Twenty Democrats gathered in Florida last week to talk Politics. All were announced candidates for President.
One of the Candidates, Joe Biden, had every reason to believe it was his turn to be President. He’s been a national figure since 1972 when he won a seat in the US Senate. He’d been Barack Obama‘s Loyal Number Two. He’d paid his dues. Everybody knew Joe Biden. In Joe’s mind, he was the natural successor to Obama. He could even afford to wax nostalgic about serving with Senators like James Eastland of Mississippi who came to the Senate in 1941 and served until 1978. Who deserved the Presidency more than Joe Biden?
Another Candidate, Kamala Harris, knew that words and attitudes like “it’s my turn” reeked of entitlement. They didn’t apply to people like her, the daughter of an Indian Mother and Jamaican father. When Kamala Harris was born in 1964, people like her didn’t get a turn or an opportunity to deserve one. That was the year of “Mississippi Burning.” Civil rights activists Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney were murdered that Summer in Mississippi… the epicenter of resistance to racial integration where nobody was more of a symbol of the Old South than the guy Biden was claiming as his buddy, Senator James (Big Jim) Eastland.
It had to have stuck in the craw of Kamala Harris to hear the frontrunner for the Democratic Party Presidential Nomination (Her Party) speak, touchingly, about his relationship with one of the lions of massive resistance to racial equality, Senator James Eastland. Biden had said, with a bit of hero worship “he called me son.” It had to have fired Kamala’s already strong competitive instincts.
It did. But Kamala was savvy enough to know that “competitive fire” by itself would not get the job done. Like a good poker player she had to be patient and wait for the right opportunity. It was a two hour debate. The opportunity would come. If it didn’t, she’d have to make her own opportunity. if you really want to become President of the United States of America, you’re not going to let a “Debate Moderator” stop you.
When one of the other candidates closed her remarks with a mention of “race”, Kamala went for it. “As the only black person on this stage I want to talk about race” Kamala announced. Not angry or hurt, but with authority. Pitch perfect. Moderator: “I’ll give you 30 seconds.” Kamala, wisely, didn’t bicker or cop an attitude about time. Smart. That could have blown up in her face. As they say in Poker, “she knew where she was at.” She knew that once she got started neither hell nor high water was going to shut her down in 30 seconds. She was going to say what she had come to say. It was her time. Her moment. Nobody was going to take it away from her.
She addressed Biden, directly, about his chumminess with Senators whose careers were based on maintaining segregation of the races. It seems inconceivable now, but that was the reality, in Mississippi, in 1964, the year Kamala Harris was born. She told Biden “it was hurtful.” She let it sink in. She moved on to “busing” and how Biden had worked with Senators Eastland and others to oppose federally mandated busing of school children to achieve integration of the races in public schools. Didn’t Biden know that was wrong? Wouldn’t he say so? To her? Right now? Kamala Harris had moved “all in” on Joe Biden, former Vice President of the United States, and Biden didn’t have a clue where he was at.
Biden mounted a confused disjointed defense that essentially conceded the charge Harris had made. Yes, he had worked with hard core segregationists like Eastland to oppose federally mandated busing to achieve racial integration. Becoming aware of the mess he had made trying to defend himself Biden hit the panic button and blurted out the only words he could…”I see I’m out of time.” Not pretty.
Kamala Harris clearly “Won” the encounter with Joe Biden which was THE encounter of the evening. She gambled. The Moderators could have shut her down right out of the box. She could have lost control of her emotions talking about being a young girl in a neighborhood where some kids her age were not allowed to play with her because she was black. She accepted the risks, made her move, and came out a clear winner seriously damaging frontrunner Joe Biden in the process. She showed she was “big” enough for the job she was seeking.
Finley Peter Dunne’s character, Mr. Dooley, had it right…”Politics ain’t beanbag.”
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