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Vice President Kamala Harris?

The Washington Post and other generally reliable sources of Washington (or is it Wilmington?) scuttlebutt report that Kamala Harris’s chances of becoming Joe Biden’s running-mate are on the rise. She wiped the floor with that doddering doofus in the debates, but they say that he doesn’t care anymore. More likely, he doesn’t remember.

It could be a lot worse. It could be a lot better too, however; but the chances of that are practically nil.

Unexpected developments do sometimes happen, and while there is death and disease and extreme senility, there is hope.

Even so, it is extremely likely that voters will be facing a Trump v. Biden choice this November. It is very nearly as likely that, by the time the votes are cast, Donald Trump will have defeated himself so thoroughly that even Joe Biden will not be able to lose.

Therefore, unless Trump and his minions manage to pull off a successful coup – unlikely too, but no longer unthinkable — Biden is our future.

How pathetic is that: Biden, a relic, not a particularly worthy one either, of a contemptible past that was slowly but surely being overcome until the Democratic Party’s old guard, its Forces of Order, and their media flunkies, went all out to halt the process in its tracks.

And so, we find ourselves in a situation in which by doing the right thing, as best we are able, we bring about a calamitous outcome. Aristotle called situations of the kind we now are facing “tragic.”

On the one hand, dispatching Trump and the miscreants who flatter and serve him — and, as much as possible, undoing the harm that he and they have done — is morally and politically imperative.

On the other, there is no effective way to do that except by electing the lesser evil party’s candidate.

Barring the practical political equivalent of divine intervention – or what Roman commentators on ancient Greek tragedies called a deus ex machina — that would mean voting for Biden, the very worst of all the many candidates that sought the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination this year.

There are good and principled reasons not to vote for him, of course; but assuming, as we must, that he will be the candidate that the Democrats field, those reasons are swamped many times over by the sheer urgency of sending Trump and his minions packing.

This is especially true in so-called “battleground states,” where the outcome of the election will be determined, and where comparatively few votes are likely to separate winners and losers.

There is also a case to be made for voting for Biden in states that Republicans are certain to win. If nothing more, that would be a good way for the good people in those states to cast protest votes. It could also be helpful in efforts to diminish and perhaps even overthrow Republican domination of our country’s many benighted locales.

Voters, like me, who live in states that Democrats are sure to win can afford to let their conscience be their guide. But for those of us who want to make the overwhelmingly likely outcome even more likely, it would not be unreasonable to pile on superfluous Biden votes.

To do that with a clear conscience, however, progressive voters would have to somehow make themselves believe that their votes for Biden is not really votes for him after all, but votes against Trump, expressions of the extent and intensity of the hatred he inspires. That should not be hard for most Biden voters to do, inasmuch as there is more truth in that contention than self-deceit. Even so, this is one of those cases in which spin is all.

Throughout all of his far too many years in public life, Biden has been a piece of work. Now that the presidency is finally within his grasp, he is a piece of work well past his prime. For his own good and the good of everyone else, he ought to be sent back out to pasture ASAP.

Trump, however, is more awful by many orders of magnitude, and far more dangerous. Therefore, do the arithmetic: find a good (or not too bad) reason and vote accordingly –Biden it must be.

The mainstream Democratic Party – the party of the Clintons, both Hillary and Bill, and of Barack Obama, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Stenny Hoyer, Jim Clyburn, and many others of their ilk at the national, state, and local levels, is awful too.

Its commitment to neoliberal economic policies, its dedication to and support for America’s military-industrial-national security state complex, and its countless hypocrisies have brought the country to such a state that it would have been remarkable had Trump and Trumpism, or something very like it, not oozed out from the bowels of the body politic at roughly the time that it did.

Also, the Democratic Party’s inveterate pusillanimity has made Democrats’ resistance to Trump and Trumpism stupid and, worse, ineffectual, no matter how well-intentioned it may be.

Nevertheless, the Trump Party, formerly known as the GOP, is many times worse.

Therefore, while lesser evil politics breeds a race to the bottom, and ought usually to be avoided, even for the sake of making the outcomes of electoral contests marginally better (less bad), this is not one of those times. The greater evil is too great.

