On October 5th, 1988, Republican vice-presidential candidate Senator Dan Quayle of Indiana debated his Democrat counterpart Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas. The young Quayle, the first Baby Boomer on a presidential ticket, compared himself to JFK. The elder Bentsen looked down his glasses at the enthusiastic senator and replied, ‘Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.’ The crowd roared. Propelled by the greatest political zinger of the television era, Bentsen served four honorable years as Michael Dukakis’ vice president. Of course, that never happened. Despite Bentsen’s epic putdown, George Herbert Walker Bush defeated Dukakis in a landslide.
The first rule of vice-presidential picks is do no harm. Other than that, vice presidential picks rarely make a difference in elections. It is said that putting Lyndon Johnson on the Democrat ticket, another Texas senator, helped JFK with southern voters in 1960. In 1992, Bill Clinton shrewdly chose a fellow young southerner, Tennessee Senator Al Gore. The pair represented a new generation of Democrat, far different than liberals Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, and Walter Mondale and the above-mentioned Dukakis, who had lost five of the last six presidential elections to the GOP. Clinton and Gore accentuated one another’s positives.
But, 1960 and 1992 are exceptions. Joe Biden certainly didn’t help Obama in 2008. The then 40-year Washington insider from Delaware added nothing to the ticket. But Biden didn’t really hurt the ticket either, and that’s good enough. After the 1988 election, Vice President Quayle became a national laughing stock and is now remembered for spelling ‘potatoe’ incorrectly and claiming a television show encouraged women to have children outside of marriage. As Quayle shows, gaffs need not debilitate a campaign.
Which is a good thing for Joe Biden. With each column this observer has a new Biden miscue to write about, and this week’s Biden gaff is kind of special. In an interview with radio and TV personality Charlemagne Tha God (don’t ask us) Biden declared, ‘Well, I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't Black.’ Biden spent the rest of the day apologizing for the slur and claiming what he said was ‘just a joke’. In an era when Democrats believe simple word choices can reveal a person’s innermost racist thoughts, that’s… bold.
Biden has only one way out of this mess. Charlemagne Tha God later said that Democrats take African American voters for granted, ‘The apology is cool but the best apology would be a black agenda.’ Biden has already kowtowed to Black voters. During the last debate with Bernie Sanders, Biden promised to choose an African American woman for vice president. Stacey Abrams has notoriously broken political norms by openly campaigning for the slot and she seems to be the favorite of black Democrat activists. There are other female African American options. These include California Senator Kamala Harris, and former Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice, now implicated in the Obamagate scandal.
On the other side of the Democrat Party, there’s a groundswell of support for Minnesota Senator and former presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar. Klobuchar is a conventional liberal with conventional liberal views on every issue. Her stances on the environment, taxes, abortion make Klobuchar popular with urban, white liberals and their thought leaders in The New York Times and Washington Post. Klobuchar fared badly in the Democrat primary winning a sliver of the vote and only seven delegates. Frankly, Amy Klobuchar is bland. Were she a man, Klobuchar wouldn’t even be considered for the bottom of the ticket. The Democrats already have a man with such credentials at the top of the ticket.
But Charlemagne Tha God said that picking Klobuchar would lead to ‘voter depression’ and ‘people stay at home on election day because they just weren’t enthused by the candidate.’ Without massive black turnout, Biden stands little chance against Trump. Even worse for the Democrats, Trump has been making inroads with African American voters through prison reform. These days, Trump’s job approval among African Americans ranges between twenty and thirty percent, numbers which spell electoral doom for Democrats.
Biden’s vice-presidential pick may actually matter. Frankly, given Biden’s age and obvious mental decline, the public needs reassurance. The public needs to know there’s someone who can step in, if necessary. Stacey Abrams, who says she won the Georgia gubernatorial race but didn’t, does not fill that need. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is one contender, but her lockdown enforcement comes off as petty and vindictive. New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Graham is another option, but she was caught this week shopping for jewelry while she maintained the state’s lockdown. Besides, neither women are African American, an absolute necessity according to Charlemagne Tha God.