Karen Bass Would Be Biden’s Best Choice for VP

Karen Bass with John Lewis in Ghana

I’ve long believed that Biden will pick Kamala Harris as his VP nominee. I’m not a fan of hers, but there aren’t many good options. Still, there is one.

Karen Bass is someone centrists would have a tough time objecting to but would help sway progressives to get out the vote.

In terms of a progressive option, I don’t believe Elizabeth Warren is seriously being considered, both because too many centrists hate her and because the Democrats don’t want an all-white ticket. The latter is a good reason, the former is certainly not one I care about. Whether your views align more with centrist Democrats or progressives, it’s pretty hard to make a case that centrists have led or governed well unless the bar set is that they are “better than Trump.” I certainly hope we can agree that we want to aim higher than that.

Susan Rice’s hawkish record speaks for itself and should be a major cause for concern for anyone. She is very much in the “liberal hawk” mold, and that has served the world and the country quite poorly. While some talk about her lack of support for the Iraq War, what she actually expressed was skepticism and she neither supported nor opposed it, but she did consider Saddam Hussein a global threat which, after the first Gulf War and a decade-plus of sanctions, was simply false. Her colleagues have stated that she opposed the war in discussions, but publicly she never took that stance. Still, credit where it’s due, few Democrats did, and she was certainly less supportive than the vast majority. But she was a hawkish voice in the Obama administration. She was a strong supporter of the invasion of Libya and the idea of helping the Saudis launch their war on Yemen to compensate for the Iran deal. Rice is no neoconservative, and she does believe in using diplomacy, but she is much too inclined toward military action to solve problems. We don’t need someone encouraging Biden in that direction.

As to the rest of the field, I’m not fond of prosecutors, which is one of my problems with Harris as well as with Val Demings. The last thing we need is a VP who is going to reinforce the worst tendencies of the guy who was a driving force behind the crime bill that left us with easily the most corrupt and unjust criminal “justice” system in the ostensibly democratic world. You don’t have to be a police or prison abolitionist, as I am, to see the problems that caused. Therefore, I would not want to see a VP who would support those leanings that Biden has already demonstrated so baldly.

Nor am I enamored of militarists, so Tammy Duckworth is not someone I’d favor. Her support of the military, including her recent opposition to reducing the needlessly bloated defense budget, her relatively favorable rating by the NRA, her relatively conservative approach to issues like health care all raise concerns for me, despite my respect for what she has overcome, her breaking of barriers to mothers serving in Congress, and her more liberal approach to social issues.

Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has some real points in her favor, but I just can’t forget her telling demonstrators, at the very beginning of the Black Lives Matter uprising after George Floyd’s murder to “go home.” She did turn around on that, but that seemed like a political calculation. In any case, this is an unusual VP spot, because Biden’s advanced age make it much more likely than usual that, if he wins, his vice president will either take over for him or run in his place in 2024. Given the devastation in the executive branch that Trump will leave in his wake, I think it’s really important that the VP have a really good grasp of the federal government and how it works, or doesn’t. This, actually, is the best argument I’ve heard for Susan Rice. But it is also the biggest issue I have with Stacey Abrams. Her progressive credentials are better than most, even if they are somewhat diminished by her rather shameless shilling in the spring for the VP spot. But I would prefer someone with some federal experience to help repair the shattered bureaucracy of the executive branch of our government.

Karen Bass can be a unifier across a broad spectrum and at 66, despite what some have said, she is not too old to be POTUS in four years. She is a progressive with solid views and a good record, but she has made fewer waves than many, so centrists will either find her acceptable or will not be able to assail her. The Never Trumpers will be displeased, but it’s not like Bass is a firebrand in the style of an AOC or Ilhan Omar. I don’t think they’ll be scared away from Biden by someone as reasonable as Bass, despite recent attacks on her that smacked of racism and red-baiting.

I think she’d be the best choice among the available options. I also think she’d be the smartest pick strategically and politically. Biden has moved left over the primary season, but he has continued to either ignore or alienate progressives, believing they cannot do anything but vote for him.

There is some truth to that. Even in 2016, despite what people mistakenly believe, far more Bernie supporters supported Hillary against Trump than Hillary supporters helped Obama in 2008. Despite the anti-Sanders propaganda, it is overwhelmingly likely to be the case in November again that Bernie supporters will still vote against Trump (and the evidence of the past suggests that far more of those “blue no matter who” voters meant “blue no matter who unless it’s Bernie Sanders or anyone else who would actually do something”).

Nonetheless, that is a MUCH bigger group than the Never Trump Republicans who are trying to swing the Democratic party to the right so they have a political home. Biden has already done a good deal to accommodate the Never Trumpers. Bass offers him a way to throw a bone to progressives in a manner that should not drive Never Trumpers away, but will make their road to influence the Democratic party a bit more difficult.

Again, I believe the pick will be Harris. She has the greatest appeal to Democratic donors, checks the identity boxes, and is a centrist darling. Like Biden, she is a relatively conservative Democrat with a record of being strongly pro-police, pro-incarceration, and she is an AIPAC darling. She also has a lot more name recognition than Bass. Her shining moment in the primaries, when she nailed Biden on his work with segregationists and opposition to busing, helps her, contrary to what some pundits have said. Biden will use it to demonstrate his ability to come together with past competitors, and his ability to work with those he has had conflict with in the past.

But Karen Bass would be a smarter pick. And a better one.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store