It is pretty much obligatory for a political blogger to comment on Biden’s choice for veep, so I’ll start by repeating what I have said about Harris on other occasions. She is a very impressive figure—extremely smart, articulate, competent and tough. From a strictly pragmatic point of view, she probably was Biden’s best possible choice. I expect her to perform admirably as a campaigner in what is sure to be a very ugly contest, given the character of the opposition.
After he clinched the nomination I said that I would generally refrain from criticizing Biden in order to focus on the overriding necessity of dumping Trump. I’m going to take the same stance with regard to Harris. But if only for one last time before November I want to acknowledge Harris’s as well as Biden’s limitations. Most importantly, I doubt we can look to Harris to push for an assault on entrenched power centers in our economy, most notably those two redoubts of the Democratic wing of the donor class: Wall Street and Silicon Valley.
Fortunately, the incomparable Bob Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect, has made my job easier by expressing my views perfectly. I can’t link to his commentary, which I get via e-mail newsletter, so I’ll simply reproduce it.
Kamala, Joe, and Wall Street
There was immense cheering among voters of color, environmentalists, and activists for racial justice when Joe Biden let the world know that his running mate would be Kamala Harris. It was second only to the cheering on Wall Street.
A recent CNBC piece quoted one financial executive after another expressing relief and jubilation. There was also joy in Silicon Valley, longtime Harris supporters overripe for reform of monopoly power.
A Biden-Harris administration is unlikely to drastically alter business as usual when it comes to the financial industry. And without such radical reform, it’s hard to see how we can alter the distribution of income, wealth, and life chances except by redistributing within the working and middle classes—not a great idea.
One antidote would be the appointment of Elizabeth Warren as Treasury secretary. But the same Wall Street supporters of Biden-Harris will go to great lengths to resist that.
The coverage of Harris has been mostly favorable, and has not paid much attention to this aspect of her record.
As California AG, for example, she signed off on a settlement of the subprime crisis that mainly helped banks at the expense of homeowners.
The most important reason for naming Harris, of course, was that she would help Biden get elected, by raising the depressed turnout of 2016 among voters of color. The moment certainly required that Biden name a Black woman, and Harris on several indicators was the best available.
What she does not signal is very much economic populism. It is a familiar playbook. Go left on social issues, and stay safely center-right when it comes to the Wall Street stranglehold on the economy.
Given the widespread revulsion against Trump, this formula could work better this year than in 2016. But getting Biden elected is necessary but far from sufficient, if we are to prevent long-standing economic grievances from producing another Trump in 2024.
Jesse Unruh, the longtime speaker of the California Assembly, famously said of special-interest lobbyists, “If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women and then vote against them you’ve got no business being up here.”
Let’s hope that the general progressive shift of American politics and the demands of the moment lead Biden and Harris to treat their Wall Street allies with that same sort of contempt. That, however, will take massive pressure from the grass roots, for economic as well as racial justice.