Veep: Not a Command Performance


BY JAMIE STIEHM

Does anyone know that Vice President Kamala Harris canceled plans to campaign for Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, in a bruising recall election?
Perhaps a telling move, from one Californian to another.
Harris was meant to help the governor in an hour of need. But she’s shaky too and may have little political capital to lend Newsom. Newsom faces voters on Sept. 14 in a blue state where Republicans are on a tear.
This broken plan got lost in the fog of war in Kabul and the epic storm that darkened New Orleans. No reason was given. The rally has not been rescheduled.
Harris and Newsom, in their 50s, are telegenic friends and pragmatists who know the special election is national in scope.
If Larry Elder, the leading Republican, becomes governor (SET ITAL) and (END ITAL) if California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, 88, has to leave her Senate seat, Elder would name the new senator and tip the Senate to a Republican majority.
The curious incident got me thinking about Harris. Her portfolios, a voting rights bill and the southern border with Mexico, have not moved forward.
The vice president requested to work on voting rights. But she did not show up to speak at Saturday’s voting rights march in Washington to align with a growing grassroots movement.
Actually, Harris has not received rave reviews on the new job in Washington. Admittedly, it’s a tough crowd. Some note her 2020 presidential campaign tanked before Iowa.
Harris was just not ready to run, unlike another Black freshman senator in 2008.
How little we know her, the woman that would be president. She is not commanding her historic role nor taking our town by storm. (Sorry, New Orleans.)
How little she shares. She speaks from the head, not the heart.
And her uproarious laughs have turned to gaffes, most recently with the tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan. These outbursts contrast with her usual prosecutor’s demeanor.
History’s odds are one in three that Harris will move into the White House someday. President Joe Biden spent eight years in the Naval Observatory (the vice president’s residence) on elegant Embassy Row.
Fifteen presidents served as vice presidents first.
The odds are higher for Harris, since Biden, 78, is the oldest president in American history. After long years, we the people have finally learned what a difference a good — or bad — president makes.
That also goes for vice presidents. They should be carefully chosen. Dashing Aaron Burr was Thomas Jefferson’s vice president. Many thought he’d make a swell president. Burr made men weep as a gifted orator, which Jefferson was not.
Abraham Lincoln’s worst mistake was choosing a racist Southern tailor-by-trade, Andrew Johnson, as his vice president.
On a cruel April night in 1865, Johnson became president with a single shot fired in a crowded theater. Johnson was a roaring drunk. Worse, he undercut Lincoln’s Civil War legacy and reinstated Confederate leaders to power.
Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman were the best in show.
In 1901, after a yawning procession of presidents, President McKinley was shot. His ebullient vice President, young Roosevelt, took office without missing a heartbeat.
A visionary builder, naturalist and optimist, Roosevelt modeled the American spirit and stayed in office until 1909.
Truman was second only to popular “Teddy,” whose nephew, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, hardly said a word to his vice president, a former Missouri senator, in the World War II endgame.
But hardheaded Truman knew what to do when Roosevelt died in April 1945. Blessed with a barrel of common sense and a keen grasp of history, Truman integrated the military — his greatest act.
Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as the nation wept over John F. Kennedy’s murder. A tragic figure, great on advancing civil rights at home and flawed in relentless pursuit of the Vietnam War. Previously, as majority leader, he was known as “Master of the Senate.”
This circles back to Harris. Truman, Johnson and Biden himself were consequential, established senators before becoming vice presidents.
The Senate is the battleground of the Biden presidency.
Harris’s time is best spent buttressing a bridge to the chamber, forming deeper friendships, coalitions and strategies in the place she thought she left behind.
Jamie Stiehm may be reached at JamieStiehm.com. To read her weekly column and find out more about Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit creators.com.
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