As a Californian, I had several opportunities to vote for Kamala Harris over the years. I passed on each one... not my kind of candidate. I don't like phonies; I abhor corruption and I don't like values-free politicians. Three strikes. The media seems to be divided in half over a 2024 replacement for Biden at the top of the ticket-- some offering Harris and others offering an even worse alternative: Mayo Pete. If you have looked at DWT with any regularity over the past several years, you already know that there is no circumstance-- including a Trumpist threat-- that would get me to vote for either.
Yesterday, in her Washington Post column, Kathleen Parker asked whether the VP has been sidelined. I got the idea that Parker thinks she has been-- and for the good of us all. You know how Harris puts on an absurd, completely fake and embarrassing southern Black accent when speaks to African Americans? Apparently she was putting on a just as phony French accent while speaking, condescendingly, to scientists at the Pasteur Institute last week.
"10 months into the job," wrote Parker, "Harris’s approval rating is at just 28 percent, according to a USA Today/Suffolk University poll published on Nov. 7. Well, it beats nothing, I guess. More importantly, bad polls can change in a blink if you know what you’re doing. Alas, Harris doesn’t seem to. And she isn’t getting much support from the White House. With inflation breathing down President Biden’s neck and his own approval rating dipping to 38 percent, Harris probably is among his lesser concerns. A recent CNN report based on numerous off-the-record interviews within the executive branch seems to confirm this. The piece details an edgy relationship between Team Biden and Team Harris, which Harris’s people have dismissed as 'gossip.'"
Parker asserts that Black women-- via Jim Clyburn-- gave Biden the nomination, and "in return, he put Harris, a Black woman, on his ticket. I’m certain Biden loved the idea of Harris-- it was a historic pick [in terms of identity politics]-- even if he had his doubts about the fit. And he should have because she wasn’t, in my view, ready for the job, and I am betting he must have sensed it. Did he not care? Did he think no one would notice?"
What has happened to Harris reminds me of another-- but very different-- female vice-presidential pick: former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R), John McCain’s 2008 running mate. Republican influencers handpicked Palin because she wasn’t former senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), whom McCain wanted, and because she had it all; She was striking, popular and (at least to some) was a family-values exemplar. Just what we need in a vice president, right?
So thought a few hormonally altered GOP pundits and political operatives. Uncharacteristically, McCain, after meeting with Palin for just over an hour, surrendered to the argument that she could rally the troops with a wink and a pair of red heels. Why, Republicans could even claim a feminist coup. And they were right-- for about 30 minutes at the 2008 Republican National Convention. Things went downhill after that.
Harris, similarly, wasn’t ready for the job a heartbeat away from an elderly president. This was apparent when she failed to catch fire as a top-of-the-ticket contender, and she dropped out of the presidential race relatively early in December 2019. When you don’t have money to continue a race, as she said at the time, then you don’t have support. Her performance in office, especially her handling of the border crisis, has only confirmed those early judgments.
In no other recent presidency has a vice president been so ill-prepared for office-- or because of Biden’s age, more in need of being ready. [I don't especially care to defend Harris, but I would guess she is better prepared than several, including Mike Pence, Dan Quayle, Spiro Agnew... and if you want to go back in time, let's remember John C. Calhoun, John Breckinridge, Andrew Johnson and John Tyler.]
...No one knew better than Biden what the job entails and, had he been a stronger candidate himself, he’d have selected a running-mate who could best serve him and the country.
Several years ago, I wrote about Palin that men used her the way men have always used women-- as bit players on a stage set for their success and her failure. I’m afraid Harris, who by most accounts has been sidelined by the president, is beginning to get the picture.
Spencer Kornhaber was writing away yesterday about the other unqualified possible Democratic presidential candidate from hell, or at least about the docudrama his p.r. maven had Amazon Prime make about her forever client, but for The Atlantic: The Mystery of Pete Buttigieg.
"The new Amazon Prime documentary Mayor Pete attempts," wrote Kornhaber, "to dissect how Buttigieg’s aw-shucks performances of ordinariness have helped him stand out. The film’s subject is his improbable 2020 presidential run, but it also suggests how he has since managed to parlay the unglamorous job of transportation secretary into a role as one of the White House’s chief media surrogates. (Some reports say that Vice President Kamala Harris’s team is worried about getting into a primary fight with Buttigieg if Biden declines to run in 2024.) In an era when anger and confrontation are the norm, hype and ridicule naturally swirl around even the most mild-mannered political star-- but Buttigieg’s shell, Mayor Pete argues, isn’t likely to crack soon... The audience for this tour through all-too-recent history will primarily be Buttigieg’s fans-- and anyone who wants to understand why such fans exist."