Before the covid-19 pandemic made everything topsy-turvy, generating incalculable levels of misery for large segments of the population at home and around the world, Trump was already on track for losing big time to a Democrat, any Democrat, in 2020.

Trump nevertheless hoped, not entirely without reason, that a strong economy, or rather an economy that could be depicted as strong, even though it was not, would save him.

It was a house of cards economy that brought obscene levels of wealth to a few, illusions of prosperity to many more, and at least nine-tenths of the population no better off than they had been before Trump came on the scene.

Aided and abetted by Republican Senators led by Mitch McConnell, not the worst but certainly the most deleterious of them all, Trump and his minions had been keeping the meretricious economic order over which they presided in place long past its expiration date. Facing only milquetoast opposition from feckless Democrats, they set about deregulating everything they could and cutting the taxes of corporations and the super-rich.

Thus, to the delight of venal, pro-Trump plutocrats, Trump and Company were injecting the stuff of which sugar highs are made into what was basically a sick economy.

Meanwhile, Trump has been continuing to sell his snake oil to the easy prey in his hoodwinked base. Since that base has morphed into something very like a cult, it practically sells itself.

Therefore, even if the lives of the vast majority of Trump voters was not getting materially better in any discernible way, they hardly cared.

But that was then and, before long, this will become now. When the lives of the sad sacks who had been standing by their man before the Trump-exacerbated pandemic struck become discernibly worse, materially and in countless other ways, either the conman will finally stand exposed or there will be nothing to do but despair for those of our fellow citizens whose degree of imbecility surpasses human understanding.

It was far from certain, even before the pandemic struck, that Trump and his minions could keep their machinations going through Election Day. But even if they somehow could, Trump would still likely be toast. He is a sick joke, after all, and a national disgrace.

To be sure, this had not been a problem for his supporters up to that point, and there was little reason to think that was suddenly about to change. But every camel’s back has a straw with its name on it, and even if the one destined for Trump would not have turned up in time for his base to defect, Trump’s opponents were becoming increasingly incensed.

It was therefore looking more likely than not that, come November, the ranks of the anti-Trump majority would swell, and that even the too-cool-for-school types who couldn’t be bothered to turn out to vote for Bernie Sanders, would pour out to vote against Trump.

That would effectively guarantee that no matter what Trump and his people do, this time around, unlike the last, the Electoral College results and the popular vote count would coincide.

With an economic collapse more severe than anybody would have imagined just two or three months ago already underway, Trump’s defeat is all the more secure.

For the myriad ways that Trump and his people have made everything worse, there simply aren’t enough remotely plausible scapegoats left for a lying liar who can’t even keep his story straight to blame.

For voters in so-called blue states, there is some benefit and not much harm in casting their ballots for Biden. For everyone else, the benefit outweighs the harm overwhelmingly.

Still, there is no good, just less bad, in voting for him, and certainly no joy. Many of us, though, will be able to vote for down-ticket candidates worth supporting, reconstructing the Democratic Party in the process, one step at a time. We can take joy in that.

The important thing, however, is to salvage as much good as possible out of the tragic situation that the mainstream Democratic Party has foisted upon the progressives in its fold. This will typically involve organizing around related issues that don’t implicitly reinforce the power of the Democratic Party’s old guard.

Working against the efforts of the White House, the national Republican Party, and Republican state Governors, Secretaries of State, and state legislatures to suppress the votes of non-whites and younger voters is high on that to do list, along with whatever else it might take to make American elections free and fair.

Now is also a time to organize around moral and political demands that Trump and his underlings be held responsible for the actionable crimes they have committed. This means no Obama-style get-out-of-jail-free cards for Trump and his culpably responsible underlings.

Unlike Bush-era war criminals and Bush himself, they must be held responsible for the actionable crimes they committed – either in the courts or in truth and reconciliation commissions or, best of all, in both.

Biden and Pelosi and the rest must be headed off from even thinking about using Trump’s impeachment as a substitute for bringing him to justice.

Pelosi claims otherwise, but the sad fact is that unlike in the days when the very idea was enough to force Richard Nixon to resign, impeachment has lost its sting. We can thank both parties for that; it was a bipartisan effort.

