Democrats are bickering over their vice president, Kamala Harris, in the lead-up to the 2024 election.
Notably, supporters of Harris are angry over the consistent criticism Harris has received since assuming the vice presidency. Incoming California Senator Laphonza Butler is a prime example, telling The New York Times that Harris’s critics need to “cut the ********.”
“It’s disrespectful,” Butler said. “And the thing that makes it more disrespectful is that we’re talking about a historic VP who has been a high-quality partner and asset to the country at a time when everything is at stake. Right now is the time to respect what she’s done and what she brings.”
Critiquing Butler’s defense
I have a few problems with Butler’s stance.
Let’s start with the association between Butler and Harris; Butler previously served as an adviser to Harris. And I’ve got a pretty good idea that California Governor Gavin Newsom, who just appointed Butler to fill the recently deceased Senator Dianne Feinstein’s seat, received some pressure from Harris to tap Butler.
Remember, Butler isn’t from California and doesn’t live in California. She was not nationally prominent. Newsom limited his choices when he vowed to fill Feinstein’s seat with a Black woman. Long-time California Representative Barbara Lee, seemingly the only person in Congress who recognized the dangers of unchecked presidential power in warmaking in the emotionally charged aftermath of 9/11, was well positioned for the appointment. But Lee was reliably progressive and that’s not what Newsom was looking for.
Enter Butler, a former lobbyist for Uber and Airbnb, who did not have a national profile. I wonder to what extent Newsom had ever even heard of Butler. I have zero proof, but I feel comfortable with the assumption Harris pulled some strings to get Butler appointed. So when Butler stands up to defend Harris let’s assume that Butler owes much of her professional standing, and her upcoming Senate appointment, to Harris, and accordingly, let’s rate Butler’s position as allegiance-motivated.
Second, with subtle language, Butler hinges the bulk of her argument on the fact that Harris is a “historic VP.” If you don’t know what historic means I’ll translate: historic means that Kamala Harris is the first Black, Asian, female vice president – which is wonderful in a lot of ways – but it doesn’t excuse Harris from earned criticism. Harris is still the Vice President of the United States – she should be criticized and held accountable, because the gravity of her position deserves criticism and accountability – regardless of her racial or gender identity.
Alas, in recent years, reliance on identity to shield criticism has become a rote tactic for Democrats who simultaneously have emphasized appointing/promoting “minority” candidates to positions throughout government. Then, when one of the recent minority appointees is criticized, Democrats say that the criticism is racially or gender-based. So, identity has become a merit-bypassing means of ascendency that doubles as a shield against criticism.
Third, Butler alludes to the stakes of the 2024 election, suggesting that everything is at stake. Every presidential election is vitally important, of course, but Democrats have been raising existential-level fears over the prospect of a Trump presidency in each election since 2016. Butler dabbles in that hyperbole here.
And regardless, if the stakes are so high, why are Butler and the rest of the Democrats doubling down on a candidate that has been so deeply unpopular through three years of the vice presidency? The citizenry has adamantly expressed reservation over having Harris on the ticket – something for Butler and the Dems to think about as the window for developing an alternative closes.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor and opinion writer at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.
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