Biden Needs Warren to Balance His Ticket

Becky O'Malley
Thursday May 28, 2020 - 11:40:00 AM

It’s time for Joe Biden to fish or cut bait.

Thanks to the coronavirus invasion and more, he’s conceded to be The Candidate by almost all of his recent competitors.

Biden’s most valuable competitor has not conceded and won’t. That would be the father of the COVID catastrophe, the person anyone would love to run against at this point in his career, regardless of what he did in 2016.

There’s a timely bumper sticker ready for Joe’s campaign against this jerk: “Joe Biden Is Nobody’s Fool’. 

Never have the choices been clearer, even for those devotees of various members of the pantheon of Democratic Party luminaries who started off the debate season with high hopes. Even if you think, for example, that Bernie Sanders is still The Best, he is not, contrary to the cliché, The Enemy of The Good. 

Wisely, Bernie has now allied himself with Biden, the good-enough popular choice who won all those early primaries. Though Bernie’s fans hoped he’d pick up enough delegates in later races to win at the end, it couldn’t happen, mostly due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. 

The old W.C. Fields joke comes to mind: first prize is a week in Philadelphia, second prize is two weeks in Philadelphia. For poor Joe Biden, first prize is one term as POTUS (that ugly acronym), second prize is two terms as president. 

It’s going to be mighty rough coping with both a major pandemic and a major depression. Joe needs all the help he can get. 

I doubt that he’s hoping to run for a second term, which is why it’s high time for him to get a presumptive running mate on board—and she’d better be one tough cookie. 

Yes, I know that the Left Flank has been looking forward to a classic platform battle, the kind where Democrats enthusiastically bludgeon one another with planks that will be forgotten a year into the term if their guy wins. As an unwilling witness to (how many?) platform brawls, I’ve learned to watch what they do, not what they say in the platform. 

Case in point: The only Democratic National Convention I went to in person was in 1964 in Atlantic City. That’s the one the Mississippi Freedom Democrats went to, trying to be seated as delegates in place of those chosen by the hard core segregationists who at that time controlled the regular Democratic Party in Mississippi. 

I wasn’t an official delegate—I just dropped in for a day to support the Freedom Democrats. In those days there wasn’t much in the way of security, so I just snuck into the hall and wandered around the floor talking to delegates, trying to persuade them to do the right thing. 

The high point of my visit was encountering Dr. Martin Luther King in a diner at lunchtime and shaking his hand. I was seriously pregnant at the time, and I’ve always thought this incident conferred a special blessing on my daughter. Otherwise my lobbying didn't make much difference. 

After a lot of behind-the-scenes byplay, the new contenders lost out to the old segregationists, on both credentials and platform committees, with Lyndon Johnson actively working to keep the Southern old guard in his party. But nevertheless, in 1965 President Johnson was key in persuading Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act. 

And now White supremacists in the South have a new home with the Republicans. 

Watch what they do, not what they say. 

So where does Biden find the ideal running mate? 

In the first place, not at the convention this year. If there even is a convention. In the current pandemonium, no Democrats should be cramming into a convention center. Better to leave that foolish behavior to the other team—Darwin’s Law and all that. 

But in the absence of a physical convention, and even of campaign rallies, the top candidates will have the job of cheer-leading, not only for their own election but to bring along enough down-ballot congressional allies to be able to govern. 

The op-ed pages these days are full of speculation about who Biden needs on his ticket. 

Political scientist Rachel Bitecofer (her bio describes her as an “election forecaster”) suggests that the winning choice should not be Biden’s double, and that choosing a woman (to which he’s committed) is not enough to bring in extra votes. Those who fantasize about motivating an uncommitted moderate majority are promoting Senator Amy Klobuchar, but she appears to be ideologically aligned with Biden. In Bitecofer’s schema, Klobuchar is a “ticket complementor”, when what the ticket needs is a “ticket balancer”. Even worse, the police killing of an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis has drawn attention to Klobuchar's record as a prosecutor there, when she did not prosecute officers involved in similar incidents, including the main person accused in this week's case. 

Bitecofer is enthusiastic about Kamala Harris and Stacey Abrams, who are what used to be called “two-fers” or even “three-fers”. That is to say, they’re different from Biden in three key ways: female, progressive and Black, all in one neat package. She thinks that one of them would energize progressive and African-American voters to show up at the polls who might otherwise stay home. She suggests other women of color who might also qualify. 

I’m no academic pollster, but in my unscientific inquiry among members of my private focus group the Bitecofer analysis seems too simple. Most of my friends fit into one, two or all three of those categories, and yet they aren’t relying on any of these identities as their basis for voting (or not). If they vote at all, they'll vote against Trump, but some might be tempted to cast vanity votes for the likes of Jill Stein as a way of expressing themselves. 

But what’s motivating their election decision this year, for almost all of them, is common and garden fear. Between the pandemic and the coming depression, everyone’s scared as hell. 

More than one, and not just the youth faction, worry that Joe Biden might not last for the duration. It’s not that he’s not competent now, though he’s in his late seventies. Nancy Pelosi is 80, and she’s still the major force to be reckoned with in the federal government. But stuff happens after you reach a certain age. 

If, god forbid, the VP would need to take over, which of the current crop of front-runners could complete the job of straightening out the country? 

In my consulting group of probable voters (who range in age from 18 to 92) there’s surprising agreement. They all seem to feel most secure with Elizabeth Warren. 

She has two of the three desirable identities, and additionally has the most experience doing all the things that a president should be able to do. 

She’s been a legislator, an administrator, and, perhaps most important, a teacher. And also, she’s smart, energetic and tough. 

How about the rest of the mentioned candidates? Harris is another ex-prosecutor, with baggage similar to Klobuchar's. The Bernie bunch doesn’t think she is progressive enough--or, probably, that any of the others is either. But a percentage of his supporters, probably a sizable one, think that Warren is in the ideological ballpark, if not quite doctrinaire enough to please the hard core. 

And Biden needs help right now from a vigorous assertive campaigner. Here I’ll draw on personal experience, having met both Harris and Warren in small groups in Berkeley. Harris is attractive, but Warren is magnetic. She takes over a room in minutes, just as she took over the debate stage. 

I suspect Abrams might be able to do the same. Many in my consulting group look forward to endorsing Abrams for president in the future, but they think that she lacks national experience at the moment, which she would need if she became president any time in the next four years. A cabinet post would give her the experience she needs for a future presidency. 

What will it take to energize the apathetic young? I’m not sure. Sanders was supposed to be able to do that, but they didn’t show up for him in the primaries. Why should a vice-presidential candidate make any difference? 

I’m also not sure how many actual votes this group represents—I suspect not as many as it appears. I once captained a precinct near a university, and many of the apparently non-voting registered student voters turned out to have moved out of town and registered elsewhere. Many supposedly non-voting young people are probably in the same category. 

But it’s time to get moving. The Democrats should not postpone the announcement of a vice-presidential candidate until after a hypothetical convention, now re-scheduled for August but subject to further postponement or cancellation. 

The skeleton of Warren’s presidential campaign is still around, sending out fundraising letters for congressional candidates from time to time. If Biden were to announce that he’d chosen her for Vice President, she could hit the ground running in a heartbeat, complete with staff. She’s already said that she’d accept if offered. 

Let’s do it.