The movie does capture the excitement of an underdog campaign, and the director, Jesse Moss, who previously co-created the award-winning doc Boys State, received a striking amount of access to Buttigieg’s team. But Mayor Pete is not entirely an ad for its star. The camera takes a contemplative, clinical vantage on state fairs, diners, and hotel rooms. It doesn’t cut away from frank, even heated, strategy conversations. Moss tries to pry behind Buttigieg’s facade, and the director told Politico that the candidate turned out to be a frustratingly cagey interview subject.
In other words, the film asks the same thing Stephen Colbert once did to Buttigieg on The Late Show: “How real are you?” As a Midwest-raised Rhodes Scholar, Navy veteran, and devout Christian who also happens to be gay, Buttigieg seems assembled from a checklist of what the next great Democratic hope might look like. He also has, by his own admission, lived his life with an eye toward building a résumé worthy of higher office. Some on the left gripe that Buttigieg strategically downplays his sexuality in order to come off as just another white-guy politician, like the one who ended up winning the presidency. Yet most straight white guys don’t see their mannerisms and motives picked over quite like he does—and no accounting of Buttigieg is complete without noting how he has been shaped in anticipation of such scrutiny.
Viewers of Mayor Pete may be unsurprised to find out how laboriously he prepares for speeches and interviews. But what’s haunting is that the camera never captures him even close to losing his cool. In one amazing scene, Buttigieg and his team get stuck in an elevator that lurches and shakes ominously. While his communications director, Lis Smith, chatters anxiously about them falling to their death, Buttigieg folds his arms and holds himself like he’s waiting for a sandwich at a deli counter.
Throughout Mayor Pete, Smith generally comes off as the burr stuck in Buttigieg’s polo shirt. In debate-prep sessions, she sputters both to the candidate and his team that the then-mayor seems “like, fucking, an anthropologist,” like “the fucking Tin Man,” and like someone reading “a fucking shopping list.” Her fear is that he won’t connect with voters unless he shows more vim, but Buttigieg seems unwilling or unable to take her advice: The most we see him do in response is rewrite a metaphor he uses to describe racism. “One of the things they say I’ve got going for me is authenticity, right?” he tells the filmmakers. “The last thing I want to do is do or say something that’s not me to satisfy some desire for me to be more emotional.”
What a mind-bending notion: Is Buttigieg’s reservedness actually the realness that voters respond to? Maybe. The film opens with Chasten advising the filmmakers to ask how the closet has shaped Buttigieg, noting, “He did everything to climb every ladder without being his authentic self.” Buttigieg never quite affirms that interpretation of his life, but he does say, “In my way of coming at the world, the stronger an emotion is, the more private it is.” What goes unstated is how hardening oneself and performing palatability doesn’t necessarily mean a person, especially a queer person, is faking something. It means their identity is informed by their circumstances.
In this case, that identity ends up scanning as a productively novel one in our political environment-- even if the most ready adjectives to describe it include boring and safe. For all of Smith’s urging that a more expressive Buttigieg would have made for better television during the primaries, his buttoned-down approach clearly has real appeal to many voters. Perhaps that is because Buttigieg is the “polar opposite” of Trump types, as one supporter puts it in the film. Or perhaps it is because Buttigieg puts a gentle face on an identity that many people are threatened by. Either way, Mayor Pete ends up suggesting that his alleged roboticism, and all the things it implies but doesn’t say, is a feature and not a bug of his political potency.
The recent brouhaha over parental leave offers a reminder of the challenges facing Buttigieg’s politics of comfort and calm. A leader of what is often derisively termed “the childless left” has bucked the stereotype by having kids. Yet certain commentators have portrayed that turn of events as something freakish. He has every right to go nuclear on such critics, and yet instead he reroutes to stumping for the infrastructure bill. The political mode of rage and bigotry has not really reformed itself in the time since Trump left office, and Buttigieg’s committed, at-times-eerie graciousness continues to seem like another era’s artifact. Maybe, however, it’s really his edge.
Don't be surprised if Trump 2024 supporters are found putting money into Mayo Pete's campaign. He would probably be the easiest possible candidate to defeat in all history. I'm hoping the Democrats wise up enough to nominate Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, who actually stands for something beyond his own career.