In 2008, when Barack Obama chose veteran centrist Joe Biden as his vice-presidential running mate, it seemed a prudent choice: Democrats had already expressed their desire for change by choosing a progressive African American who opposed the Iraq war to succeed George W Bush. In November, it’s Biden’s turn to run for the top job. Since he does not quicken any pulses, good political casting called for a running mate who would symbolise something more exciting than himself — not political radicalism, but inclusion. So he picked Kamala Harris, who has a Jamaican father, Indian mother and Jewish husband.
The boldness stops there. The senator from California is a conventional, opportunistic politician, best known for her solid personal ambition and consummate talent for fund-raising with billionaires (1). US stocks, which had already jumped in March when Biden beat Bernie Sanders for the nomination, rose still further on the news of Harris’s selection. After the failure of her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination — she withdrew at the end of last year before the first primaries — she will owe everything to the man who chose her, whom she may one day succeed. So it’s all worked out well. They see more or less eye to eye: America is big and beautiful, and a few reforms will make it even better; its values inspire the world, and its military alliances protect liberal democracy from tyrants.
Biden and Harris are not committing to do much more than Obama did during his two terms. At least they won’t make a reckless claim like he did in the summer before his election: ‘We will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.’ By the time Trump succeeded Obama eight years later, those children had grown up, and the oceans were still rising.
However limited, the Biden-Harris ticket has at least one aim that will create enthusiasm: kicking the current incumbent out of the White House and cleansing an institution Democrats see as now debased by a racketeer. One Democrat leader recently compared Trump to Mussolini (and suggested ‘Putin is Hitler’) (2). Such a hate figure should ensure a good Democrat turnout on 3 November.
Most European governments too are hoping for a return to a ‘normal’ American presidency. They are quite unable to detach themselves from the US leadership, even when it is in the hands of an uneducated loudmouth, and they imagine that a Democrat administration will treat them a bit more kindly. And restore some credibility to the usual platitudes about democracy, the ‘free world’ and the values of the West. Is such a reset a cause for celebration simply because the alternative looks so apocalyptic?
Translated by George Miller.