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Saturday, October 14, 2023

October 14-15, 2023: Vice President Studying: Kamala Harris

[50 years ago this week, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned. That striking political moment was not only part of the deepening Watergate scandal, but one of the few times when an American Vice President has made major news. So this week I’ve AmericanStudied Agnew and other noteworthy Veeps, leading up to this weekend post on our current VP!]

On a couple ways that the current Vice President represents real and meaningful progress.

First, one of those openings where I ask you to read another piece of mine in lieu of a full paragraph here: in this case, an August 2020 Saturday Evening Post Considering History column inspired by Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate. Check it out and then come on back if you would!

Welcome back! In the Conclusion of my book Redefining American Identity (2011) I made the case that Barack Obama might well be “the first American President” due to his multi-racial and cross-cultural heritage, a heritage that (my argument in that book went) is foundational to all of American history and identity. While that is of course a symbolic and somewhat overstated (on purpose) point, I’d stand by it, and would say much the same about the layers to Kamala Harris’s heritage and identity that I discussed in that 2020 column. Obviously she is not defined by what happened to and with her paternal ancestors, even less so than Obama is defined by his parents, so these are not really points about the figures themselves, so much as about the American (and global) histories that are part of the figures’ heritages, and how important it is to finally have leaders who overtly connect to those histories in ways we have not previously seen. Having such a leader in the Vice Presidency isn’t entirely new (seriously, check out that story about a prior VP we should all better remember), but it’s a significant and inspiring step nonetheless.

It’s not the only such step that Harris represents, of course, and even a cross-cultural America superfan like yours truly has to admit that there’s another layer to her representative status which is even more significant. Back in 2015, I made the case in another column, this one for Talking Points Memo, that Walter Mondale’s choice of Geraldine Ferraro for his 1984 running mate was one of the most impressive and inspiring political moments in our history. Unfortunately (for so, so many reasons), Mondale and Ferraro did not win that election, and so we had to wait nearly four decades more for our first woman Vice President. (And are, even more frustratingly, still waiting for our first woman President, but that’s another story for another post.) To anyone who might call that kind of step purely symbolic, I would respond (among other counter-arguments) that the Vice Presidency has long been a symbolic position, whatever else it might have included or meant, and it’s about damned time we have an occupant who symbolizes half of the country.

Next series starts Monday,


PS. What do you think? Vice Presidents you’d highlight?

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