Kamala Harris’s experience as a politician will secure her place as an effective and historic vice president

By Emma Reilly

Elm Staff Writer

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s 2020 presidential election victory has piqued the interest of Americans nationwide. With only a couple of months remaining until their inauguration on Jan. 20, the people of the United States are anxious to better understand how the nation will look under a Biden-Harris administration.

Biden has been a prominent political figure for several years. In addition to his 36-year stint as a Delaware senator, the president-elect served two-terms as vice president under former President Barack Obama. 

According to CNN’s Harry Enten, “… he’s actually a fairly popular politician in an era in which those don’t really exist on the national stage.”

Biden is “a traditionalist who ran as himself,” Katie Glueck and Thomas Kaplan with The New York Times said. He is a recognizable political personality, and he “has spent his career devoted to institutions and relationships,” Glueck and Kaplan said. Consistent presence and a focus on connections have shaped Biden into a politician people know.

But what should Americans know about Harris?

The vice president-elect’s history in law enforcement and politics, and her historic status as the first female vice president, are crucial reflections of how she will approach the vice presidency.

“Kamala Harris is … in line to be as much co-president as vice-president … Biden has hired not just a running mate but an executive burden-sharer,” Janan Ganesh with Financial Times said. 

Harris will be bringing vital diversity to the perspectives of a Biden presidency. As vice president, Harris will be more than a mere advisor or assistant — the nuances of her identity as a woman of color will allow her to uniquely aid the decisions of the president-elect, as she will be able to better represent a racially diverse nation.

“Here you have now this remarkable, brilliant, prepared African-American woman, South Asian woman, ready to fulfill the dreams and aspirations of Shirley Chisholm and myself and so many women of color,” California Representative Barbara Lee said. “This is exciting and is finally a breakthrough that so many of us have been waiting for. And it didn’t come easy.”

According to Politico, “The vice presidency carries powers both formal and implicit, and President Biden is expected to delegate a significant portfolio to [Harris] giving her a chance to shape policy as well as that sense of political possibility.”

The president-elect is going to rely on Harris both in and outside of these broad assigned tasks. A presidency can only benefit from the perspectives it gains outside of white and male — and Harris will provide several such perspectives.

As for her previous career, Harris has been a U.S. senator for California since 2017. According to her official website, she serves on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Select Committee on Intelligence, the Committee on the Judiciary, and the Committee on the Budget. The vice president-elect’s first senatorial election campaign highlighted issues including immigration, criminal justice, the minimum wage, and reproductive rights.

After graduating from Howard University in 1986, Harris earned a law degree from Hasting College. She served as deputy district attorney in Oakland, California for four years and developed a “reputation for toughness as she prosecuted cases of gang violence, drug trafficking, and sexual abuse,” according to Britannica.

Harris rose quickly “from local prosecutor to district attorney of San Francisco and then [to] attorney general of California,” Jeannie Suk Gersen with The New Yorker said. Her ascension to prominence reflects her steady determination, willingness to work hard, and passionate desire to defend and protect the issues and people she believes in.

Harris has the spirit, strength and resolve Americans should want in a leader. Proof that Harris’s political future will be successful can be found not just in her qualifications and experience, but in her attitude toward our nation and its need for improvement.

The positive, forward-looking attitude was evident in Harris’s vice president-elect acceptance speech the night of Nov. 7, when she characterized her victory as a victory not just for herself, but for women everywhere. The culmination of past and present efforts, Harris attributed her historic win to the “generations of women” who made it possible.

But for the vice president-elect, this is only the beginning of change for America. “I may be the first, but I won’t be the last,” Harris said. This encouraging note highlights her belief that our nation can do good things but should strive for even better.

Despite her promising potential, Americans should avoid viewing the vice president-elect through rose-colored glasses.

“Harris has always navigated tricky political terrain … it’s so tough to pin down Harris ideologically,” Mother Jones reporter Jamilah King said.

This poses an interesting challenge as Americans consider how a Biden presidency will function. Harris’s political history presents a wide array of occasionally conflicting policy stances. It may be difficult to know where she will stand, especially alongside Biden — a politician frequently depicted as moderate and who touts his ability to make deals across the aisle — until after the dust has settled.

“Harris has endorsed some high-profile progressive proposals … The Democratic vice-presidential candidate also has worked with several Republicans,” Tarini Parti with The Wall Street Journal said. “[Harris] has a pragmatic streak that favors incremental steps rather than sweeping changes.”

In the end, Harris’s election has implications beyond her own political ambitions and issue-related drive. She is making history with a long list of firsts and inspiring a diverse host of Americans nationwide, who will finally see themselves prominently represented in politics.

Teresa Wiltz with Politico recognized Harris’s “firsts” in an impressive and extensive list. “First woman. First Black vice president. First Black woman vice president. First South Asian American. First South Asian American woman. First VP whose parents come from India and Jamaica…” Wiltz said.  

Harris is making history, and in doing so she will pave the way for a more diverse American political system. That’s something worth applauding, and an effective vice presidency would only add to the much-deserved praise.

Featured Photo caption: Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s win in the 2020 election makes her the first woman, and woman of color, to assume the office of vice president. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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