With VP pick, Biden can’t play small ball in a long ball world
Life as we knew it has changed, forever.
Just like the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy shocked America out of an age of innocence 57 years ago, COVID-19 will be remembered in years to come as the moment the ways of the past no longer ensured the certitude of the future.
The president, more than anyone, understands this as he grapples with a contagion he didn’t create and a challenge he can’t summarily negate. As we’ve heard so often these days from the now socially-distanced White House Press Briefing Room, the president’s task force is urgently seeking out innovative answers, short- and long-term, that lie outside the lines of standard practice and conventional thinking.
Thus far the same can’t be said for Joe Biden, whose nearly 50 years of committed public service has filled his resume but dulled his readiness to embrace the here and now.
First, Biden promoted his own coronavirus plan, a ploy to get people to go to his political website (a bush league move at a time of major league distress). Then, in his final debate with Bernie Sanders, Biden floated a promise. He vowed to select a woman to serve as his vice presidential running mate, sparking a guessing game as to which fellow pol is on the list.
Will it be California’s Sen. Kamala Harris, whose quick rise to state prominence matched an equally quick exit from the national presidential race? What about Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, the competent yet vanquished crusader in that red state’s gubernatorial race two years ago?
How about Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, whose moderate stripe appeals to mainstreamers in a political region Hillary Clinton claimed but never had? Could Hillary herself make a political comeback, as her hunger to avenge the 2016 defeat remains wholly unsated?
These are all small ball picks considering the world now faces long ball challenges. Yet what if Biden went against the grain, choosing instead a leader from the outside world, the real world, where jobs are made and lives are saved? Isn’t it time to go big?
Here are three possible choices to show Biden at least tried to wake up to (and stay up with) the times: three women of merit with more to offer this country than any of those flashing their club card with the Democratic National Committee.
Start with Lt. General (ret.) Nadja West, the first black U.S. Army Surgeon General (and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Medical Command), a veteran of Operation Desert Storm whose list of accomplishments matches her natural humility. With public health certain to remain a national priority long after COVID-19 has had its day, this sharp, well-spoken, what-you-see-is-what-you-get veteran checks a lot of boxes.
Now consider Ursula Burns, the child of Panamanian immigrants who emerged from the housing projects in New York City to become the first black woman in history to head a Fortune 500 company (Xerox) where she started out as a summer intern. Ivy-league educated, and trained in mechanical engineering, Burns has now served on major corporate and academic entities across the land, from American Express and Nestle, to MIT and the National Association of Manufacturers.
Want a third option? Sit down with Melinda Gates. As sharp as her husband Bill, and effortlessly articulate, Melinda co-leads the Gates Foundation, the greatest philanthropic effort in the history of the planet. One of its core missions, beyond ending extreme poverty and expanding educational opportunities for all, is prime for the times: public health. Given the economy will remain front and center in the national conversation for some time to come, a business leader hailing from the innovation/technology sector feels well-timed.
With the now near-nightly broadcasts of presidential press conferences taking aim at the viral pandemic, we’ve seen what talent looks like, feels like, and acts like. From the incomparably calming Dr. Tony Fauci, the rationally reassuring Dr. Deborah Birx, the get-help-to-market Stephen Hahn (FDA), and the mature steadiness of Vice President Pence, the president’s leadership has been enhanced by those he now entrusts.
It’s why the president’s approval numbers have not only firmed up but shot up (a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll showed 55 percent approval of his management of the crisis — a 12-point swing in his favor in just one week).
If Joe Biden learns anything from this, he will choose a running mate from beyond the political class, one that at least gives him a reason to compete.
If not, it doesn’t really matter whom he selects among the normal horde of wannabes and hangers-on, because voters will see his pick for what it is. And what it’s not.
Adam Goodman is a national Republican media strategist and columnist. He is a partner at Ballard Partners in Washington D.C. He is also the first Edward R. Murrow Senior Fellow at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. Follow him on Twitter @adamgoodman3