The Ambition of Kamala Harris Will Serve America Well

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Senator Kamala Harris (Alex Edelman / AFP via Getty Images)

Joe Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris as his running mate is one of the most fateful decisions of his political career. With Biden currently enjoying a healthy lead in the polls, there’s good reason to expect that Harris will make history in November by becoming the first female vice president, the first African American vice president, and the first Asian American vice president.

Nor is there any reason to think Harris’s career will end with the vice presidency. Given Biden’s age and his suggestion that he intends to serve only one term, the Democratic presidential nomination will likely be open in 2024, with Harris having a huge advantage over any potential rival. Since 1952, there have been five Democratic vice presidents: Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Al Gore, and Joe Biden. All five went on to become the presidential nominees of their party. Lyndon Johnson’s route to the nomination was through the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The rest leveraged their vice presidential status for a nomination. (To be sure, the value of having been vice president can deteriorate. After losing the general election in 1968, Humphrey lost his 1972 bid for the nomination.) But the lesson is clear: The path to the presidential nomination is through the vice presidency.

In picking Harris, Biden has likely set the course of his party for at least another decade. The choice of Harris makes sense given that she is much closer to Biden’s centrist politics than one of the other plausible candidates, Elizabeth Warren.

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In fact, Harris is so logical a pick that it is worth asking why Biden seemed to be hesitant to make it. Over the last few months, there has been an unusual amount of closed-door drama in the Biden campaign, with many unlikely names (Susan Rice, Karen Bass) floated as alternatives. This suggests that Biden wasn’t wholly sure about whether to go with Harris.

Plausible reasons for Biden’s being gun-shy include resentment over Harris’s criticism of Biden during the primaries. Also, the rise of protests against the criminal justice system might have made Biden reluctant to pick someone with a record of being a tough prosecutor.

One other factor was repeatedly mentioned in press accounts. Some in Biden’s circle worried that Harris had too much “ambition.” This objection to Harris was rooted in pure sexism, the belief that assertive women are disruptive of the proper ordering of the world.

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In fact, Harris’s ambitiousness is one of her virtues, and it’s something to be welcomed even by those who are wary of her centrist inclination. An ambitious politician is one who is likely to push a bolder agenda, with the hope of achieving a legacy.

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