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The art of being Kamala Harris

Modern-day vice presidents like Pence and Harris have had to appear utterly loyal to the president.

Sunil Sharan | New Delhi |

At 78, Joe Biden appears fragile, even though he may not be because he exercises regularly. Every time one sees him, one hopes he completes at least one term of his presidency. The US presidency, like the prime ministership of India, makes young men old. Think Barack Obama and Rajiv Gandhi. What to say of making old men older. The other day a friend asked if the concern was that Donald Trump would return to power. I said, no, the concern is that Kamala Harris would become president in case something happened to Biden.

After virtually accusing Biden of being a racist during the debates for the Democratic presidential nominee, Harris now stands by Biden’s side like a loyal sentry, even in the Oval Office. Even the fawning Mike Pence didn’t behave with such servility before Trump. A vice president has to always walk two steps behind the president. Biden is a gentleman. He makes sure that Harris, a woman, walks in front of him.

He lets her speak before him while making major announcements. It’s almost like he’s training her to become president after him. But how good a student has Harris been? It’s been sixty days since Biden tapped Harris for her first big job, that of resolving the migrant crisis at the southern border that is now rattling America even more than Covid. Sixty days and Harris has not once been to the border. Biden blew his top at Susan Rice, his domestic policy head, who promptly headed to the border to see what was going on there.

Harris had defeated Rice, who as a former US national security advisor and US ambassador to the UN was more experienced than Harris, in the vicepresidential stakes. Rice was considered for the secretary of state position, which instead went to longtime Biden hand, Antony Blinken. Rice had to settle for domestic policy chief, whatever that entails. Harris knows that the southern border is toxic for a US politician. Most American whites don’t want swarms of coloured people streaming into their country.

Trump had instituted strict curbs at the border, including building his border wall, which had stemmed the tide of migrants. Biden has loosened those curbs. Now migrants are pouring into the US. Harris knows that the only way to solve the migrant crisis is to be strict like Trump. But her boss, Biden, has painted himself to be very empathetic and won’t have anything to do with Trump’s policies. What is Harris to do then? She has decided not to visit the border nor give a press conference about the crisis.

Two Yemenis on the US terror watch list were caught coming through the southern border recently. The border is toxic; Harris doesn’t want to touch it.

Harris has been a public prosecutor all her life. Her entire natural mien is one of grilling someone else. She did that quite effectively with the then nominee for the US Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, who she almost reduced to tears. Kavanaugh is a US Supreme Court justice now. Heavens if a case against Harris were to come before him. What are Harris’s views on Iran? If she has any, how have they been shaped?

On North Korea? On IsraelPalestine? On India-Pakistan? On China? Biden is an old hand at foreign policy but how much can he impart to Harris in such a short time? Wouldn’t it have been better if he had chosen the seasoned Rice as his Vice President. But Harris has the glam quotient that Rice lacks perhaps. It was the glam quotient that made Vogue magazine put Harris on its cover.

Now firmly ensconced in the vice presidency and in the vice presidential mansion, Number One Observatory Circle, which arguably is more plush than even the White House, Harris seems to have had time to work out and shed some weight and look even more glamorous. The vice president is the shadow president of the US. Her only job is to get ready to become president in case the president falters. Because a vice president benefits the most if something were to happen to the president, some presidents in the past have regarded vice presidents with suspicion.

Modern-day vice presidents like Pence and Harris have had to appear utterly loyal to the president. Pence was loyal to Trump but that didn’t stop Trump from having his Vice President almost murdered by inciting the January 6 Capitol insurrection. Biden has given Harris in charge of another job, that of creating jobs in the US. So petrified is Biden of unemployment in his country that he has announced three multi-trillion relief packages to instigate job creation.

There is the $2 trillion Covid relief bill, which is giving so much in unemployment benefits (dole) and handouts to the poor that they are staying at home because they are financially better off that way than working. Then there is the roughly $3 trillion infrastructure package, which is nothing but Biden’s Green New Deal in disguise. Obama had his own green new deal but failed miserably to create green jobs. Finally, there is the trillion-dollar jobs plan that Biden has handed over to Harris. With so many competing plans, which agency (ministry) will take credit for what job creation is moot. Harris is not bashful. She will not hesitate to take credit for whatever jobs that are created. She knows how to stay away from trouble like the southern border, and how to gravitate towards success like Biden’s trillions chasing jobs.

(The writer is an expert on energy and contributes regularly to publications in India and overseas)