With Charlie Harper
Did the selection on Tuesday of Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s 2020 running mate surprise you? It had seemed in recent weeks that Biden would select a black woman as his vice president, and much recent speculation centred around two accomplished women born to equally accomplished parents.
The differences between Susan Rice and Kamala Harris are significant, though, and it says here that Biden made the right choice. Rice, much more a child of privilege than Harris, has no campaign experience. One could imagine her as chief of staff in a Biden administration, or perhaps as a special friend and counsellor a la Valerie Jarrett for Barack (and Michele) Obama. There will doubtless be speculation about her as Secretary of State, too.
Harris, as we learned during the Democratic nomination debates in the spring, is a brawler. This is often sought by presidential nominees, who hope the dirty political infighting can be handled by the junior person on the ticket, leaving the “presidential” high ground for the top nominee.
Sometimes this works. George H W Bush performed this job for Ronald Reagan well during the 1980 and 1984 campaigns. Dan Quayle, a callow junior senator from Indiana, didn’t do so well for Bush 41 in his own 1988 presidential run, but he won anyway. Similarly, Al Gore was not a gifted scrapper for Bill Clinton, but again, Clinton won twice anyhow. When Gore’s turn to top the ticket came in 2000, he chose Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman as his running mate. That was not a success.
Dick Cheney, on the other hand, proved to be a skilled, cynical battler for Bush 43. That brings us to Biden, who was better than most and not as skilled as others in the second banana role.
Some Democrats are eagerly awaiting the October 7 debate showdown between Harris and Mike Pence, and the White House is reportedly anxious about it, but Pence clearly won his debate with Tim Kaine in 2016. Virginia senator Kaine, misunderstanding his role and misplacing his normally mild-mannered personality, turned into a feckless and unconvincing attack dog and failed to dent Pence. If Harris enters the ring pugnaciously and wildly swinging at Pence, she could experience the same fate.
The current US President, meanwhile, continues to self-immolate. Donald Trump acts every day now as if he is searching, with very limited success so far, for lines of attack against Biden and for lines of defence for his failing stewardship of the US. Nothing he says sticks to Biden especially, and scepticism persists about him and his shrinking base of support.
The history books may well chronicle the closing days of Trump’s first term in office as an ironic example of someone with achievements about which to boast and yet an inability to articulate them. In focusing his snark on Biden and Democrats instead, Trump gives more evidence every day that he is unfit to continue in office.
Trump supporters like South Carolina senator Lindsay Graham who have for years been propping up Trump with their craven apologies and slavish obeisance have not yet begun to desert the President’s sinking ship. And veteran lawmakers like Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell still probably hope for a downturn in Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s fragile health so he and Trump can name yet another anti-abortion conservative to the nation’s highest court.
Public figures like McConnell and Graham are staying with Trump for now. So too are determined House Republican congressmen Jim Jordan of Ohio and Devin Nunes of California. These characters, and their numerous congressional allies, seem to have no limit to their allegiance to tired, disproven story lines from years ago.
In fact, one major plus from Biden’s decision not to name Susan Rice as his running mate is that we are spared yet more obsessive blather about fault for the “betrayal at Benghazi,” when the US ambassador to Libya was murdered by Arab terrorists and for which Republicans scored significant political points four years ago against Hillary Clinton, who was Secretary of State at the time of the assassination in Benghazi. Rice took plenty of heat for the tragic episode, too, and would have prompted as Biden’s nominee a revival of that familiar Republican narrative.
If Joe Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris was not surprising, neither was it disappointing. Biden was almost compelled to choose a black woman, and he may have selected the ablest, most experienced fighter from among those reported to be the frontrunners.
Amateurs shutting down as the pros complete season
Looking over the American sports landscape, it’s not too surprising that while golf, soccer and the four major professional sports are trying to complete regular seasons and televised playoffs, amateur athletics is in the process of shutting down for the fall.
There was an announcement this week that the Big Ten, which has actually grown in recent years to 14 teams and commands a huge national TV following, will not play football in 2020. With that revelation, the signs may be unmistakable that college sports are heading for a significant hiatus. Coaches, officials, administrators, players, fans and TV executives are all bemoaning the reality that the coronavirus renders playing an intensely contact sport like football in current conditions irrational to the point of being dangerous. But that doesn’t change the reality.
Internal politics in some states, especially in the South, may delay sensible decisions for a period, but the fact remains college football players are still unpaid amateurs and that it is unfair and unreasonable to expect them to expose themselves to serious health dangers for the sake of glorifying the universities they represent.
Pro sports are another matter. The PGA tournament inaugurated the delayed US golf major season with a riveting competition on a public course in misty San Francisco over the weekend. American professional soccer teams have been playing. The NBA continues to prepare for its much-anticipated playoff season in its “bubble” in Orlando. The NHL, with perhaps the best model of all, is staging playoff seeding games in a different, more expansive bubble in Toronto, the home of hockey in North America and maybe the world.
Meanwhile, the Toronto Blue Jays will be playing their home games this season in a hastily improved minor league stadium in Buffalo, New York. That way, there will be no nettlesome international travel restrictions to impact the movement of major league baseball teams. The 28 teams not named the virus-ravaged Marlins or Cardinals have already completed 30 percent of their schedules.
And then there’s the NFL, the giant of them all. Teams have opened their training camps and preparations are ongoing for the scheduled opening of the season in September. There will be no exhibition games, a loss likely to be mourned by a very few. The feeling is growing, though, that football commissioner Roger Goodell is trying to draw to an inside poker straight in insisting that playing a regular NFL season under the shadow of a ferocious pandemic is realistic.
Things are different in Europe. Fans across the continent are excited about the annual Champions League tournament that pits league champions and other worthy qualifiers against each other. The virus has dictated a different format this year, but the winner will still justifiably be crowned champion of Europe.
Defending champions Liverpool have been knocked out already, as have English compatriots Chelsea and Tottenham. Only Manchester City remains from the UK. Spain (Barcelona and Athletico Madrid), Germany (Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig) and France (Paris St. Germain and Lyon) all have two entries in the final eight, along with Italian Cinderella team Atalanta.
The Italians, from Bergamo in the Lombardy Alps, play in a tiny stadium that seats only 22,000 people. This is Atalanta’s first appearance at this stage of Europe’s championship tourney. Much bigger rival teams from nearby Milan and Turin are sitting on the sidelines this week watching their underfinanced neighbours outshine them.
The first round of the single-elimination knockout phase started yesterday and continues today through Saturday. The most-anticipated quarterfinal match occurs tomorrow, with Barcelona squaring off against streaking Bayern. Man City faces Lyon on Saturday. The Barca-Bayern match features the incomparable Argentine Lionel
Messi against Poland’s indomitable Robert Lewandowski, probably the world’s current hottest striker.
The tournament, whose games are all being played in Lisbon, concludes August 23.