In phase one, when Bill Clinton was impeached in the House and then acquitted in a Senate trial over “the Monica Lewinsky matter,” Republicans took the lead. In phase two, when Trump was impeached in the House and then, predictably, acquitted in the GOP controlled Senate, it was the Democrats. The case against Trump, unlike the case against Clinton, was well-argued and iron-clad. But that hardly mattered at all.

The remarkable thing, though, was that our two miserable, all but braindead political parties actually stood Hegel on his head; the farce came first this time; the tragedy was in the repetition.

***

Then there is the vice presidency. That office will be important this year to a degree that it rarely is.

With Biden’s mental faculties borderline already, and with his head in thrall to historically superseded public policy positions, opportunities for edging power away from him abound.

Also, he is less likely than most presidents to remain in office for a full four-year term, and his chances of getting through four more years after that are vanishingly small.

Therefore, for a vice president, even just waiting in the wings could be time well spent.

Elizabeth Warren is said to be in consideration. How wonderfully ironic it would be if what she was unable to do directly, thanks in part to the Democratic Party’s old guard and the media propagandists that serve them so well, she could accomplish indirectly, at least to some extent!

There are two problems, however. The most obvious is that the politicians and pundits who are floating her name are probably just blowing air, making a conspicuous but empty effort to keep Sanders and Warren supporters as much on board with Biden as they can.

The other problem is Warren herself. She has, so far, shown herself to be a woman of integrity. Why would she cross over to the Dark Side now?

Perhaps her mind is more Machiavellian than she has so far let on; perhaps she is more of an opportunist than she seems.

More likely, though, there is nothing more to all the talk about Warren than an effort by establishment Democrats to convince Sanders and Warren supporters that their views, and the views of the Democrats who squelched their efforts, do not really differ in kind, but only, as it were, in degree or in how to get from here to there.

This is, in fact, the seldom contested conventional wisdom, notwithstanding the fact that it is dead wrong.

However, for Biden and his handlers, it is a useful fantasy to promote. It might even make sense to act on it for a reason that Lyndon Johnson famously got right: that it is better to have your enemies inside pissing out than outside pissing in.

Inasmuch as Biden has committed himself to choosing a woman for a running mate, it would arguably be better to make this sound point in some more anatomically appropriate way.

But with nationally prominent Democratic women shamelessly betraying their self-declared MeTo principles in the face of the very credible, though still unproven, allegations leveled by Tara Reade, and the many lesser, similarly credible, charges raised by others pertaining to Fingers Biden’s sexually inappropriate and harassing behavior — all for the sake of saving the presumptive Democratic candidate’s sorry ass — discomfiting those gentleladies and exposing their hypocrisy is a positive duty.

In Warren’s favor, at least she is not quite as determined to throw Reade under the bus as many of the others. Neither is Kamala Harris.

In the present context, a “moderate” is someone on the wrong side of the qualitative divide in the actually existing Democratic Party; a “centrist” is, as always, someone who can be pushed leftward or rightward when prevailing opinion polarizes, and when processes of radicalization are underway. Many, but not all moderates are centrists and centrists need not be moderates, though, in today’s Democratic Party, nearly all of them are.

Of all the moderates, Harris is about as good as it gets, Biden is about as bad. As for their centrism, Harris very likely does have it in her to move leftward; Biden may too, but not as much.

The open letter to Joe Biden, drafted by some fifty peace organizations, calling on him to adopt progressive foreign policy initiatives, trades on precisely that expectation.

It would be foolish, however, where Biden is concerned, to give one’s hopes much free rein. Even among old school defenders of American world domination, Biden is bad news; to an astonishing degree, he has a history of being wrong about just about everything.

For example, some of the organizations calling on him to change American foreign policy for the better call for justice for Palestinians; some are non- and even anti-Zionist. Over a course of many years, Biden has never missed an opportunity to strike a blow for the wrong side on that.

Still, there is no harm in asking or, as far as possible, demanding. If nothing else, there is a beautiful irony here waiting to happen, even though it almost certainly won’t.

