Several Fox News hosts were attempting to ridicule Vice President Harris yesterday, essentially making things up. This is just the beginning.
When John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960, most Americans knew very little about his running mate, Texas Senator Lyndon Johnson. Moreover, they didn’t much care. Kennedy was a robust 43 years old and the odds that he’d succumb to disease or old age weren’t even considered (and the last president assassinated was McKinley in 1901, which nobody of voting age then remembered).
Therefore, outside of Texas, when JFK campaigned that year, he almost never even mentioned LBJ. Nobody really cared.
That won’t be true next year. Regardless of who the Republican nominee is, their line of attack against the Biden/Harris ticket will be simple:
“You’re voting for a man who’ll be 82 in his first year in office, which means you’re really voting for Kamala Harris to become president at some point during the next four years.”
As predictable as Republicans relying on attacks instead of highlighting their own positions and policies, that will be followed by:
“Do you know her? Do you trust her? Let me tell you all about how terrible she is, what a radical Black woman she is, the terrible things she’s done in her life and career.”
Outside of California, most Americans know virtually nothing about Kamala Harris, and the new voters who’ll be showing up in 2024 — Zoomers fresh out of school and women who’d never voted before but are now enraged by the Dobbs decision — know even less, because they weren’t paying attention during the 2020 Democratic primary debates.
If you’re old enough, you’ll recall what happened the last time a Democratic nominee failed to define himself well enough that his identity was bulletproof going into the election.
The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth got out ahead of John Kerry and defined him for the American public, leaving him to rather helplessly argue that he wasn’t a preening elitist opportunist who lied about his service in Vietnam. It didn’t work and he lost the election to George W. Bush who, ironically, is alleged to have gone AWOL during the Vietnam war.
If that doesn’t give you pause, consider this: the main advisor to the Trump 2024 campaign (he now runs Trump’s Preserve America superPAC) is Chris LaCivita, the very guy who organized the Swift Boat campaign against Kerry.
And LaCivita gets around. As Lincoln Project co-founder Reed Galen noted on Twitter:
“Did you know that @NoLabelsOrg co-founder @PatMcCroryNC and @realDonaldTrump share a top advisor? None other than Mr. Swift Boat himself, Chris LaCivita.”
The serious attacks — and distortions and half-truths — about Kamala Harris probably won’t start for another few months or maybe even well into next year, which gives the Democratic Party, the Biden/Harris campaign, and concerned activists like you and me some time to get Harris’ bio and accomplishments out and into the public eye.
And we all need to get about it soon: her invisibility up to this point, I’d argue, is an actual crisis, given Biden’s age. In fact, it’s already begun. As Nikki Haley recently said:
“If you vote for Joe Biden, you really are counting on a President Harris. Because the idea that he would make it until 86 years old [the end of his second term] is not something that I think is likely.”
Establishing a political and personal identity in the public’s mind early on is crucial to effective campaigning and to developing a campaign that can withstand both personal and political attacks.
When people believe they know somebody well, it’s hard to change their minds; when they know little about someone, it doesn’t take much to redefine that person and destroy their electoral chances.
— Everybody in America knew who George W. Bush was; his family was a dynasty, just like JFK’s, and his dad had been president.
— John McCain had been flogging his own brand for so many years people could recite his war hero “maverick” bio in their sleep.
— Barack Obama burst onto the scene but with such vigor and press attention because of his novelty as the first serious Black nominee that he was well and positively defined before Republicans could take a swipe at him.
— Biden had been around forever and ran for president three times before; he was a known quantity in 2020.
— Even Mitt Romney came from a dynastic political family and was well-known before his campaign began.
But Kamala Harris, right now, is a cipher. As VP, part of her job is to not eclipse the president so it makes a certain amount of sense that the White House hasn’t been pushing her into the headlines, but this is not a “normal” presidency: when Reagan left office at 77 he was so far advanced in dementia that he often didn’t know where he was.
