The name and executive honorific combo has a poetic lilt to it. It’s also an appellation we’re going to hear a lot more, as anticipation of whom Joe Biden will select as his running mate picks up.
The vice presidential pick is normally a perfunctory affair. The position is, as John Nance Garner famously called it, hardly worth a bucket of tepid micturition. Presiding over medal-producing pomp and heading useless task forces (the COVID-19 response team notwithstanding) is the veep’s poor lot.
Not so under Joe Biden. What’s normally a ceremonial secondment for also-ran candidates transmutes into a royal road to the presidency. Not since Harry Truman was knowingly picked by party bosses as Roosevelt’s successor has an American political party had to grapple with a vice president guaranteed a promotion.
Should Biden beat Donald Trump in the fall — a big if, given his total absence from the campaign trail thanks to the chiropteran-caused coronavirus — he will be the oldest president ever elected, a hoary seventy-eight years. There’s more than a whisper’s worth of conjecture he won’t serve out his whole first term — hence the weight of significance upon Biden’s pick.
But why Abrams? Walter Shapiro describes the former Georgia House Minority Leader as having “obvious political talents.” Yet she’s never won a political contest outside a state-level race where she faced no Republican challenger. Her governorship bid was a failure; she gave a forgettable rejoinder to Trump’s State of the Union address.
Abrams has one distinguishing trait: she’s a femme de lettres. And while the Abrams oeuvre consists exclusively of dime-store curtain fic, a pol who can craft a euphonious sentence beats a credential-collecting lawyer or elected-office schemer any day. Poets aren’t legislators of the world, but they’re vastly more interesting and empathetic than a cloying glad-hander who’s been running for office since being elected primary school class president.
That said, literary appeal isn’t a political asset — especially in a country with sixty million TikTok users. With a dearth of viable political experience, Abrams’s place on Biden’s short list raises questions about the Democrats’ strategy. What’s the appeal outside someone who can make Chris Hayes giggle during his katydid-hour MSNBC program?
Andrew Sullivan, who never makes bones about his Trump-hatred, doesn’t buy the hype. Abrams’s lack of proven ability on a national stage makes her a “bad candidate for the job.” Even her poor-sport attitude after her gubernatorial loss leaves the Biden campaign vulnerable to a cynical Trump charge: that Democrats will once again refuse to accept defeat. “The main problem is that she continues to claim that her loss in her only competitive election was a function of a rigged electoral process,” Sullivan reasons.
Those weaknesses haven’t stunted Abrams’s ambition. Politico reports that the nervy peach has been wheedling Democratic financiers and operatives to secure a place on the Biden ticket. She is openly, and uncouthly, recommending herself in interviews. Who dares wins, as the motto goes.
In a move of desperate ingratiation, Abrams even dismissed the sexual abuse accusation against her wished-for running mate, declaring, “[Biden] will make women proud.” When you’re a Democrat, #MeToo means me, who?
The current conventional wisdom is that Biden needs a running mate who can reclaim the Rust Belt from Trump’s working-man appeal. He’s also pledged to choose a female V.P. (not named Tara Reade), fulfilling the Democratic base’s need for feel-good history-making. The Midwest Karen duo of Senator Amy Klobuchar and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer could check off both criteria. But would either help galvanize the minority-heavy base that lifted Barack Obama into the presidency?
From that perspective, Abrams is underrated. She’s an evangelist for the Democratic Party’s shared religion: identity politics. In private conversation, she probably uses the phrase “wypipologist” unironically. Being versed in the folkways of the left’s identitarianism makes her popular among the progressive white base, who express piety in devotion to put-upon racial minorities. Voting for Abrams earns shrift for the guilty liberal’s conscience.
For all of Biden’s failings, he’s had little trouble locking in black support. Where his campaign risks running aground is with young white voters, particularly the educated. A Pew poll found that 54% of Millennial-aged whites are bothered by a pallid male septuagenarian as the Democratic nominee. The discomfort increases a few points if the respondent extended his college experience earning a postgrad degree.
Biden can allay the complexion and chromosome concerns of his party’s base. He need only pick up his Bell System rotary phone — chances are, an eager caller from Atlanta waits on the other side.