Bernie Sanders, on track for winning the nomination until the DNC and its allies pulled out all the stops, was the first American politician with a chance of doing anything useful for Israelis and Palestinians, to take a slightly more just and balanced stand.

Had the powers that be not managed to defeat him and the movement supporting him, he would surely have been subjected to the kind of vile and baseless attacks that rightwing Laborites in the UK rained down on their party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, a bona fide anti-racist and anti-imperialist whose principled position on Israel-Palestine puts Sanders’ to shame. Even so, the Forces of Darkness were getting ready to pillory Sanders for being an anti-Semite or a “self-hating Jew,” slanders as inappropriate in his case as in Corbyn’s.

Sanders is as good as it gets in the upper reaches of the American political class; Biden is par or sub-par for the course.

For as long as he has been in the public eye, he has been as abjectly loyal a servant of the ethnocratic settler state as anyone in Washington. How wonderfully ironic it would therefore be were he to be the one finally to give a just and lasting peace a chance.

But I wouldn’t hold my breath. Biden and his people can be counted on to give in as little as they possibly can on Israel-Palestine and, for that matter, on every other potentially controversial change for the better. As little as possible, but perhaps, if pushed hard enough, not nothing at all.

Harris is not nearly as wedded to injustice as Biden is. She too might need to be pushed, but not nearly as hard.

I used to say that she would make an outstanding Head of the Secret Police, but I was only joking, sort of; after all, we don’t really have a Secret Police.

What I now would say instead is that she has the soul of a prosecutor. Normally, that would be a mark against her.

However, in this case, that might actually be a good thing. With her skill-set, she could easily make mincemeat of Mike Pence in a debate, should Team Trump agree to hold them, and of any and all other Republicans whenever opportunities arise. Against her, Trump especially wouldn’t stand a chance.

Vice presidents, especially Democratic ones, are typically wusses. Biden himself is an example; he was useful to candidate Obama when Obama felt he needed to reassure Wall Street – and AIPAC – that his heart and soul belonged to them. Otherwise, he was not good for much.

Joe Lieberman, Al Gore’s running mate, was, and still is, a sanctimonious twit; chosen, I suppose, to help Gore, eager to seem like a choir boy, distinguish himself from horn dog Bill Clinton. Before that, there was Lloyd Bentsen, famous mainly for telling J. Danforth Quayle that he was no John Kennedy. And there was Geraldine Ferraro; no broken glass ceilings for her.

That all seems like ancient history now, but does anyone even remember who Hillary’s running mate was? It was Tim Kaine; a lot of good he did!

Vice presidents who are not good for much are a bipartisan phenomenon. Think Sarah Palin or Paul Ryan or Quayle himself, said at the time to be George H.W.’s impeachment insurance. How ironic that he also turned out to be George W’s spiritual ancestor. Dick Cheney, W’s evil éminence grise, is the exception to the rule.

Harris is nothing like them. In these Trumpian, virus-ridden times, she might even be just what the doctor ordered. It is far from clear that, Warren apart, any of the other names being floated come close to meeting that description.

Progressive Democrats in New York who would have had anything good to say about Andrew Cuomo in pre-pandemic times are few and far between. But in a country encumbered by a political class as decrepit as our own, and with a population desperately in need of competent leaders, there is probably not one of them, nor any other prominent Democrat this side of “Dr. Jill,” who would not vastly prefer a President Cuomo to a Biden presidency.

Harris would not have won a popularity contest among progressives in California or anywhere else either, though she is surely less disliked than Cuomo used to be.

But, like Cuomo, she seems more likely than most to be able to rise to the occasion.

I wish that I could say with confidence that time will tell, but I cannot, because I know that, even though she is being talked up at this time, Harris is anything but a shoe-in.

As I said, it could be worse; in fact, everyone else now being talked up would be worse. But, for the Democrats now calling the shots, her merits, compared to those of the others, might actually be a disqualification. Doing worse is what Democrats do, after all; they specialize in it.

Fortunately, however, they are not always particularly good it; therefore, sometimes outcomes that could be worse do somehow manage to slip through. Perhaps this will be one of those times. That isn’t much to hope for, but, for now, it may be the best we can get.

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ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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