And there’s the problem: that “major” issues are generally handled by the president with the VP nowhere to be seen. Witness the NATO summit and the meetings around it. If Harris had gone, Republicans would have said she was there because Biden is losing it (it is, after all, a meeting for heads of state); without her attendance, however, it’s one more lost chance to claim a personal accomplishment.
Which leaves us with this simple test. Quick: name her top five accomplishments in either life, as VP, or both. Identify a handful of her experiences and characteristics that would make a person — particularly a young person — want to vote for her.
If you’re stumped, the Democratic Party is facing a potential catastrophe. Not to mention the triple-whammy of her being Black, Asian, and female.
Harris certainly had accomplishments in California and in the Senate, but those are now ancient history. And as VP, when you search the web for her accomplishments, most of what you find are speeches she’s given and the unusually large number of tie-breaking votes she’s cast in the Senate. And, of course, all the rightwing attacks on her that have already accumulated.
Wikipedia, which is relentlessly edited by paid rightwingers (I once walked through a boiler-room in a rightwing think tank where nearly every screen was open to Wikipedia), spends almost as much time echoing rightwing hits on her as it does mentioning her votes, travels, and speeches.
But she has had some very real and consequential successes.
President Biden famously dumped the southern border situation in Harris’ lap, and today that “crisis” has become a mere trickle of a problem. Harris played a large role in this, working with multiple Central American governments to reduce the political and economic pressures that were sending people north.
Believing that people with jobs don’t flee their countries, she met with the presidents of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala and pressured US companies doing business in the area to step up and help, securing over $4 billion in local job-creating commitments from 47 major companies — that didn’t pull jobs away from America.
She’s met with more than 100 foreign leaders, and secured promises of hundreds of millions in aid for Central America from Ireland, Finland, Japan, and South Korea.
She worked with Microsoft to get millions of Central American homes wired for internet, and Mastercard helped over a million small businesses set up payment systems at a very low cost. As the Voice of America (mainstream media ignored the story) noted:
“Commitments by the companies include Microsoft’s agreeing to expand internet access to as many as 3 million people in the region by July 2022 and Nespresso’s plans to begin buying some of its coffee from El Salvador and Honduras with a minimum regional investment of $150 million…
“Chobani has agreed to bring its incubator program for local entrepreneurs to Guatemala, while Mastercard will aim to bring 5 million people in the region who currently lack banking services into the financial system and give 1 million micro and small businesses access to electronic banking…”
The result of her efforts over the past two years, combined with Biden administration changes to the way refugees and immigrants are allowed in and processed has turned the “border crisis” that Biden inherited from Trump into a rather orderly process. It’s far from perfect, but it’s now well under control.
The Washington Post this Wednesday published a major article about the changes at the border titled “Southern border ‘eerily quiet’ after policy shift on asylum seekers.”
But, even after noting, “The preliminary result is a nearly 70 percent drop in illegal entries since early May, according to the latest U.S. Customs and Border Protection data,” nowhere in the Post article are Harris’ substantial contributions to solving the problem mentioned. Her name doesn’t even appear in the article.
And that’s just one of several issues she’s worked on with success. Others include initiatives to deal with the abortion crisis and protect women’s private medical information in the wake of the Dobbs decision; helping get aid to universities and colleges (particularly HBCUs, 36 of which have been subject to white nationalist bomb threats); and participating in every major decision-making meeting in the White House including Biden’s decision to pull US troops out of Afghanistan.
It’s easy to understand that too much attention on Harris detracts from Biden’s accomplishments — and he’s the actual candidate for president — not to mention the fact that her approval numbers are even lower than his.
But that also argues for raising her profile, since she will be more “on the ticket” and on the minds of voters — particularly undecided and swing voters — than any vice president in our lifetimes.
The White House, the press corps, progressive media, and those of us who participate on social media must start talking about — and telling the stories — of Vice President Harris.
And she should start appearing more on progressive media: the door to the six million weekly listeners of my SiriusXM and Free Speech TV programs are always open to her, and I’m sure the same is true of MSNBC hosts and most of my peers on SiriusXM.
Otherwise, the Swift Boat guys will define her and tell their twisted version of her story to the American people just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow…