- Raya Mahmood
Kamala Harris: the Recondite VP
The opinions expressed in this article reflect the opinions of its author(s). They do not represent the views of UCL’s Diplomacy Society or Diplomacy Review.
Source: The Guardian (19/11/2021)
Kamala Harris is currently serving her term as the 49th Vice-President of the United States of America. She rose to fame for being the first female to take on such a momentous role and the first ever African American and Asian American. (Kumar, A., 2021) Having broken all these records, Harris secured an image of being a beacon of representation with promises to unite a divided America. Fast forward into the penultimate year of her and Biden’s presidential term and it is no longer an opinion but an established fact that Kamala Harris has been missing from the spotlight and far from being a pioneering powerhouse of a politician. Let us conduct a nuanced analysis to understand why the famous ‘Momala’ has made herself comfortable in the shadows.
We can begin by questioning whether Harris was chosen as Biden’s running candidate by design. When we paint the picture for it to be the 2020 election, whilst Trump was running a campaign that appealed to the far-right wing and was pushing for conservative and protectionist values. In the race that created this divided America, Biden’s only option was to appeal to stand for liberal democratic values and be the voice for marginalised groups in society. Harris was the perfect pawn in this game as selecting not just a woman, but a woman of colour really boosted Biden’s support and reiterated his image of being a segway to create a progressive America. But as soon as they had won the election, Harris seemed to have fulfilled her purpose and was discarded immediately.
The first possible reason why Harris hasn’t been able to efficiently deliver to her role is the Biden administration and internal politics prevented her from doing so. Her momentum straight after the election was immediately deterred as the two assignments put her in a position of being stuck between a rock and a hard place. The first was to address the root causes of undocumented migration into the US from Central American countries, followed by the task of enacting national voting reform. Characterising her responsibilities to include the entirety of immigration and border security - a challenge decades in the making and one that, in all likelihood, will take decades to solve - was extremely treacherous for her trajectory. Historian Kate Andersen Brower agrees with this argument stating that, "He's giving her assignments that are almost impossible.” (Zurcher, A. ,2021) As she does have capabilities as a diplomat which is evidenced by her numerous successful overseas trips during her term and most recently her trip to Bangkok where she met Chinese President Xi Jinping and negotiated and diffused some economic tension between the two nations. (NDTV.com. (n.d.))
An alternative argument to her inefficiency would be her own shortcomings as a politician and the lack of drive that didn’t allow her to truly make a difference. She is a clear example of the popular phenomenon of a charismatic candidate on paper being inadequate and under delivering in reality. Her polls started dropping right from the beginning of her candidacy when she was unable to answer simple predictable policy questions during her campaign. An example would be when Norah O’Donnell asked whether she would push Biden to the left and bring a “socialist or progressive perspective” to the White House, Harris first answered with a “no.” (Cauterucci, C. , 2022) Her lack of ability to think on her feet is another factor that has distorted her public image as stated by CNN. Whilst I understand that being in such a high-ranking position all speeches and addresses must be scripted, she fails to answer difficult questions and consistently answers with complacency.
In conclusion, I personally believe that it is a combination of being overwhelmed with expectation and being restricted by political and logistical nuances within Biden’s team, that prevented Kamala Harris from being a dynamic leader. Her political future looks uncertain at the moment, she has publicly stated that she would be happy to run again with Biden but the current 80-year-old President is yet to make an announcement on his intentions. She is a qualified individual that granted hope to large proportions of the population but failed to generate substantial progress during her time and it is unfortunate she wasn’t able to make the most of her role as Vice President.
Cauterucci, C. (2022). Kamala Harris Had Her Chance. In 2024, Biden Needs a New VP. [online] Slate Magazine. Available at: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2022/11/kamala-harris-joe-biden-new-vp-2024.html [Accessed 30 Nov. 2022].
Kumar, A. (2021). How Kamala Harris became a victim of the barriers she broke. [online] POLITICO. Available at: https://www.politico.com/news/2021/05/18/kamala-harris-asian-americans-489213 [Accessed 30 Nov. 2022].
NDTV.com. (n.d.). Kamala Harris Meets China’s Xi In Bangkok. Here’s What She Said. [online] Available at: https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/kamala-harris-meets-chinas-xi-in-bangkok-says-we-must-report-3534557 [Accessed 30 Nov. 2022].
Zurcher, A. (2021) Kamala Harris one year: Where did it go wrong for her? (2022). BBC News. [online] 20 Jan. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-60061473.