In choosing Kamala Harris as his deputy, the Democrats’ presidential nominee Joe Biden has shown he can read the room of American politics. His vice-presidential pick had to be able to reach parts of the country – and his party – that Mr Biden could not. Ms Harris is such a candidate. She is both a safe choice and a historic one. Ms Harris would be the country’s first black vice president, its first Asian-American vice-president and its first female vice-president. In a time of Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and the United States’ shifting demographics, Ms Harris’ appointment is about bending the arc of history towards justice.
This message is crucial for younger voters, and especially those of colour, who have been lukewarm towards Mr Biden. Having Ms Harris on the ticket is not going to turn leftwing “Bernie” fans into Biden ones. But she signals to black voters, who did not turn out enough for Hillary Clinton, their importance and acknowledges the key role black women play for the Democrats. Like Barack Obama, Ms Harris represents an interracial America that most citizens aspire to live in today. Her appointment is a future-facing one: Ms Harris, at 55, is more than two decades younger than Mr Biden, who would be the oldest president elected if he won.
Given his age, Mr Biden needed a deputy who could step up. A senator since 2017, Ms Harris has seen Washington from the inside. In Congress, Ms Harris has shown that she can shred her rightwing opponents. Her record as a prosecutor in California has left her with things to explain or defend. But not enough to disqualify her. Her decisions, as a district attorney and state attorney general, that unsettled the left insulate her from the Trump campaign charges that she is soft on crime.
This promises to be the dirtiest election in American history. As long as Covid lingers Donald Trump cannot energise his base with bellicose rallies. He can’t point to a reviving economy. Polls suggest Mr Trump is on course to lose the White House and that his party is in danger of losing the Senate. In their desperation Republicans may punch lower and harder. The Trump campaign also has the resources, in time and money, to fight a deeply divisive campaign against Democrats.
That is why Mr Trump’s opponents must remain united. Next week’s (mostly virtual) Democratic national convention sees establishment names as well as leftwing rising stars share the stage. Both Mr Biden and Ms Harris are centrists, backed by wealthy donors while being mostly committed to progressive values. They face a moment of terrible risk for America. Mr Biden and his deputy must be a force for change and cannot settle for politics as usual. In many ways Mr Biden has moved in this direction. Most voters already feel that Mr Trump is not doing a good job. Mr Biden has assured the public he can’t do any worse. With Ms Harris, he has shown them he – and they – can do a lot better.